Responsibility deflection: blaming others for your own mistakes

leaving zion
Photo by Kai Schreiber used by Creative Commons license
My son and I were hanging out on the back patio this morning when one of my neighbors came down the alley in a small moving truck. She used her remote to open the sliding lot gate, and as a friend guided her from the alley, she proceeded to take the corner little too tightly. The side of her truck mashed up against the gate, dramatically knocking it off its rail. She backed up, took the corner wider, and made it into the lot. She hopped out of the truck looking understandably frustrated, and the first thing she said was this:

"Fuck that UHAUL bitch for giving me such a huge truck…"

It's worth noting that the truck was not at all huge. It's also worth noting that the gate will be fine and it's not a big deal, but the moment was such any icky example of responsibility deflection. "FUCK THE WORLD FOR THAT THING I JUST DID TO MYSELF."

I see this kind of thing a ton in the comments on the Empire. We did a post a while back about offbeat divorce, and the author advised trying to do it without divorce lawyers, if you can. All of us who watch comments were busy that afternoon, and within a couple hours the discussion spiraled into darkness, with commenter after commenter sharing their special awful reasons why they HAD to have a lawyer, the ways that THEIR ex was uniquely psychotic, why they were specially exempt from this advice. 20 comments in, and every single one was about divorce lawyers — despite the fact that that lawyer issue was one tiny aspect of the post.

I mean, I get it: sometimes you need a divorce lawyer (there were some great examples about situations of abuse), but readers basically fixated on this one point, and then once the ball was rolling …. all anyone wanted to talk about was how they were the terrible, negative exception to this very sane, constructive guidance.

I saw this yesterday on my motherhood identity post on Offbeat Families, too. Right away, we got a couple comments from mothers with specific situations that meant they COULD NOT HAVE IDENTITIES. One reader snapped, "How nice for you," and went on to explain that she was a single mom with five kids in a new town with no support. "Having an identity outside of my family simply is not an option for me."

So first: wow. That sounds really hard. But second: wow. It's fascinating to see the way these we sometimes put ourselves into victim/"I have no choice in the matter" mode. It wasn't my fault I hit the gate — that Uhaul bitch gave me a huge truck! My situation is uniquely difficult in ways you can't even fathom, so of course I am exempt from having any control over my response to it. Rather than put my energy into figuring out how I might be able to improve my situation, I'd rather spend my time explaining why my situation is so uniquely shitty that it could never be anything other than shitty.

Again, I TOTALLY get it — I have my moments in the muck of feeling angry and frustrated and GAH fuck everyone why is it all so hard and none of it is my fault fucking fuck fuck fuck. Those moments totally are important and necessary. But just as necessary to me is finding a way OUT of those moments… finding your way back to "Ok, that sucked. What can I do to deal with it now?"

How do you do that?

  1. Umm Ariel can we be friends, because I feel like you read my mind sometimes. It is very interesting to see the way people deflect things because it just CAN'T be that they are their own worst problem.

    7 agree
  2. I think sometimes people feel so frustrated they can't turn inward and be introspective, in that moment people just need to remember to be kind to others and think the situation through when they feel "cooler." The most important thing, just like you said, is moving forward! :)

  3. I sometimes have the opposite problem – I think I occasionally take on TOO much responsibility. I get stuck because I don't want to make the wrong decision, so I make no decision at all.

    I think what gets me to snap out of the deflected responsibility trap is remembering that we cannot change anyone except ourselves. I can choose to be miserable and pissed off that no one will change for MEEEEEEEE, or I can say screw it, make a change in myself, and keep on my merry way.

    I solidly feel that we each made the choices that we did to get to the place we are now. I sink into the "deflected responsibility" trap for a short time, but then something in my head always says, "you made this choice. Now what are you gonna do about it?" It's a bit of a pain in the ass, but at least it gets me moving again.

    3 agree
  4. taking responsibility for your actions, especially your poor actions is a hard pill for anyone to swallow; but you get better at it each time you do it.

    carrying around all that negative energy doesnt do anything but make an already bad situation worse. and holding a grudge only allows some idiot to live rent free in your head.

    on that divorce post?? my mom is a collaborative law attorney. which means she doesnt go to court. she doesnt do the "battle" that is so often associated with divorce. she saw your post and (being facebook retarded) asked me to post it for her and get the message out to her colleagues. she was ELATED that her business and her belief system that something that feels bad doesnt have to be ugly was out there and being adopted by the general public in such a positive way. clearly she didnt read the comments, and neither did i. and im glad i didnt.

    again….everyone needs to be responsible for their actions, reactions and participation in the decisions that youve made that landed you in said "bad" situation.

  5. I totally do this sometimes. I get frustrated and I blame it on everyone else – except myself. (I do hope I don't do it too much on the internet). Usually I am very tired / not feeling very well at that moment and more frustrated with myself and my limits than anything else. My husband keeps me in check; he will call me out and make me reasonable and help me acknowledge that it me rather than the world. A quick hug helps a lot, usually.
    So, for me, having people around me to calm me down and call me back to reality while still wanting to hug me is great help in dealing with this.

    Oh, and as far as the internet goes: turn your computer off if something pisses you of on the internet. Get out on your balcony/in your yard, watch the cat or some birds, calm down, think about the real world – and the internet will not seems half as important as it did 5 minutes ago…

  6. I'm going to bookmark this so I can send it to people in need of a little perspective. Hopefully, I can find a way that appears helpful and doesn't paint me like a jerk, since this is a really important concept that everyone is guilty of.

    • Yeah, I'm still not convinced that this post doesn't make me sound like a jerk….

