A New Way o Blame

A New Way to Blame

– is responsibility possible without blame?

She was a philosopher & now works as a clinician with people with personality disorders &/or complex trauma
– personality traits define who we are incline us to have a particular array of feelings, desires, Cognitions, beliefs (about ourself, others), ways of engaging in the world,
– people with PD have
-a set of traits that are at the extreme end of a normal spectrum
– have strong, intense negative emotions
– have behaviours to express those emotions which tend to be self-destructive &/or destructive towards other people
– have maladaptive beliefs about self (with knock-on effects for self-esteem)
– distrust & dislike of others
– problems relating interpersonally
– substance abuse
– self-harm
– history of overdose & suicide
– aggression/violence towards others
– extreme outward behaviours
– very socially isolated & withdraw
– neglectful of themselves & the care of others
– they typically feel, act, & think in extreme ways
– they cause harm to themselves & others in their life

– all mental illness involves some problem in cognition, affect & agency
[she notes that the emphasis can be upon one more than the others]
– most people receive a diagnosis on the basis of their behaviour(s) – problematic, self-destructive, destructive to others

Borderline diagnostic criteria include aggression. Self-harm, substance abuse

Antisocial diagnostic criteria can include criminality, violation of the rights of others

– working with people with personality disorders is challenging because of the way they behave with other people

– the clinical trap: tendency to respond in one of two extreme ways:
– be judgmental (blame/withdraw)
– go into rescue mode (helpless victim – feel sorry for them) – which inadvertently excuses the person of having choice & responsibility, which is key to clinical engagement

– clinically, you can’t go into the “responsibility” area if you are going into judgment

– since Aristotle, we have thought of responsibility coming from choice & control
[is there an application for all people, external to the therapy room?]

– notion of “responsibility without blame”

– she has learned to resist going from “blame worthiness” to “blame”

2 Types of blame:
1) Detached version of blame:
– a judgment or belief in blame “worthiness” (responsibility for harm or wrongdoing where there is insufficient excuse)

2) Affective blame
– Involves a set of emotional reactions, a set of reactive attitudes & this can include things like anger, hatred, indignation, resentment, disgust, contempt, scorn [hostile, negative emotions which come with a kind of character judgment, a view of the other person as being bad or unworthy) & which often prompt a set of actions or reactions – aggressive or passive-aggressive which are retaliatory in nature or rejecting.
[A package of emotions, character assessments, judgements and actions]
– She acknowledges that this is a very natural blaming response & doubly so when you believe the person is responsible for wrongdoing & is therefore “blame worthy”
– She notes too that they quickly come up in a person living in our culture
[NOTE: affective blame is rarely helpful in achieving desired outcomes when you have someone who is struggling with their behaviour – in fact, it is counter-productive]

It is helpful therapeutically, not to fall into clinical traps, predicated on judgement, & to not go into affective blame

– free will – is having choice & control – which gives a person agency & ability to effectively respond
– this allows you to realise there are choices & responsibility on both sides (rather than one side judging & blaming another, rather than also taking responsibility to problem-solve)
– remember the perpetrator of wrong has a choice about what they did; similarly the perpetrated against has a choice about how they respond
– the perpetrated against can choose to hold the other person accountable & responsible WITHOUT the reactive attitudes (I.e. the “affective blame” does not need to necessarily accompany the “detached version of blame” which provides a person with space to respond more effectively)

– in the west, it is the interviewee’s contention, we have been raised to attribute responsibility with “moral responsibility” (that something is the right thing to do)*
* she notes that this may often involve backwards referencing & moral assessment (drawing upon most likely judgment & condemnation for things done “wrong” not only now, but also in the past)

– responsibility she argues is not about (morally) assessing people, but is actually about enabling a person & equipping them with skills (& by learning these skills) being able to change & move forward in a better, more productive way
– note too how this is a forwards looking notion of responsibility

– the point of all this is not about moral assessment & judgment, but rather helping & empowering a person to make better choices & be more responsible (& accountable) going forward

– with people we also have to consider when they did have choice & did not have choice (environmental factors in their lives), and how this has impacted upon their agency to take effective action

– She notes that if we do “blame”, we need to “blame responsibly”
– if we decide to blame, we need to be clear about what “end” or purpose the “blame” is trying to serve, & to review afterwards to see if it was successful in achieving the intended purpose, or were there unhelpful consequences
– our primary aim: we are trying to help a person not harm/hurt themselves or others

– she notes many families operate in a climate where they want to be AUTHENTIC – to “just express themselves” & be “who they want to be”, & to not have to worry about their responses or how they say something – this, given the cultural context (which makes blame feel very natural & immediate) leads to “affective blame” when a person in the family behaves in harmful/hurtful ways (including by not taking responsibility) to themselves or others in the family – she says the goal for a family is to exercise judgment (so as to achieve balance & “not become a family of therapists” – this maintains healthy authenticity and intimacy) & to minimise “affective blame” (almost to the point of extinguishment) so that people in the family are more inclined to respond with care, compassion & empathy within the family (which is surely the ultimate in intimacy & authenticity).

– this leads to less blaming, less vengefulness, less retributiveness

Note: Angry & active blame are other concepts being theorised about

Source: The Philosophers Zone | Podcast date: 11.10.2015


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