The Powerlessness of Blame

The road to psychological ruin begins with blame.



It's not about blame, it's about healing. The primary question to ask yourself is this:

Am I being the kind of husband or wife that I want to be, in accordance with my deepest values?

If you feel bad and blame it on your partner, what can you then do to make yourself feel better? Not a thing. The act of blame renders you powerless. It also strips your painful emotions of their primary function, which is to motivate corrective behavior.

Human pain – both physical and psychological – is part of a sophisticated alarm network. The purpose of your guilt, shame, and anxiety is not to punish you. Its primary function is to motivate behavior that heals, corrects, or improves.

For instance, the purpose of a pain in my foot is to get my attention so that I will do something to make it better. My conscious mind decides what to do, choosing a behavior with a specific goal—I take the rock off my foot, or get better fitting shoes, or medicine to treat an infection. If you doubt that this is the purpose of the pain, consider what would happen if you were pinned down and could not take the rock off your foot. It would hurt like hell for a while and then, once your brain figured out that there’s nothing you could do about it, it would go numb. You probably know married couples who, after years of being unable to relieve their distress, have gone numb.

The crucial point is that your pain always motivates you – not your partner or anyone else – to make it better. The discomfort in your bladder doesn’t tell you that she needs to go to the bathroom or that she drank too much water. Neither does your guilt or shame tell you that she has to do something. Your wife can disappoint or sadden you, but your guilt and shame – and the resentment and anger they cause – are ultimately about you being true to your deepest values.

Like physical pain, negative emotions are internal alarms meant to attract attention to perceived injury or threat, for the sole purpose of motivating corrective behavior. The primary purpose of emotional pain is to make us take action to increase the value of our lives. The purpose of guilt, shame, and anxiety is to get you to be more loving and protective. They hurt us until we act with love and compassion.