There are plenty of times in life where we can easily look outside of ourselves and dish out blame.
But regardless of who is at fault or not, the blame game has no winners.
The real winners in life always take full responsibility for themselves, no matter what.
Here’s how we can all do that…
1) Stay alert to when blame creeps in
Everything starts with cultivating awareness.
How can we change unless we can see our own patterns of behavior?
That’s why staying vigilant and alert is always the first step.
Try to catch yourself in the moment when you notice blame creeping in.
It’s not always possible. Sometimes we can get caught up in a feeling or thought. But even then, we can always try to reflect afterwards.
See when you are trying to shift responsibility onto someone or something. Then make a conscious choice that you don’t want or need to do that.
2) Ask yourself what you’re getting out of it
To deepen that awareness around blame, question why you’re being tempted to do it in the first place.
The reality is that everything we do, we do it because we get something out of it.
Even when it’s ultimately not good for us and not something we want to be doing. There’s always an underlying reward.
So, ask yourself:
- Why is it easier to blame than take responsibility?
If your first instinct is “because it really is all their fault and not mine”, then dig deeper.
- Does it feel better to vent, get angry or project your feelings onto someone else?
- Does it make your ego feel better to make others wrong so you can feel right?
- Does it allow you to avoid uncomfortable emotions such as guilt, shame, or disappointment?
- Does it let you off the hook from having to take action?
- Does it provide you with an excuse?
Now ask yourself:
- What am I losing by blaming others?
Find within you the motivation to start taking responsibility by considering why it isn’t serving you.
- Does it leave you feeling powerless by blaming others?
- Does it keep you stuck in victimhood rather than moving forward?
- Does it leave you feeling resentful, mad, or at the mercy of how others behave?
Try writing out your answers. Journaling can be a really useful tool for greater self-inquiry.
This makes it easier to start questioning our initial thoughts and feelings.
3) Remember the difference between feelings and facts
The problem is that emotions can be powerful things.
They can also cloud our judgement. When feelings take over it can be very challenging for us to stay objective.
Cognitive biases kick in when we use our own feelings, beliefs and preferences as a filter for seeing the whole world.
We think our feelings are signposting us toward the truth, but that isn’t always the case.
It’s important for us to try to question our feelings and our perspective on things.
- How do I feel?
- Why do I feel this way?
- Is it an undeniable fact, or is this just how I am feeling?
- Is this thought or feeling really fair?
- Can I try to see things another way?
The more we learn to question how we feel, the easier it is to become better acquainted with our emotions.
That way, we can start to take responsibility for how we feel, rather than try to lay the blame at someone else’s door.
4) Take ownership of your own thoughts and feelings
Thoughts and feelings are always an internal process, even when they are being triggered by external events.
Instead of projecting how we feel onto someone else, we accept that we are responsible.
The bottom line is that nobody can “make” you feel anything.
Thinking that they can gives away your power. Because it leaves you constantly at the mercy of how others behave.
And the obvious problem is that we cannot control that.
Let’s say someone is in a bad mood and takes that out on you. They are rude or cruel to you.
You get annoyed. You feel angry and irritated.
Those emotions may be your reaction to how someone else behaved. But that reaction is still ultimately yours. It is your choice and your responsibility.
This isn’t about pretending other people don’t impact us. They obviously do.
But it is about remembering to focus on the only control we have in the situation — control over ourselves.
5) Still express how you feel, but without blame
Here’s what taking responsibility is NOT:
- Silencing your voice — whether that is your preferences, your opinions, your boundaries or your needs and wants.
- Stifling your emotions or trying to ignore them and push them away
It can quickly turn toxic when we try to put a lid on negative feelings that arise, whether that’s sadness, anger, disappointment, fear, frustration, resentment, etc.
We can still let someone know when we feel let down, without apportioning blame.
You can express when you are feeling hurt without making someone else responsible for those feelings.
The language we use can be really important for helping us to shift away from the blame game.
If someone does something that you find inappropriate, you can let them know. But choose an empowering language that takes ownership of your own emotions.
Using “I feel” can be a good way to do this.
So, rather than saying “You made me X when you did Y” you can say “When X happened, I felt Y”.
It might seem like a subtle shift, but it can make a real difference.
You’re saying how you feel without assigning blame for your own emotions. It’s an approach that encourages cooperation rather than division.
6) Reflect on your role in a problem
Learning how to say sorry is a humbling experience for all of us.
Particularly when we are also feeling hurt, it can take a lot of courage to own up to our own mistakes.
Denial is a defence mechanism we fall back on when we’re feeling threatened. Rather than fall into this trap, we can be accountable.
That means taking an honest look at our own behavior, words and actions.
- How could you have contributed to the problem?
- Is there anything you would have done or said differently in hindsight?
As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Meaning there may be mistakes or fault on both sides.
If we want to take responsibility we need to focus on our own actions, and where they may have fallen short.
7) Give up your grudges
When we hold a grudge, we are choosing to continue feeding our negative thoughts.
Whatever happened is over but we keep it alive through storytelling. And it’s us who suffers for it.
People with forgiving natures know that letting go serves us far more than it does the other person.
Because as they say:
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
Learning to forgive doesn’t mean that we don’t stick up for ourselves.
As we’ll see next, we have to have clear boundaries too.
8) Reinforce your boundaries and remove toxic people from your life
Let’s face it, when someone does something shitty, it sucks.
There’s no way around that. As we’ve said, you can’t control what others do. But you can control how you react.
So rather than blame, we can fall back on boundaries. Boundaries are the key to all healthy relationships.
When someone crosses the line, we let them know. When they do it persistently or unforgivably, they have to go.
Rather than ignore red flags, we confront them early on.
Think about it. If your deadbeat boyfriend always “lets you down”, that’s down to you as well as him.
You allow him to stick around to let you down.
Boundaries are about creating our own club rules, and they’re a strong reflection of how much we respect and honor ourselves.
9) Build iron clad self-esteem
Nobody can take anything from you that you don’t give away.
I know that sounds a bit idealistic, but it’s true.
You are the gatekeeper of your own emotions and thoughts.
The stronger you feel in your own sense of self, the less triggered you will feel by others.
Perhaps that’s why research discovered that blame is contagious, except in people with high self-worth.
Experiments showed that people who watched someone blame another for mistakes went on to do the same with others.
But, significantly, this didn’t happen when participants had the chance to affirm their self-worth.
The more you like who you are and value yourself, the less other people can negatively impact you.
10) Focus on finding constructive solutions
Aside from the negative emotions that we create for ourselves when we get caught up in the blame game, there’s another serious downside.
When you blame someone else for your circumstances you become more fixated on problems than solutions.
Instead, it can be far more constructive to think to yourself:
Is it better to be right or to be happy?
Because it’s far better to try to fix than to find fault.
When something goes wrong or doesn’t quite work out the way you would have hoped, you can choose to learn lessons.
It’s a better use of our time and energy to think about what we can do to move forward.