  7. So surely is Meet The Robinsons (which I love mainly because everytime I finish watching it I end up crying "We need to ADOPT!!!"). Sometimes I worry my sister has this problem, but for her its not just self denial, it is like it has turned into simply a way of thinking which makes me really sad. It means that if I try and get her in a conversation about all the amazing things she *could* do in her life, she closes off and gets very defensive because it's all too much to think about and she's stressed and everything is so hard. Sometimes I think she needs tough love, other times I think it's a bit of low self esteem that makes people deflect everything but they just can't cope to have another thing to blame themselves for.

    AND just like Meet The Robinsons, what it took was love and kindness in order to break the cycle. Which why I love Offbeat because the community tends to give a nice balance of tough love and loving support.

    Also, Ariel, you're not a jerk :)

  8. I'm sure this may irritate a little because I'm going to bring up dicorce lawyers and you've explicitly stated how much you love that topic. Lol. What I'm not going to do is explain why my situation was different and I had to have one. I actually did my entire divorce myself. It cost me about $350 compared to the $2500 I was looking at through a lawyer. And I had to wait my ex-husband out because he wouldn't consent to the divorce. He was an abusive sack of smashed assholes, an adulterer, and a heroin addict. When I left I weighed a whopping 89 lbs., my hair was falling out, and I was taking enough Ativan to sedate a horse just to function normally enough to take care of my son. But when I realized that my minimum wage income wasn't going to allow me a lawyer, I joined a women's survivors therapy group. Then I busted my ass to make the extra to file the divorce redneck style and served my ex-sack the papers myself. It was basically exactly the reality check I needed to realize that I wasn't a victim of domestic violence, I was survivor. And I was stronger than I gave myself credit for being. So, there's a positive sort of story about divorce lawyers and why you don't need one. :)

    4 agree
  9. I think you are talking about two different types here – both of which I usually find tedious. (Yes, I'm pretty much a jerk! Ha!)

    There's the "woe is me" victim, who would rather complain about their problems, than work on finding solutions. They always seem to walk around with a rain cloud over head, exclaiming how all the bad things just happen to them and how no one understands. Everyone has been through some hellacious crap during their lifetime in some form or another. How you handle it, is what counts. Do you deal with it, move past it, and learn from it? Or do you wallow and bemoan your bad misfortune. Every time I get into that "woe is me" frame of mind, I just look around me and see the battles so many others have faced courageously. For example, I struggled with infertility and it's easy to slip into the why me, who to blame, no one understands, life's not fair route – but instead I realized that there are many who shared my struggles and have endured much worse. Sure there will be times when we are knocked down. We can allow ourselves time to cry/curse, but then we need to get up, dust ourselves off, and get back at it.

    The other type (which irks me even more) are the "entitlement" types. They accept no personal responsibility for anything and are always looking for someone/something to blame. They are are the ones who…when their kids get in trouble in school, they blame the teacher; when they misread instructions, they say that the information should have been clearer; when they leave their laptop in plain sight in their car, they blame the store where they parked because their car was broken into. This degree of arrogance and lack of personal responsibility even leads people to believe that rules don't apply to them – just those around them. Something along the lines of: "This venue didn't have enough parking, so I'm just parked illegally in the grass." Never mind the fact that you arrived late to venue!

    As you can tell, I've had a lot of experience with both these types of people.

    If I find myself falling prey to the blame game, I just remember to…get perspective, show empathy/respect, and be humble.

    7 agree
  10. I LOVE this post. Like grafxcowgirl I really dislike those two types of people. I also (too often) blame others/unavoidable circumstances for what I do. I feel I do it because I don't like being chastised by others. I know I fucked up or could have worked on it earlier, I don't need their 'advice' or frustration, I'm too old for my mum to ground me. It's easier to say 'oh I'm ill, sorry'.
    Behind the scenes I'm working on I'm improving myself for next time, whether that is being more organised or more observant – and most recently having a workable schedule that suits me and not society. I believe actions speak louder than words so I make sure I get it right next time.
    For me it's OK to deflect the negativity from my fuckups as long as I learn and grow. Also, whilst I might curse in annoyance at a fuck up, I don't take it out on others. If it is something someone else is doing I remove myself from their presence or I do something about the situation. Sometimes I have to take the high ground but I feel so much happier that way than being angry at the humans all around me.

  11. THIS!!! I really dislike this attitude in people and see it all too often. I call them 'One-uppers' – people who always have a worse, more devastating or cringe-worthy story than the last in a poor attempt at garnering any sympathy for a situation where they perceive themselves as a victim. Often, as the article said, the focus is on a small point that is not really relevant to the issue being discussed.
    Wake up people! You're not going to get any sympathy from a horde of keyboard warriors who are trying to out-do you with anecdotes designed to make your own story seem as significant as an ant on a shoe.
    To the collective group of One-uppers in my life: Oh your life sucked more than mine? You win. Here, have a prize. But try pointing the finger at yourself and see what you find, because I reckon if you look again with clarity you might find that actually, most of the time, it wasn't someone else.

    1 agrees
  12. I am thirty and back in college and I see the "it's not MY fault – it's x, y, or z" every day. People who don't show up, don't do their work, don't ask for help when they need it, then get mad at the teacher or other student (I've been told "of course you're getting a good grade, you suck up to the teacher" and it's just like "well, that, or I show up to the weekly study group and see the tutors.") At any rate, this is something that irks me when I see it in other people, and I began noticing whenever I would do it, so I made a conscious effort to own my mistakes (and my successes) and that's helped a lot.

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