Blame taking is when we implicitly or explicitly accept fault for someone else’s poor choices, or even their disrespectful or abusive behaviors.

Let’s say your partner calls you names or berates you. If you’re blame taker—and many people are without even realizing it—you might take the blame. You might assume you deserve this, that somewhere down the line you’ve must have made a mistake or upset them in some way.

Blame taking is a dangerous game

Blame taking is a common behavior for a reason: It’s all too tempting to engage in it as we seek to keep the peace. It seems like an easy way out of conflict.

But when we take the blame when we haven’t done anything wrong, in the end we only deny our right to a healthy and balanced relationship. And when it becomes a pattern, we risk internalizing these stories of blame and carrying them with us into the future. This compromises our self-esteem and sense of self-worth. It also makes it increasingly difficult for us to assert ourselves and set boundaries. In this way, blame taking sets in motion a perpetual cycle of shame, negativity, and gaslighting.

4 things to do before you take the blame

1. Shift the perspective

It’s basically impossible to maintain objectivity when examining your own relationships. So next time you face conflict in yours, imagine it’s happening to a loved one instead. Lay out the bare facts of the story, both parties’ grievances—then decide whether the blame taking is justified on this occasion, or whether the blamer is being abusive or manipulative.

2. Think about the long-term impact

How does blame taking make you feel about yourself and the relationship? Does it really bring about behavioral change that benefits the relationship in any way? Or rather does it serve only to enable your partner shifting responsibility for their bad decisions onto you? If you continue taking the blame when it’s unwarranted, things will get worse, and it will become harder to stand up for yourself.

3. Consider an alternative response

What could you say other than ‘Sorry’? What would happen if instead you said, ‘I hate to see you upset,’ or ‘What can I do to help you feel better?’? If your partner is acting particularly harshly or aggressively, it may be time to really assert yourself, set a boundary, and make your limits well and truly known: ‘You cannot talk to me like that’; ‘You can’t blame me for how you feel right now.’

4. Reflect on why your instinct is to take the blame

Where has your propensity to take the blame come from? Is this knee-jerk response to apologize connected to an experience from childhood or past trauma? Maybe you were the eldest child and always had to assume more responsibility than was right or fair. Perhaps you were turned into scapegoat by a relative, boss, or ex.

If you’ve over-apologized in the past, you can break the habit. Not everything is your fault. It’s also worth remembering that when you apologize for everything, you degrade the meaning behind a real apology when you feel you’ve genuinely done wrong by someone you care about. However, you can unlearn this behavior. Unlearn your blame taking—and you’ll experience far healthier and more meaningful relationships as a result.

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