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3 Ways to Hold a Blame-Shifter Responsible

Confront their lies calmly, not defensively.

Key points

  • Blame-shifting is common with individuals who have symptoms of borderline and narcissistic personality disorders.
  • Avoidance of responsibility is damaging to relationships, especially when blame-shifting occurs.
  • Use of confrontation and other techniques can neutralize efforts to avoid responsibility for unwanted outcomes.
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay
Source: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Blame-shifting involves blaming others for your choices or behaviors. This is very common with individuals who suffer from symptoms of borderline and narcissistic personality disorders (BPD and NPD, respectively), but can occur in any circumstance.

Whenever this occurs, there is likely to be damage to relationships as people generally find it frustrating and hurtful to be blamed by someone who is avoiding responsibility for undesirable events or outcomes. Utilization of the techniques offered below will help to minimize or neutralize the experience of others shifting their blame onto you.

Blame-shifting is often undertaken to avoid liability. This is very common in automobile accidents, for example, to avoid paying for damage to both vehicles by taking the blame for the collision. Individuals with symptoms of personality disorders often shift blame because taking responsibility for unwanted outcomes makes them feel damaged and flawed. This can increase self-loathing, when symptoms of BPD coexist, or conflict with a grandiose self-image, when symptoms of NPD coexist.

Individuals being blamed for the errors of others often feel a sense of injustice while at the same time feeling bullied or exploited. When this occurs in intimate relationships, this can build significant resentment, which can ultimately threaten the viability of the relationship.

Three Approaches to Avoiding Blame

Avoiding blame or responsibility for unwanted outcomes often involves one or more of these processes.

  1. Denial. This is the most basic form of avoidance of responsibility and involves lying about having done something or having not done something.
  2. Denial of Impact. This involves acknowledging an action or decision but denying its impact on the unwanted outcome.
  3. Blame-shifting. This involves blaming someone else for the unwanted outcome that they caused or contributed to.

The following dialogue is an illustration of all three approaches; it was constructed from aspects of different transactions involving different individuals.

Mitch: Did you visit with my sister Barbara this morning?

Faye: Yes. We had a lovely time.

Mitch: Great. Did you hit her car while pulling out of her garage?

Faye: She said I did that?

Mitch: She asked me if you said anything about it.

Faye: She's trying to blame me for her careless driving. She probably hit someone in the parking lot.

Mitch: She saw you do it through the window.

Faye: I might have brushed against her car lightly without realizing it, but I didn't do any damage.

Mitch: She said there was a dent and the paint was scratched. She's coming over later to talk about whether or not we'll go through insurance for the repair.

Faye: Well, I certainly didn’t cause a dent.

Mitch: We can look at your fender and see if there's any blue paint.

Faye: You and your sister make me so nervous. All you care about is your precious cars. That’s why I tapped her car.

Mitch: If you're so upset about something that it impairs your driving, you should wait until you feel better before getting behind the wheel. It’s just a car. We'll take responsibility and fix it, and this will be over. You're not a bad person; you made an error.

In the above exchange, Faye initially denies that she hit Barbara’s car at all. She then takes the position that if she did tap the car, it couldn’t have done any significant damage. Once she realized that her bumper would have blue paint on it, she attempted to shift the blame onto Mitch and Barbara.

Techniques to Respond to a Blame-Shifter

1. Confrontation. Confrontation is the primary tool. In the above example, Mitch used this tool in two different ways.

  • Confrontation with facts that conflict with Faye’s denial.
  • Confrontation on the implication of her blame-shifting.

He used these types of confrontation to invalidate her lying and minimization and to hold her responsible for her behavior. He responded to the effort to shift blame onto him and Barbara by confronting her on her responsibility to not drive when she is upset, thus putting the onus back on her.

2. Ban the blame and defensiveness; don't take it personally. Mitch also did not act defensively and he did not take her efforts to shift blame personally. This allowed him to be calm and focused while defeating Faye's efforts to avoid responsibility for her accident.

3. Offer context; focus on the event, not the person's character. Mitch also suggested to Faye that taking responsibility for the damage would not impugn her character and that she will be forgiven once she has taken responsibility and made reparations.

These techniques do not result in Faye stating that she takes responsibility for the accident. They neutralize her efforts to deny, minimize and blame-shift and compel her to make reparations. Consistent use of these techniques will reduce Faye’s use of avoidance as it renders them ineffective.

Facebook image: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

More from Daniel S. Lobel Ph.D.
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