Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
After I left university I joined the IT profession, then in its infancy (frighteningly, this was nearly 40 years ago). I worked as a computer programmer and of course I made mistakes. Some were easy to spot and correct, others were much more elusive – a zero for the letter “O”, a missed semicolon. I remember on one occasion that I’d made an error that I just couldn’t find, and I managed to convince myself that I hadn’t made a mistake at all, that it was a problem with the computer, not with my program. When I voiced this opinion, however, the more experienced programmers all laughed at me. They had all had the same issue, and similarly had thought they had found a computer problem, but, they told me, it always turned out to be an error in the program. “Keep looking”, they said, and they were right.
But it can be comforting to blame our mistakes on others, and in my work as a counsellor I encounter this a lot. Classically, perpetrators of domestic violence will try to blame their partner. Phrases like “If you hadn’t looked at me oddly…” and “If you didn’t go on….” put the blame on the victim, and “I had to… “ or “I had no option..” deny that the perpetrator had a choice.
It’s not just in cases of domestic violence where people blame others for their own actions, however, and it’s not always our partner who gets the blame. People can claim their parents : “I can’t help it, it’s the way I was brought up”. And their gender “I’m doing my best but remember that women can’t read maps” – or “I’d help more with the housework but men can’t see dust” (yes, a client of mine actually said this). And we can blame circumstances, of course, by saying “I haven’t had time” or “I’ve been too busy” rather than “I decided other things were more important”. We can even blame ourselves while denying responsibility : “My memory is bad”, “I have no patience”. It was a part of me over which I have no control.
What all these reasons (or excuses) have in common is that they deny that I can do anything about it – they deny that I have any control over the situation, they deny that I have any choice in what I do. As intelligent humans, we do have free will, however. Everything we do is a choice, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. With choice comes responsibility, of course, and if we accept responsibility, we will find ourselves taking the blame more often. It can be much more comfortable to deny that we have the choice in the first place!
Having a partner can be very convenient, because there is always someone there to blame, but of course blame can be very divisive in a relationship. But, surprisingly, it can be used humourously too. I remember working with a couple who blamed each other a lot, even for things that were clearly not their partner’s fault. We worked on this and over time they learnt to own up, to take responsibility for their own mistakes. And when they had done this, they were able to parody their former relationship. One evening they arrived for the session slightly late. The man owned up, looking rather foolish : “I put the car into reverse by mistake and backed into the garage door”. And then he smiled “I’m sure it must have been my wife’s fault, but I haven’t quite worked out why yet!”