The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

Blame and Blaming

Authored by Kelly Matthews-Pluta, M.S.W.

One of the central ideas of Bowen Theory is differentiation of self—a concept of how one sees oneself, emotionally, as an individual and in relationship to and with others.  Often people studying Bowen Theory struggle with the idea of separation of self and other.  Of course, it is complicated.  The two, self and other, are at the same time both separate and connected.  It is exactly that paradox which makes the concept challenging for many: “Am I a separate self or linked to this other?”  The answer is yes to both.  The study of one’s family of origin is a fruitful place to start understanding just how one’s relationship to self and relationship to other fit together and influence one another.

A piece that can further complicate the self/other concept is the behavior and mind set of blaming.  In the multi-generational emotional process, facts and neutrality are the balm for blame.  The multi-generational process is the natural transmission of emotion and thinking over many generations in a family.  In relationships, blaming oneself or blaming other(s) is a common reactive stance to stress and anxiety.  It can be easy to fall into habits of blame if one does not take into account the link to multi-generational influences.  “I am doing everything I can to make this relationship work.  I am trying all the time”.  Indeed, people are often “working” and “trying”.  They are, however, mostly focused on feelings and emotions and not focused on critical thinking and facts.  So, the “work” is largely geared toward how they “feel” and how they assume other “feels”.  Common examples of blaming are manifold.  One can blame the other for lack of “work” or effort.  “I am doing all the work. You’re not doing anything”.  Blaming the other for actions that are perceived as the sole cause of the current state of affairs (i.e. alcohol use), or blaming self for not doing enough.  It is not to imply that actions and behavior do not matter, but to see them as one of many contributing factors in a family dilemma.

Kerr stated that “People can try to make themselves feel differently about themselves and others, but the most effective and durable approaches to modifying feeling and attitudes seem to require changes in the way people think.  If people become convinced that blaming self and/or blaming others is an inaccurate perception of the way relationships operate, many feeling about self and other resolve automatically”(Family Evaluation P. 254).  One can be released from the revolving door of blame, by thinking neutrally about one’s family; both nuclear and, maybe more importantly, extended family.  Many have found the in-depth study of their family of origin to liberate them from generations of poor functioning patterns.

Thinking clearly and objectively, with more than a dash of neutrality, is the recipe for addressing relationship challenges.  The last sentence seems clear enough and few adults would argue with its potential for success.  But, actually doing the work within self can prove taxing.  Actively moving one’s thoughts from heavy anxious emotional states, like blame, to a fact based thinking system is refreshing for many.  It is hard work, nonetheless.  Kerr added “The more neutrality a person can develop through learning and thinking, the more self he can develop through action, the more his problematic feelings about himself and others will resolve” (Family Evaluation P.255).


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