“I wouldn’t have cheated on you if you hadn’t nagged me so much.” “I would stop getting angry if you stopped getting upset about everything.” “I would not have done this if you wouldn’t have done that.”
Are these statements incessantly recurring in your relationship? Do you feel like no matter what you do, something is always lacking, and you are the only one blamed for it? If the answer to these questions is “yes”, you are a victim of blame-shifting in your relationship.
Blame-shifting is often a way to exert control over one’s partner and can lead to severe emotional turmoil in a relationship. Emotional abuse and blame shifting go hand in hand.
Mental health therapist Gopa Khan gives us the lowdown on what constitutes blame-shifting, blame-shifting examples, its roots, and how to deal with blame-shifting on the whole.
What Is Blame-Shifting?
Gopa says, “In psychology, we have a concept called ‘locus of control’. In life, we can either choose to have internal locus of control or external locus of control. What it simply means is that folks who choose to have an internal locus of control are more likely to take responsibility for their actions, behavior and their perspective in life.”
She adds, “A person who chooses to have internal locus of control will not shift blame or hold other people responsible for their actions. A person with external locus of control, however, chooses to blame make scapegoats of their loved ones for their own unhappiness and failures.
This concept is important as when partners are blamed for their ‘faults’, it leads to them being brainwashed into thinking they are responsible for all the wrongs in their relationship and that they need to bend over backwards to help rescue the relationship.”
Blame-shifting, meaning the abusers in the blame-shifting game do not take responsibility for their actions. They are often emotionally immature, lack emotional intelligence and often exhibit escapist behavior. Whatever happens, they are always a victim, and it’s always someone else’s fault. These are all blame-shifting examples.
An acute level of blame-shifting can lead to emotional abuse, domestic abuse, and mental harassment.
It is even more disturbing to observe that the victims of these blame games start believing the accusations of the abusers, and put in even more futile hard work to make the relationship better.
The Psychology Behind Blame-Shifting
Generally, the behavior of blame-shifting arises from one’s own internalized feeling of failure. Often, when people think themselves not good enough for their significant others, they feel emotions of inability, incapability, or irresponsibility.
Rather than realizing this pattern and bringing a change in their behavior, they begin blaming their partners for everything going wrong in their life. This could be seen as an attempt for them to feel better about themselves, or to break the confidence of their partners.
“Blame-shifting in most abusive relationships is quite common, says Gopa, adding, “Abusers thrive on power and control, which helps them manipulate their partners and thus it becomes easier for them to shift blame. These people have external locus of control and refuse to take responsibility for their behaviors and actions. In fact, they are often enabled by their family members, thus the behavior continues much to the detriment of the relationship and family environment.
A female client of mine in such a relationship was blamed for her husband’s non-functional career and her in-laws acted as enablers to appeal to the wife to often forgive him or ‘apologize to maintain family peace.’ Thus, the wife also became an enabler.”
Blame-shifting in marriage is obviously very much a reality, and often, women are expected to remain silent despite the abuse, just to keep the peace.
Related Reading: Why am I being blamed for my husband’s failures?
The roots of blame-shifting can be traced back to the abuser’s childhood. Growing up in an unhealthy environment of ceaseless arguments can lead to poor self-esteem, and the abuser ends up blaming everyone for everything.
5 Ways Blame-Shifting Is Affecting Your Relationship
Relentless blame-shifting can affect a relationship. It can lead to fights, low self-esteem and even to depression within the relationship. You are internalizing blame-shifting and are caught in a vicious cycle of emotional abuse if you can identify with any or all of the signs listed below. Understand the blame-shifting meaning and take action. It’s time to take control, and take back the power from this constant blame shift. Wondering deal with blame-shifting? Read on!
1. You are certain everything is your fault
The blame game of your partner is so strong, you are certain everything that goes wrong in your or their life is your fault. You feel yourself to be more powerless than ever. The pro-activeness you once had to make things better in your relationship has dwindled and you blame yourself for making so many mistakes and not correcting them.
“To ensure one does not indulge in blame-shifting, whether you are a perpetrator or a victim, it is important to understand whether you are embracing internal or external locus of control and start working on it,” Gopa explains.
She adds, “An abuser can choose to then change their behavior and learn to take responsibility for their actions. The person on the receiving end can also choose to be empowered and decide not to take responsibility for an abuser’s behavior or actions. Once a person chooses to opt out of being a victim, they can then take empowered decisions. This is one way to respond to blame-shifting.
