The Blame Game

Robert F. Mullen, PhD

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Cognitive Distortion #5


Blaming is a negative thinking pattern where we wrongly assign responsibility for something. A primary goal of recovery is devising and implementing rational responses to moderate our fears and apprehensions. Trapped within social anxiety’s cycle of negative appraisal, we see ourselves as victims. A victim needs someone or something to blame. The logical approach to our automatic negative thoughts is to examine and analyze our motivations and devise rational responses. SAD, however, subsists on irrationality. Until we master recovery, it is reasonable to search for avenues to unburden ourselves of responsibility. Consequently, we play the blame game.

External Blaming

External blaming is when we hold others accountable for things that are our responsibility. Years of self-reproach for our negative thoughts and behaviors can be overwhelming. Our defense mechanisms impel us to hold others responsible for things we are unable or unwilling to manage emotionally. We convince ourselves that others are responsible for the hopelessness and unworthiness caused by our anxiety. Someone is to blame for our perceived incompetence and inadequacies. Example: We fail an exam and blame it on the imaginary bias of the instructor rather than taking responsibility for not studying.

Space is Limited

Internal Blaming

Social anxiety disorder supplies us with a mixed bag of irrational attitudes, rules, and assumptions. Our symptomatic anticipation of criticism and rejection convinces us we are privy to the thoughts and opinions of others. We are fortune tellers who can read their minds. In fact, our compulsion to self-fulfilling prophesy anticipates their reactions. Thus, we assume responsibility for their thoughts and behaviors.

People living with SAD have significantly lower implicit and explicit self-esteem than healthy controls. Our sense of inadequacy and inferiority compels us to overcompensate by assuming responsibility for unrelated situations or circumstances. If our roommate’s actions are self-destructive, they must be connected to our own behaviors. Consequently, we are responsible. Example: A dinner guest abruptly leaves the table and exits. We blame it on our cooking rather than the discrete personal issues of our visitor.

It Must Be Our Fault

There is an additional form of internal blaming prevalent in social anxiety disorder. Even when mindful that we bear no responsibility for its origins or onset, we tend to blame our toxic behaviors on character deficiencies and shortfalls rather than the symptoms of our disorder.

SAD thrives on our self-disparagement. our symptoms cause us to self-characterize as stupid, incompetent, or unattractive. We blame ourselves when we avoid interacting out of fear of rejection. We are convinced our opinions are irrelevant and our social skills are deplorable. Someone or something needs to be held accountable.

Until we devise rational responses to our fears and social avoidance, we tend to assign blame for our negative thoughts and behaviors. The ability to look at our actions through the prism of intellectual awareness is a necessary component of the transformative act and indispensable to recovery. Rational response allows the flow of positive thought and behavior necessary for recovery, eliminating the need to blame.

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