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Section 6
Paths to Blame

Question 6 | Test | Table of Contents | Anger Management
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

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On the last track we discussed Four Fallacies of "Should".  These included the entitlement fallacy, the fallacy of fairness, the fallacy of change  and the "letting it out" fallacy.

On this track, we will discuss Four Aspects of Blame. These include awareness, good-bad dichotomizing, assumed intent and magnifying.

Four Aspects of Blame

Aspect #1 - Awareness
First, let’s discuss awareness. Have you found, as I have, that those who blame assume they are not responsible for their pain and deny reality by believing that people are deliberately doing bad things?  As you know, awareness is the degree of clarity with which you perceive and understand, consciously or unconsciously, all the factors relating to the need at hand.

Vernon, age 40, was upset about his son Michael, age 18. Vernon stated to me, "Michael knows I’ll be upset and that he diminishes his chances for college when he brings home C’s and D’s. He knows better, but he does it anyway!" 

I stated to Vernon, "‘Knowing better’ is not sufficient to ‘do better’ if Michael’s awareness at the time is focused on stronger and opposing motivations.  If his need to go out with girls or rebel against the family rules is larger than his need to please you, then grades will be a low priority.  It all comes down to what is most important at the time.  Blaming labels people and behavior as bad, when, in fact, each person makes the best choice available.  By blaming, you end up punishing people for actions they could not help performing." 

Is your client aware of his or her tendency to blame?  If so, you might consider trying the Components of Awareness Technique.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy Technique: The Components of Awareness
I asked Vernon to try the CBT Components of Awareness Technique. 
a. First, think of someone you know well, whom you have blamed at some point. 
b. Next
, think of a decision that person made that angered you. 
c. Third, try to reconstruct the decision from that person’s point of view. 

Try to see how these factors could combine so that his or her decision was the best choice available.  Vernon said, "Michael’s awareness is different than mine, but I guess I’m going to have to accept it.  He’s a grown boy now, and he can choose what’s important to him and make his own mistakes."

#2 Good-Bad Dichotomizing
Second, let’s discuss good-bad dichotomizing. As you are aware, blaming has a tendency to repaint the world in black and white.  People are good or bad, right or wrong. Vera and Alexander, both age 45, were in marriage counseling. 

Vera stated to me, "I frequently show him physical affection, like hugs and kisses. I do his laundry and invite his friends to dinner…but he just doesn’t seem to notice!" Do you have a client who dichotomizes? Could he or she benefit from listening to this track or trying the "Finding Shades of Gray" technique which follows?

CBT Technique: Finding Shades of Gray
I asked Alexander to try the Finding Shades of Gray CBT Technique. Here’s what I told him,
Step #1 - "First, write a complete description of someone you know well and care about, but with whom you also feel angry.
Step #2 - Read over your description. How many of the items are judgments, implying that a characteristic is either good or bad? 
Step #3- Try to make the descriptions neutral. Instead of saying, "He’s fat," say, "He weighs 250 pounds." Instead of saying, "She has a beautiful face," say, "She has smooth skin and even features." Stick to the facts." 

After trying this exercise, Alexander stated to me, "I had been in this one-track state of mind for so long, just focusing on Vera’s faults, that I stopped looking at her as a whole, complete human being."

#3 Assumed Intent
Third, in addition to awareness and good-bad dichotomizing, let’s discuss assumed intent.  As you know, assumed intent is the tendency to make inferences about how people feel and think.  Annemarie, age 33, felt insulted by the behavior of one of her friends, Elaine. 

She stated to me, "Elaine deliberately excluded me from this luncheon she was having at her house!  I thought, ‘Is this supposed to be some kind of slap!!?’  I was furious."

CBT Technique:  Ask Before Assuming
I asked Annemarie to try the Ask Before Assuming Technique. 

I stated to Annemarie, "For one day, make a commitment to yourself that you will make absolutely no assumptions about the motivations of others unless you check out your assumption with the other person. Your rule for yourself for this day will be that you either avoid assumptions or find out if they’re true.  For example, a person might ask, "When you said the potatoes were overcooked, I felt like you were mad at me or something, is that true?" or "Is it true that you’re being slow getting ready for the movie because I didn’t wash the car today?" 

Annemarie said, "I asked Elaine if she excluded me from the luncheon because she was mad at me about something.  It turns out that she was honoring a co-worker I didn’t know.  I guess I just jumped to conclusions."

#4 Magnifying
Fourth, let’s discuss magnifying. As you are aware, this is the tendency to over-generalize to make things worse than they are. Janna, age 24, complained to me about her boss, "He’s always handing me things at the last minute! He’s awful with the whole support staff! Never a kind word, never a smile.  He’s just a lousy person to work for." 

I asked Janna, "Does he really never smile?" Janna replied, "Well…ok, I’ve seen him smile maybe once or twice. But really, he’s not nice very often!"  We had talked about trigger thoughts in a previous session, so I said to Janna, "Magnifying your trigger thoughts is like throwing gasoline on fire. Your anger explodes because you feel so wronged or so justified."  Do you have a client who magnifies?

CBT Technique:  Never Say Never
I asked Janna to try the Never Say Never CBT Technique.  I stated to Janna, "For one day, eliminate these words from your vocabulary: all, always, every, never, terrible, awful, disgusting, horrible, sickening…etc.  Commit yourself to describing people and events without magnifying.  Strive for accuracy rather than exaggeration.  Instead stick to simple conclusions such as, "I don’t like it when he criticizes the support staff," or "I’d prefer he didn’t hand me things after 4:00." 

As a result of trying this exercise, Janna stated to me, "I realized that my boss isn’t purposely trying to be grumpy at us all the time.  He’s just stressed from work and often busy."

On this track, we discussed Four Aspects of Blame.  These have included Awareness, Good-Bad Dichotomizing, Assumed Intent and Magnifying.

On the next track, we will discuss Four Stress Reduction Techniques.  These include Scanning Your Body for Stress, Breathing Away Stress, Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Meditation.

- Stimpson, A., Kroese, B. S., Macmahon, P., Rose, N., Townson, J., Felce, D., . . . Willner, P. (2012). The Experiences of Staff Taking on the Role of Lay Therapist in a Group-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Anger Management Intervention for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 26(1), 63-70. doi:10.1111/jar.12006.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Monroe, A. E., & Malle, B. F. (2017). Two paths to blame: Intentionality directs moral information processing along two distinct tracks. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146(1), 123–133.

Monroe, A. E., & Malle, B. F. (2019). People systematically update moral judgments of blame. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(2), 215–236.

Rothschild, Z. K., Landau, M. J., Sullivan, D., & Keefer, L. A. (2012). A dual-motive model of scapegoating: Displacing blame to reduce guilt or increase control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(6), 1148–1163.

What are four aspects of blame? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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