By Esther Mann, LCSW
What do you do with a man who always has to blame someone for everything? I’ve been married for four years and sadly it’s taken me a while to recognize that this is his pattern. That Paul always needs to put the blame for everything on someone else.
At first I didn’t really realize it was such a big deal, until I started seeing that there was almost something sick about his reactions. I’ll give you some small examples and then move on to big and much more serious examples.
Let’s say Paul walks into the kitchen and stubs his toe on a cabinet. Mind you, the cabinet is closed and there is nothing in his way when this happens. Sometimes you just aren’t concentrating and you stub your toe. No big deal—for most people. For Paul, the tirade will go something like, “If you hadn’t left the light on in the kitchen and I didn’t have to go in there to shut the lights, I never would have stubbed my toe. It’s killing me and it’s your fault!” I know it sounds crazy. But nothing for him just happens. There has to be someone to put the blame on.
If he gets to work and realizes that he left some important papers at home, he’ll call me up yelling, “If you hadn’t bothered me with questions about the plumber this morning, I wouldn’t have been rushing to get to work and I never would have left my papers at home. This is very serious and it’s all your fault!”
If our three-year-old accidentally knocks over a glass of juice, he’ll scream at him as if he did it on purpose and ultimately it will probably be my fault, because I placed the cup too close to the table’s edge.
I’m not the only target. He definitely finds plenty to blame on his parents, his siblings, and even his friends. There always has to be someone he can point to as the guilty party.
When bigger issues comes along, for instance when I was sick recently with strep, it was my fault because I ran out without a coat one day and didn’t take proper care of myself.
Or when we recently were charged a late fee on our credit-card payment, even though he pays the bills, I got blamed because I probably mailed his payment at the wrong mailbox. Really, some of his excuses would be funny, if they weren’t so personal.
Worst of all is when he clearly is the person at fault and he’ll still find a way to make it my fault or someone else’s.
I come from a family where if something bad or inconvenient happens, the reaction from my parents or any of us in the family would be, “Don’t worry, it was an accident.” End of story. So when everything turns into a finger-pointing opportunity for telling you how irresponsible you are, I have a really hard time with it.
When I try to explain to Paul that accidents happen and that it’s no big deal, he argues with me and says that I’m not owning up to my mistakes. And then it turns into a big fight. There is no getting through to him.
Our son, who is so sweet and wonderful, is starting to get the brunt of Paul’s accusations. Already Paul is quick to place blame on a little three-year-old when things go wrong. My heart breaks for our son, who looks so innocent and confused by the yelling. He’s a good kid and I see this situation escalating as he gets older.
Why does a person act this way? Why must there always be someone to blame? I’m finding it harder and harder to put up with this behavior from Paul. He doesn’t listen to me and tells me I’m making excuses. I’ve never been a “victim” type before, but I’m starting to feel like one now. What’s a person to do?
You are describing some very troubling behavior from your husband. His attacks are unwarranted and obviously very difficult to live with. It sounds as though there really isn’t even anything you could do to preempt his tirades, since Paul goes at it when typical life happens around him. And there’s no way to avoid life. Accidents happen, mail gets lost, people stub their toes, people get sick, and it’s all reflective of a typical day/week/month within most people’s lives.
Regarding why this happens, I would first look toward Paul’s family of origin. Observe his family, his parents in particular, and see how they react to garden-variety accidents. Very likely they, too, are blamers. I would be surprised to learn that Paul didn’t grow up in a home where someone got blamed because it was a cloudy day, where everything is surely someone’s fault. When an individual grows up experiencing that knee-jerk reaction to anything “wrong,” it could easily become ingrained in his core belief system and ultimately become business as usual for him, particularly when he is running the show.
Another reason why some people feel the need to place blame on someone—anyone—is that they’ve observed that life is often random, haphazard, and unpredictable. That is a frightening reality and, for some, a concept that is hard to accept. So if they can create for themselves a reality in which things happen for a reason, that there is always a quid pro quo, that if you’re careful enough, nothing bad will ever happen to you, they can sleep better at night. In some ways, such people are living in a world of fantasy, believing and hoping that they actually do have control over much that is, truth be told, uncontrollable. It’s nice to believe that bad things do not happen to good people and we are the masters of our universe. If only we were just a little more careful . . .
Paul’s blaming is likely based on his own doubts, fears, and anxiety, and in order for him to recognize this, he will have to gain some self-awareness into the cause of his own anxieties. And that is a suggestion that you may want to make to him, though I’m guessing he probably will not be able to “hear” you.
So what’s your next move? To begin with, when your son gets blamed for no reason, be sure to tell him immediately that it wasn’t his fault. Yes, it’s confusing for children to hear mixed messages from their two parents. However, I believe in this case that your son should not be carrying around with him the guilt, shame, and anxiety of believing he’s always doing something wrong. Secondly, you also don’t want him to grow up and start becoming a “blamer” as well.
Regarding your husband’s accusations against you, you haven’t provided me with any insight into how you respond, or perhaps you sometimes don’t respond at all, in an attempt to not allow things to escalate. I believe you have to call Paul on his attacks quickly, decisively, and without a defense. Don’t give him excuses why things happened. Just say something like, “Stop it! That’s ridiculous. What you’re saying makes no sense at all.” And walk away. If he follows you and continues with his outbursts, leave the room—even leave the house if necessary. But let it be known to Paul, loud and clear, that you’re not available any longer to listen to his nonsense.
If you are consistent, I believe Paul will ultimately be forced to stop and look at his behavior, eventually recognizing that the blame game is not working for him anymore and it’s time to figure out that there’s a better way for him to deal with his feelings and, most likely, fears.
Be patient, be strong, and be clear. Behaviors take time to change, and hopefully with time Paul will begin to create a shift in his behavior. For now, I’m thinking he is also doing it because he can. And that is something that you probably have more power over than you think in terms of your ability to effect some kind of positive change.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.