What's blame got to do with it?

Have you seen Brené Brown's video on Blame?  It's wicked funny and of course incredibly true (click HERE to view)!  

Who doesn’t go to that place when something goes wrong? Blaming someone, anyone, gives us a sense of control, a kind of escape hatch that frees us from taking any responsibility.

I’m pretty sure there isn’t one person on the planet who hasn’t played the blame game at least once in their lifetime.  And what I find when I play the blame game is that I end up ruminating about whatever the heck it was that I was trying to distance myself from for hours and sometimes even days! (I’ve since learned that’s a terrible waste of time and integrity).

Brené points out that blaming is simply the discharge of discomfort and pain.  She explains that blame has an inverse relationship to accountability (which is a vulnerable place) and consequently impedes our capacity for empathy (what a wise woman ).  The challenge is that blaming is an accepted part of our culture and allows us to hide our shame and guilt for being ‘less than perfect’ (you know, for being human).

On the blaming spectrum there are two extremes.  On the one end of the spectrum is ‘gaslighting’.  That’s when a person calls into question the mental and emotional sanity of another person, insisting that their own version of reality is the absolute truth and the other person is, well, nuts.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum, the person who accepts blame for everything even when they are not responsible.  Truth be told, I’m not sure which is worse, but I guess it’s not so much a competition as it is an opportunity to be compassionate and practice empathy.


What intrigues me about blaming is its inverse relationship to accountability.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines accountability as: “the quality or state of being accountable, especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”  The thing I love about this definition is that it is about holding self accountable.  Accountability isn’t something that happens to you by outside forces. We may invite others to help us with our accountability (I have had my share of accountability buddies over the years, and still do today), but at the end of the day, I hold myself accountable.  

Much of the work I do with clinicians and teams revolves around accountability.  Folks that choose accountability are awesome folks to work with; they embrace their imperfections, celebrate vulnerability on their journey to grow, do better and achieve consistency and reliability (aka high performance).  These are not the folks that blame leadership for not investing in them, the folks that throw their hands up and say, ‘there’s nothing we can do’, ‘nobody cares about the babies’, ‘we never have any money for education’, blah, blah, blah.

The non-blamers (aka the accountable folks) take matters into their own hands, look for creative and innovative ways to change the status quo. They go for the gold, even though they may be scared, with their vulnerability and passion leading the charge. 

What’s blame got to do with it?  Blame is our excuse to stay stuck and continue to do things the same way for the next 30 years. Blame keeps us ‘safe’ from venturing into unchartered territory like change by turning a blind eye to our responsibility to First Do No Harm.  Blame gives us a sense of control when there is nothing to control. Blame has its roots in fear and insecurity. 

In healthcare it’s teamwork and collaboration that ensure quality outcomes. When we choose to blame, we undermine teamwork and sucker punch collaboration all for the sake of a 15-second rage fest that makes us feel temporarily powerful.  But, the long-term damage may very well be irreparable to the team, the quality of care delivered, and ultimately to oneself.

Here are 7 red-flag statements that may indicate you’re a blamer. 

(If any of these sound familiar, you are not lost .  Just stop and ask yourself: “What’s my responsibility? Or ‘What’s my part in this situation?”)

  1. “You shouldn’t have asked me to do it in the first place.”

Then why did you accept the responsibility for the task? Perhaps you should have refused it.

  1. “You didn’t give me enough time.”

Then why didn’t you negotiate a different deadline BEFORE you missed the one you agreed to?

  1. “You didn’t give me enough information.”

Then why didn’t you ask for more when you were given the task?

  1. “Well, I suppose you never made a mistake.”

Whether someone else has made a mistake isn’t the issue. The issue is yours- address it.

  1. “Oh yeah, well you’re__________.”

Whatever someone else may be, as in #4 above, it’s not relevant now. If you had a problem with that person prior to this conversation, you probably had ample opportunity to bring it up before this moment. Now is not the time.

  1. “What about (fill in person’s name)? Why don’t you ever say something to him/her?”

Turning the conversation to another person, especially someone who is not part of the conversation, is just another deflecting technique like #4 and #5 above. If you have a beef with someone else, take it to him or her.

  1. “You never liked me.” 
    When all else fails, turning the conversation away from behavior to the other person’s feelings about you is a classic technique for redirecting the conversation. How the other person feels about you CAN be addressed if they’re relevant, but only after addressing the concern that person originally brought to your attention.

Take care and care well,


P.S.  If you find yourself struggling in a culture of blame Caring Essentials can help!  

Using breakthrough, evidence-based strategies Caring Essentials helps you achieve clarity, build congruence, and challenge you, your colleagues, and your organization to become a center of excellence in trauma-informed neuroprotective care.