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By Beverly Ward

August 7, 2022

From Science: Today we are looking at the cognitive distortion “blaming”, the eighth and final distortion we will explore in this blog series. According to Dr. David Burns, a leader and pioneer in the field of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), blaming is, “one of the toughest and most destructive of all distortions” and often is a primary contributor to deep suffering and suicidal thoughts. Blaming happens in two forms: 1) self-blame, and 2) other blame.

Self-blaming is almost always based on should statements turned against oneself. For example, “I should be a better mother”, “I am to blame”. Self-blaming can cause shame, self-loathing, depression, and other intense unhelpful emotions. Self-blaming is much easier to correct than other-blaming. When we correct our faulty thinking about ourselves, we uncover good news about ourselves. We find that we are actually not as ‘bad’ as we thought we were. When we can come to accept this good news, it feels good.

Other-blaming is also almost always based on should statements, these directed against others. “She should be a better mother”, “He is to blame”. Other-blaming can lead to hatred, marginalizing of others, beliefs of supremacy, and anger. It can also keep us stuck in a position of perceived helplessness. If we believe that the other person is the whole problem, and we know that we can’t change anyone but ourselves, we are stuck.

Other-blaming is harder to change than self-blaming. It requires us to own some unpleasant parts of our nature and to accept our darker-side. This often does not feel good at all. The good news is, once we accept it, we can work to change it.

Dr Burns tells a story of client who was entrenched in other-blame, it was causing him to experience rage attacks and problems at work. The client was a researcher at the doctoral level in a major university. He was a top-notch scientist, and his research was done to the highest standards. His colleague was a less stringent researcher and a much better salesman of his work. He received a lot of attention and promotion. The client responded to this situation with a lot of other-blaming. ‘His research is not as good as mine’, ‘He is about himself and not about improving science’, ‘He is the reason I can’t get a promotion’, ‘He does not deserve that acclaim’. These thoughts kept the client stuck in a down-ward spiral of helplessness and self-destruction.

This client’s response to his thoughts and feelings (his rage and antisocial behaviors) were diminishing his credibility. When he began to see this (that he was empowering his co-worker and disempowering himself), he began to look more closely at his thinking. To change, he had to face the unpleasant reality of his darker-side. He came to realize that the pay-off to him in buying into his negative thoughts about his co-worker was a feeling of moral superiority and being “better-than”. Once he accepted this, he was able to reframe his thinking and change it. His new way of looking at the situation may have been something like, ‘This guy’s darker-side is a less stringent integrity in his work, and mine is a belief of my own moral superiority. The truth is, we both have a darker-side, and I am letting mine lead me. This is what is getting in my way, not him.’

This client experienced a major turn-around. His anger outbursts stopped, and he got busy with the work of changing the things he needed to change. He accepted that building relationships with higher-ups was a good and necessary thing and could be done sincerely. He learned how to communicate effectively and grow in relationship with the people who could help further the good work he was doing. He did not comprise the integrity of his work, he just enhanced it through self-awareness and people skills.

From Scripture: The client in the scenario above faced two fundamental human dilemmas, that of dying to self and that of accepting that we all have both a good and Goldy nature as well as a darker-side. These ideas are certainly consistent with scripture. Consider Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there.” From this passage, we can glean that we all have a sinful nature of unGodly passions and desires and we can see clearly that we are instructed not to walk in them.

The client mentioned above was wrestling with pride and a desire for recognition, these ‘fleshy’ desires were getting in the way of his Godly desire to do research to the highest standard and further the body of scientific knowledge. Change happened when he began to understand and reframe his negative thinking.

I find CBT empowered by scripture amazing. Using the tools of CBT to better understand our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how to change them helps us to ‘take our thoughts captive’. Using scripture to enhance CBT ensures that what we are taking our thoughts captive to is ‘the knowledge of Christ’.

I hope this client not only reframed his negative thoughts but also nailed them to the cross. I hope that he trusted in God’s promises to carve out just the right path for his life, including his career. CBT offers great tools to help us do the work of changing our thoughts/feelings/behaviors. I believe that, when we harness these tools to line ourselves up with God’s Word, we have life-enhancing dynamite.

Action Plan: When you find that you are blaming yourself or others, take a closer look at how realistic your thoughts are. Use the technique of reattribution. What are all the factors to which this problem can be attributed? Where are the parts that you can change? Also, consider doing a cost/benefit analysis by listing the advantages and disadvantages of the thoughts you are believing that support your blame. (There is a great explanation of a cost/benefit analysis in the video below in the Lagniappe section).

When you have developed new insights, giving you a clearer understanding of the problem, check your understanding and plan of change with scripture. Does what I am choosing to believe and do line up with God’s Word?

Also, when wrestling to accept and change your own darker-side, remember that the work of cleansing our hearts is a good and profitable thing. (Don’t just believe me on this, check it out in scripture.)

The Lagniappe:

Nailed to The Cross by Rend Collective

A therapist explains how to do a CBT cost/benefit analysis


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