My recent post: “When You’re In Relationship With A Blamer,” inspired overwhelming feedback, both from people who feel they receive blame and those who think they’re blamers. (Encouragingly, many blamers expressed the desire to change their blaming habits.)
The questions I raised included:
- How do we proceed when someone that matters to us assigns us negative intentions that are not ours?
- How much energy do we put into trying to correct their ideas so as to be seen and known correctly?
- How do we stay open, non-defensive, and emotionally intact when someone uses us as a place to unload their anger, guilt, and shame, and to successfully split off from their own negative feelings?
- How can we avoid internalizing their negativity and experiencing ourselves as the bad object that they need us to be—so that their internal system can function smoothly, their identity can remain intact?
The first thing to do when someone we care about blames or criticizes us is to examine our own behavior. Is there truth in what they are telling us about ourselves? What was your intention in this situation? If we find that there is validity in what they are telling us, we can take a good look at what they are pointing to, and try to use their words as a lesson and opportunity to grow.
To honestly investigate our own behavior takes courage. To acknowledge that we could have acted with more awareness in a situation, or could have done better, is not the same as blaming or judging ourselves. We are all works in progress and all in the process of becoming more aware.
But when we are in relationship with a chronic blamer, most of us have already done this kind of self-examination. We have found that the blamer frequently accuses us of intentions and actions that do not belong to us, and often belong to themselves. Part of what makes being in a relationship with a blamer so challenging is that our intentions and behavior seem unrelated to how they view and treat us. We may show the blamer who we are, and painstakingly explain, again and again, our truth—that we are not what they have decided. But the blamer needs us to remain the bad one, and needs us to see what he or she sees. However, if we pay attention and take some distance from the accusations, we realize that we have been assigned a role in the other’s internal narrative and are playing a (negative) character for them in their storyline—all of which is about them and not us. Even when our behavior demonstrates a different reality than what the blamer claims, the blamer is likely to remain more committed to keeping his or her narrative intact than to seeing the truth.
The great danger that projection presents when it comes from those close to us is it makes us feel like the bad person that the other person is relating to. Particularly when someone projects onto and blames us from a young age, we tend to take on the core-belief that we are bad—in whatever form our blamer framed it (I am the selfish one, I am the angry one, etc.). When we are young, we experience ourselves through the eyes of those close to us. We have not yet developed a private experience of ourselves that can refute the character they need us to be. We don’t yet have the capacity to separate who we are, in our own heart and gut, from the guilty person they see. Their delight or disapproval teaches us who we are. Until we understand and heal from projection, and discover a different experience of ourselves, we believe and/or fear ourselves to be their story of us.
The most critical practice to undertake when in a relationship with a blamer is to get irrefutably clear on who we are in our own heart—which only we can know. What is my truth?: This is the question in which we must marinate. The core of protecting ourselves from a blamer is establishing and continually supporting an impenetrable boundary between what we know about ourselves and what this other person needs to believe about us. This boundary requires that we be willing to dive deeply into our own heart, to discover our real truths—without distortion—with a fierce and unwavering intention to meet ourselves as we actually are. Our practice is to create a tether into our heart, and build a place inside ourselves where the blamer’s words cannot reach—where we know (and know we know) who we are. Rather than harming us, then, the other’s blame can then be used as a red flag, to remind us to return to our heart to discover what is actually so for us—separate from the other and their story. Their blame becomes the catalyst to direct our energy away from their narrative and toward our own inarguable truth.
It is heartbreaking when someone we love sees us in a way that doesn’t feel true or positive, but just because another person (no matter how much we love them) relates to us as bad or guilty does not mean that we are those things. We can mourn this person not knowing us, or not seeing us correctly—without having to become the object of their blame. Further, we do not need to convince the other of who we are to be who we are. We need not convince them of our innocence to be innocent. We can simply choose to reject their projections, to return them to sender, if you will. Their projections belong to them; we can let them pass through us. While we feel and grieve the gap between who we are and who they see, it is not a gap that must be, or in some cases, can be bridged.
While we can’t control what another person thinks about us or how they may distort our truth, we can most definitely control what we do with their thoughts. We can’t control whether another person will listen to or be interested in our truth, but we can control for how long and with how much energy we will attempt to correct their version of our truth. We can also control how and if we want to continue in a relationship with someone who chooses not to relate to who we actually are.
In relating with a blamer, some important questions to contemplate are:
- When I search my own heart, is my intention in line with what the blamer is accusing me of? (Am I responsible in some way for what they are claiming and can I look at that part of myself?)
- What is my heart’s intention in this relationship?
- Have I tried to express my experience or my truth to this person?
- Do I experience this person as interested in or open to my truth?
- Am I allowing myself to experience the feelings that arise as a result of being unfairly blamed and/or not heard?
- Can I honor and grieve the gap between who they are relating to and who I am?
- Can I know myself as who I am even in the face of their need to relate to me as someone else?
- Can I allow their negative projections to remain with them, and not take them in as my own?
- Can I let myself be who I am and know myself as who I am, even with this person believing that I am responsible for how they feel?
- Can I honor myself as innocent even in the face of the guilt they are assigning me?
- Do I want to remain in relationship with someone who sees me in a way that is out of alignment with who I know myself to be? If so, why?
A longing for others to see and know us as we know ourselves—and, of course, regard us positively—is integral to being human. And yet, we can’t always change the way another person relates to us, or who they need us to be for them. Fortunately, we can always change the way we relate to ourselves. No matter the narrative tsunami we face, we can always be that kind and curious presence—for ourselves—which wants to know what is actually true inside our heart, and thus to know us as we really are.