The Blame Game has been my game. I am an expert. Each time I fail to allow enough time to get someplace, it is the fault of those old lady drivers who are too slow and get in my way. How dare they drive the speed limit when I am in a hurry?
No wonder I am late. The mystery of my computer is not my inability to understand, it’s the fault of those stupid engineers who design things so poorly that nobody can understand them. Boy, I will never buy an Apple again. My lazy naïveté feels like gross victimization by those sociopaths feeding on my mental corpse. Just because I never read the fine print, does not mean that they have a right to enforce that contract I signed. What a bunch of predators. In fact, I never lose an opportunity to blame someone or something for life’s failures. It’s a reflex.
Once I yield to blame, it explodes like gasoline poured on the flames of my discontent. An accelerant, it turns frustration into anger, then rage. My rage activates every hurt and slight that has occurred in my entire life. I am possessed by fantasies of committing brutal acts against those who have hurt me. My heart becomes twisted in a knot, and ultimately I become despondent, and I slip into a depressive funk.
Blame is a variety of projection. Projection occurs when we disown a particular quality in ourselves, and then project its antithesis on to other people or situations. Freud noted that his patient’s would repress an unwanted aspect of self–usually sexual or aggressive feelings–and plow them into their unconscious, never to be seen again. But he also noted that some patients would project that unwanted quality into the outside world where it would operate as a persecutor, victimizing them.
I don’t see myself as careless; I see others as making mistakes. I don’t see myself as a poor planner, but I see others as needlessly coming between my goals and myself. I don’t see myself as lazy; I see others as taking advantage of me. And once I identify with a projection, it activates afflictive emotions like rage.
From the perspective of mindfulness we know we will never solve a problem by externalizing, which is what blame is. Externalizing just creates anger or sadness. Mindfulness teaches us that we construct our world through thoughts and feelings, that the outside world is a canvas that we fill with our own projections. In order to understand them we must focus inward, focus on what we are thinking, feeling and sensing behind that projection.
I have developed a simple mindfulness practice to counter projections of blame. A mindfulness practice always involves pure observation of your internal state, and doing so without judgment. First I become aware that I am blaming. I am always monitoring what goes on inside my head, and when I see blame raise its ugly head, I label it “blame”.
I then consciously re-focus my attention inward. I note the tenseness in my body, my feelings of shame or guilt or feeling sorry for myself. I breathe deeply to calm my nervous system. I observe what I am experiencing inside without judgment. I note that when I focus inward the strong emotions fade, the blame narrative disappears. Finally I ask myself, “What lesson did I learn about myself? How can I grow from this experience?” If the blame obsession comes back, I repeat the process.
When I externalize, I create afflictive emotions; when I focus inward in an observational mode I create calm and equanimity. If feelings naturally run their course they last a minute, when we projectively identify with them, they can last a lifetime.
Dr. Michael Abramsky