When blame pulls up a chair…
Blame is sometimes an uninvited guest in the therapy room. It points a finger, clenches its fist and speaks in angry absolutes. ‘He’s quite impossible’ inveighs the mother of a teenager who seems superglued to Facebook, and is rude and taciturn by turns. ‘She’s wrecked everything’ says the man who has found flirty texts to someone else on his girlfriend’s phone .‘ ‘You never support me when I’m stressed with work’ insists one half of a bickering couple. ‘You’re always moaning’ retorts the other.
Counselling puts blame in its place.
Whilst not exactly putting out the welcome mat for blame, counsellors acknowledge its presence and their new clients’ very real distress. But if the fault-finding client has brought along a loved one for the counsellor to ‘sort out’, they will discover that’s not how therapy works. Without judging or taking sides, counsellors help clients to talk through the bigger picture, and see that the story unfolding in the room has different versions, depending on who tells it. It’s all about perspective, but if one person insists on being entirely right, then the relationship will very likely lose. So your counsellor helps you to see that, however hurt you feel, blame is not helpful – the person on the receiving end feels defensive, undermined and angry, and may well hear ‘You always’ and ‘you never’ as an all-out attack on them as a person, rather than distress at something specific they’ve done or said:
Exploring what’s really going on behind the fault-finding.
The teenage boy, for instance, may not pick up any clue that, underneath her vehemence, his mother is probably more anxious than angry. Where has her once affable son gone – and will he ever re-emerge? The boy may simply sense that he’s become unlovable, and so feel helpless to change things between them. Mum says he’s bad, so he might as well be so. The texting woman may feel guilty and unhappy – but her partner’s haranguing blocks her from explaining how low she was whilst he was on secondment in a sophisticated city overseas. She is not a one-woman demolition squad of the heart. She was lonely and sought unwise distraction. As for the combative couple, weighed down by everyday cares, they have perhaps forgotten how to give and take pleasure in their partnership. Communicating by criticism and verbal slaps has become a habit.
Blame leaves the room: it’s time to talk positive.
Counsellors hear so many stories of rebellion, betrayal, disenchantment and indifference. Every one is unique and different. Some clients say that they feel immediately better simply for being listened to, and allowed to offload. Even short-term therapy can defuse reproach and resentment, so that clients can begin a calmer and more considered conversation. They start to explore and re-examine their assumptions and ideas about how they want to live together. They may well look back on how their childhood family lived and see how they are now (perhaps unconsciously) replaying similar roles, or reacting strongly against them. As the clients hear more about each other’s lives, so they also learn more about themselves. A light bulb moment comes when one says to the other, ‘I didn’t know you felt like that’ or ‘I wasn’t an easy teenager either.’ Now the clients can show blame the door, and begin to envision more fulfilling ways to get along. With the counsellor’s support, they rediscover their resilience to handle conflict and challenge. Once they quash the criticism, they may catch each other doing something right instead. Some people wonder – and worry – that counselling might require them to become totally different characters. Not so: it’s more a case of bringing out the best in you by shrinking negative thoughts and feelings, and growing the positive. Just a little change can make a lot of difference.
Author: Madeleine Kingsley