I have learned to never accept the blame for how someone else feels.
I don’t mean that I have a free ticket to act like a complete dick to other people. What I mean is that when someone tells me, “it’s your fault that I feel like this,” it’s not. Accepting the blame for their reaction is a step down the path of being the victim of emotional abuse. I’d take on the responsibility for someone else’s emotions – absolving them of their responsibility and putting it on my own shoulders. Since I have no control of someone else’s emotions, I would begin the cycle of taking the blame for whenever they feel negative.
This situation is not good for anyone. I have ended up internalizing the dialog and really thinking of myself as a bad person while at the same time the other will internalize feeling helpless. This brought us in to the roles of persecutor and victim, according to the Karpman Drama Triangle.
As you might guess from the name, this led lead to drama in the relationship – really big-time, unnecessary drama.
In a recent conversation with Gwen, we talked about exactly this topic. If my partner actively begins the role of victim by blaming me for their bad feelings and placing demands on me to modify my behavior (ostensibly to prevent these bad feelings from returning), how do I not accept the blame while at the same time not be violent in my response?
I could tell them outright that it’s not my fault or responsibility, but that is quite (passive) aggressive and could easily set myself in the role of persecutor and besides, I’d feel like an uncaring dick.
I prefer to first understand that their reaction is likely due to a real feeling and not a conscious attempt at manipulation. So I usually have to dig a little deeper by asking why they’ve come to the conclusion that they have. It’s very typically due to assumptions that simply don’t reflect reality. I can not however contradict their version of reality because that invalidates them and escalates tension. Instead, I try to offer “what if” alternatives to their thoughts. With any luck, this will at least bring them to reflect on their own thought processes and that is already half the battle won.
My goal is to get them to slow down, stop reacting and start considering the complexity and variation in other people and situations. In essence, to break the cycle of system one thinking.
Now, I’m the first to admit that this technique is far from foolproof. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s up to the other person if they’re willing to change of not. Nevertheless, I’ve found it to be a more compassionate way to treat someone who would otherwise wind me up and it seems to work at diffusing volatile situations more often than not.