Do You Blame Others for Your Mistakes?

"It's not my fault!" If that phrase is a constant refrain in your home—from one of the adults, rather than the children—it might be time to tackle the person always trying to blame someone else for their own mistakes.

Here, mental health experts explain how this tendency to shirk responsibility is rooted in shame and how we can stop ourselves or our loved ones shifting the blame.

How to Tell When a Person Is Blaming Others for Their Mistakes

Heather Lofton, a therapist from the Family Institute at Northwestern University in Illinois, told Newsweek: "For many, it is challenging to take responsibility for mistakes, especially if they disappoint or hurt someone. It is quite easy to spot someone who is interpersonally constrained in this way."

There are a number of signs to look out for, according to Lofton and clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula. As well as blatantly blaming others and refusing responsibility, this person might:

  • Change the subject when asked to take responsibility
  • Often behave like a victim
  • Be hypocritical, with one set of rules for themselves and another set for everybody else
  • Have a hard time apologizing and/or recognizing their contribution to a situation that concluded with a mistake
  • Gaslight people. You start to see a pattern of lying and/or embellishing any given situation to avoid accountability
  • Be manipulative.
A man pointing finger at someone.
A man in a suit pointing his finger at someone. Those who blame others for their mistakes often change the subject when asked to take responsibility. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Why Do We Blame Others?

Lisa Gordon, also a therapist at Northwestern's Family Institute, told Newsweek that people who frequently had their wrongdoing pointed out as children can develop "an adulthood aversion to hearing they erred in some way."

Durvasula, who has appeared with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith on the Red Table Talk show, as well as with Kendall Jenner on Vogue's YouTube channel, told Newsweek that it all boils down to shame. Being called out for "bad" behavior inspires shame.

In a bid to preserve their ego or as a defensive move, the person shifts or projects the blame onto others. This means they do not have to experience the discomfort of "being judged badly for their behavior," she said.

Asked whether the act of blaming others happens on a subconscious level, Durvasula said: "There is awareness [that] the behavior is not appropriate, so it can't be entirely."

How to Stop Blaming Others

The short answer? "Grow up," Durvasula said. She, Lofton and Gordon offer more detailed advice below.

Have Some Compassion for Yourself

Recognize that none of us is perfect and there are benefits to being accountable for our behavior. Durvasula said these include:

  • The facilitation of more consistent, deep and trusting relationships
  • The opportunity to learn from what we did
  • The chance to help others feel safe.

Be Self-Aware

Be mindful of your behavior and call out errors early when you observe them.

A man sitting in a corner indoors.
A man hunched over in a corner. Being accountable for our mistakes can feel uncomfortable, but it is better for our relationships in the long term. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Take Ownership of Your Actions

If someone calls you out on a behavior, own it. "It may not feel good in the short term, but the relationship you have with that person is more likely to move forward in a healthy way if you do," Durvasula said.

Gordon said you should "name your own mistakes often and emphasize the value of trying new behaviors" to help create a family culture in which mistakes are seen as normal and opportunities to grow.

See Blame as Useful Information

Gordon suggested switching the feedback from "blame" to "useful information," using this format: "I feel [insert emotion] when you [insert behavior], and I would appreciate it if you could [insert desired behavior] instead."

Modeling healthy behaviors, such as expressing your emotions, will hopefully allow a person to move away from blame, she added.

Seek Therapy

Getting therapy to figure out what's behind a fear of taking responsibility can end this cycle, "as the roots of shame may go to childhood," Durvasula said.

Lofton also encouraged engaging in therapy to help "process the pattern, uncover the root cause and create new behaviors to address self-accountability."

She added that not taking responsibility for mistakes is often the result of some form of trauma or embarrassment that was learned over time, so it will take time to unlearn this behavior.

A couple arguing on a sofa.
A couple arguing on a sofa. Blame shifting may have its roots in childhood shame. iStock/Getty Images Plus