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Attaching blame to others: Do we do this too easily?

December 27, 2009

Last week I wrote a piece introducing the concept of how our view of events influences behaviors, emotions and physical feelings (see the post CBT A Life Model). I also raised the point that by not paying close enough attention to some of these components might lead you down stray paths. I asked you to start the “noticing process” by evaluating some of your expectations in various situations. I also suggested you direct your attention to the differences in expectations you attributed towards yourself versus others.

So since I am wondering what you came up with, thought I’d enlighten you with some information about how we normally think when interpreting the behaviors of others.

When interpreting the cause of someone’s behavior we are more likely to think the reason has more to do with a personal reason than attribute it to a situational factor. For example, when a friend fails to call you, you are more likely to see their behavior as disinterested, rude, carelessness or disorganized, rather than to weigh heavily that they may be busy at work, talking to someone else, in a quiet or too noisy of a place or with no cell phone reception.

However, the opposite is true in situations that occur when we are the ones who don’t deliver. In these situations, we are likely to focus on the circumstances rather than attribute it to personal feelings. So when you are guilty for not calling a friend, you are more likely to think about the fact that you are busy at work or bogged down with the kids rather than connect it to not caring or dislike.

Remember this the next time you feel disappointed by the activities of others. You may want to ask about their actions before you assess personal blame. You may want to consider more heavily what circumstances were occurring at the time.

Also the next time you disappoint someone you may want to consider making sure they have not attached more of a personalization to it than you have. Regardless of your intentions or attributions, it still might sting. You can do this is a number of ways but usually open communication works best.

Dr. Jayme

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