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Blame versus Responsibility

by Izzy Kalman (August 2003)

The solution to emotional difficulties is not new. For thousands of years, wise people have known that the secret to happiness begins with taking personal responsibility for our lives. You will not find any ancient wisdom that teaches the path to enlightenment is blaming others for our difficulties. Treatment based on the idea that someone else is to blame for our misery is bound to have limited results. We can get people to be less self-critical and to express their anger outwardly rather than keep it bottled up. We can give them the courage to leave marriages that cause misery (which includes most marriages). But the problems in living remain.

A major stumbling block to therapy is how to get clients to take responsibility for themselves because they easily interpret our efforts as our blaming them, and no one likes being blamed. Even neurotics, who seem to blame themselves, do not really like it when we agree with them that they are to blame. And personality disordered people certainly don’t want to be blamed for their problems.

A second stumbling block to getting people to take responsibility for their problems is that they don’t see how they are causing them. People with problems only experience themselves as trying hard to make the problems go away.

So what can we do? We need to make a clear differentiation between blame and responsibility – they are not the same. We need to hold clients, whether they are neurotic or personality disordered, responsible for their lives but without blaming them for their problems. How? The best way I know is through “Izzy’s Game,” the technique I developed and use with clients and teach at my seminars. It shows people how they are unwittingly causing their own problems. An “optical illusion” prevents them from seeing how they are actually causing the very problems they are trying to solve. Therefore they can’t be blamed. But once they see through the illusion, it becomes easier for them to take responsibility and do the right thing to make their lives better. (I didn’t intend for this article to become a plug for my seminars, but what the heck.)

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