Often, an abuser is unlikely to change their behavior and then the victim has to break the vicious circle and take steps to either maintain firm relationship boundaries or walk out of the relationship.”
In other words, build up your own self-respect, ensure your dignity is not lost. Do not place your relationship above your own peace of mind and self-esteem.
Related Reading: A successful marriage needs not fleeting love, but lasting respect
2. You’re afraid to make any decisions
You’re constantly afraid that any step you take will be another mistake for your partner. For the same reason, you find yourself unable to make decisions anymore. These decisions could be as small as buying a new item or as big as communicating your problem with your partner. The certainty of being blamed for every single thing has rendered you fearful, tired and in some severe cases, terrified.
Very frequently, you find yourself listless, not doing anything, to avoid another episode of emotional abuse.
“A person in such a relationship loses the confidence to make decisions and tends to double guess everything. It is helpful then for the person to maintain a journal and write down thoughts, feelings and incidents. Writing is cathartic and helps to process traumatic events in a clear manner,” Gopa says.
She adds, “Also, it helps to write down pros and cons while making decisions. The more the cons, the better you realize what decision to take in a relationship. Usually in such relationships, one does not trust one’s own judgement and is swayed by the ‘dominant’ partner. Journaling and having a good support system can help deal with blame-shifting.”
Related Reading: Does love exist in love marriages alone?
3. The communication gap is broader than ever
A healthy relationship provides a safe space for a person to share their insecurities and have a healthy conversation about the problems in their relationship. However, in your case, an attempt to discuss your relationship issues directly results in a verbal vomit of how everything is your fault and how if you hadn’t done something, your partner wouldn’t have behaved badly.
You are extremely familiar with the blame-shifting narrative, and as a result, you have stopped communicating your problems to your partner. The communication gap is becoming broader and broader, but there’s nothing you can do to alter that since you’re only going to be blamed more in return.
“Communication problems occur when one person is scared to voice an opinion or decision as they fear ridicule or being shot down with derision. The partner may not want to rock the boat or trigger an argument and hence prefers to stay silent and be browbeaten into submission,” Gopa explains.
She goes on, “The best solution in such a situation is to use ‘I’ statements, such as “I feel hurt when you put me down or choose not to take my suggestions into consideration”. An ‘I’ statement implies taking personal control, and stating one’s feelings helps to empower the person. No one should contradict you and tell you that you should not feel hurt. Stating this directly communicates to your partner how you feel and empowers you to own your feelings. It’s a good way to respond to blame-shifting.”
4. You feel resentment towards your partner
There is no space for respect in your relationship. You avoid going home or talking to your partner. If you feel a sense of anger every time you think about your partner, it is proof that blame-shifting has affected your relationship and you are building resentment in the relationship towards your significant other.
Irritability, dread, tiredness, etc. are all signs that you are resentful towards your partner and rightly so. Nobody can take incessant blame and always be the victim. Not everything can be your fault. You realize that you are unnecessarily being blamed for your partner’s anger outbursts and the thought of being with them makes you bitter. This also means that your relationship is heading towards a breach. Blame-shifting in marriage has frayed your bond.
“Invariably such relationships do hit a roadblock. It is best to seek individual or couple’s counseling as resentment and contempt are key factors in ruining a relationship. In case of constant and continued resentment, it is best to address it and resolve issues,” advises Gopa.
5. Intimacy is a lost concept in your relationship
Do you feel the need to be intimate, but you do not want the intimacy with your partner? If yes, that is a clear sign that the blame-shifting of the abuser is affecting your relationship in a way that cannot be altered.
Surely you wouldn’t want to be intimate with a person who constantly blames you for everything. You distance yourself from your partner and avoid entering the bedroom when they are in there. You do not know how to be intimate with your partner anymore, for a wrong move in bed would also be your fault. Save yourself from a loveless marriage before the abuser of blame-shifting ruins your life.
“When one person feels targeted in a relationship, the first thing to go is the physical aspect. When couples tell me that the physical aspect of their relationship is not there or they are not feeling emotionally connected to their partners, it indicates that the relationship is getting affected. Thus, unless the root cause of the relationship is resolved, the lack of intimacy will continue,” Gopa says.
Of course, there are ways wherein you can make things better in your relationship and avoid the blame-shifting chronicle, but if your significant other is simply unable to have a sensible insight of their faults and you consistently continue to be the target of their fury, step away from that relationship.
Blame-shifting and emotional abuse stand close together, and an abuser is less likely to make a change in his/her behavior. A relationship full of blame games is an unhealthy relationship that you need to get out of immediately.