I don't know when exactly the so-called blame culture began to seep into society, but there can be no doubt that by now it has become a factor of our daily lives. It is as if a wave of discontent has overcome us, so that if our wishes and expectations are not fully met, we promptly blame someone or something for non-delivery and, if the case looks at all promising, resort to litigation. The latter course of action seems to have become endemic in the USA, but whatever happens over there is bound to appear here sooner or later, so it's just as well to turn the spotlight on blaming as a coping mechanism.

The 'blame culture' may be a comparatively new term, but the action of blaming itself is probably as ancient as humankind: it's featured in Genesis in connection with the famous episode of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. When God reprimands Adam for having tasted the fruit of the forbidden tree, he promptly blames Eve who, in turn, blames the serpent: "…it beguiled me, and I did eat". There is no one for the serpent to blame. It is punished, together with Adam and Eve (whom we might blame for losing us the Garden of Eden, but it's a bit late for that). Almost daily new instances of blaming crop up in the media. Take medicine. Aggressive patients who blame their doctors or the NHS in general for not curing all their ills and not producing an easy formula for perfect health are apparently a major problem for demoralized, overworked medical staff. Dissatisfied new parents blame their doctors or midwives if their baby falls short of their expectations. This is consumerism gone mad, coupled with a total disregard for the imperfections of the human body that cannot be 'fixed' in the same way that a skilled mechanic fixes one's expensive car. As a London doctor stated recently in a letter to The Guardian, "Any failure to satisfy completely will bring in malpractice lawyers, the only beneficiaries of our blame culture." The Army has been blamed for exposing service personnel to upsetting experiences in the course of their duties, as if military life should be as safe and uneventful as a nine-to-five job in a bank. Teachers blame parents – rightly – for not teaching their children civilized behaviour in school, while parents counter-blame teachers for not disciplining their unruly children (and attack them if they do). When the theft of mobile phones became a leading street crime, manufacturers were blamed for not incorporating better deterrents into their products; nobody blamed mobile owners who walk along the street merrily chatting into their miniphones, tempting any passing no-good-boyo – or girl – to grab the phone and run.

Why, there are even those who blame God for allowing horrors such as the Holocaust, civil wars, genocides and other purely man-made catastrophes to happen, as if they expected a huge divine Hand to reach down from the sky and stop humans from criminal actions. (How would they react, I wonder, if such a Hand did appear?) The root of blaming is the refusal to accept responsibility for our own errors, misdeeds and sundry actions. But even responsibility comes in many guises. If, after a bomb explosion that leaves three people dead and ten injured, some terrorist group 'claims responsibility' in an anonymous phone call, that claim only covers the planting of the bomb, not the killing of innocent passers-by. Responsibility means what it says: step forward, admit what you have done and take the consequences.

In my work as a psychotherapist I often come across my clients' tendency to blame others for their problems. Clients talk with genuine grief or anger about intolerable or broken-down relationships, family feuds, painful conflicts with loved but apparently unloving children, and so on. There is deep emotion and passion in these narratives; they are genuine distress calls. Sometimes it takes several sessions for the full story to emerge and for the stormy emotions to find an outlet. And then, when it seems the right moment, I ask the all-important question: "And how did you contribute to this situation?" Almost always, the first reaction is a startled "Who, me?" followed by angry denial or stunned silence. Which is where the real work begins.

For there is no human conflict which is entirely the fault of one partner alone. In some minor or major way, and often with the best possible intentions, we all contribute to our negative experiences.

The self-sacrificing, too unselfish, noble soul who is exploited, instead of being appreciated, by her partner, has put her own needs down too successfully; all he's doing is to conform to her low self-evaluation.

The adoring man who wanted to keep his beloved all to himself until one day she walked out, contributed to the break-up by not noticing that she was an independent free spirit who needed her own space.

And the over-caring, too good mother whose children leave home at the first opportunity has actually speeded up their departure by wanting to hold them back a great deal longer.

It's an essential part of growing up at any age to give up blaming others, life, the world, almost anything, for our problems. To drop the genuinely startled question of "Who, me?" and reply instead, "Yes, me, too, I also played a part in this – let me see what I can do about it." Once we can do that, we'll never fall into the error of the small boy at the playground who justified his attack on another child by saying, "It all began when he hit me back!"


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About Beata Bishop

Beata Bishop is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist in private practice, working along Jungian and transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the role of the spiritual dimension in all kinds of healing, and the body-mind link in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (First Stone Publishing, 2010), describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to robust health using an unorthodox nutritional therapy. She can be contacted on e-mail: beatabishop@fastnet.co.uk.

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