Playing the Blame Game as a Manipulation Tactic

By habitually blaming others for his own indiscretions, the disturbed character resists modifying his problematic attitudes and behavior patterns.

I’ve been publishing a series of articles on the habitual behaviors that not only keep persons with disturbed characters from developing a sense of accountability and responsibility but which also serve as effective tactics of manipulation. (See “Understanding the Dysfunctional Tactics of Disturbed Characters”, which kicked off the series.)

Perhaps no behavior which disordered characters are prone to displaying is more common than their tendency to blame others when they do something wrong. Confront them on something they did that was insensitive, inappropriate, hurtful, or even harmful, and you’ll find them playing the blame game — pinning the fault on someone or something else. You’ll often hear them claim that some person or circumstance made them do what they did instead of acknowledging that they had a choice about how to respond to the situation and failed to choose wisely.

The tactic of blaming has sometimes been called projecting the blame. The term projection stems from psychodynamic psychology and refers to one of the automatic mental behaviors conceptualized by traditional theorists as ego defense mechanisms. The rationale behind that notion is that sometimes individuals unconsciously “project” onto others motivations, intentions, or actions that they actually harbor themselves but which they would feel far too unnerved or guilty about to acknowledge as their own.

Neurotic individuals do indeed unknowingly engage in projection defenses. But disordered characters know what they are doing. They are fully conscious about what they know others would see as the wrongfulness of their behavior, despite the fact that they might be perfectly comfortable with their course of action themselves. They don’t have enough guilt or shame about what they’re doing to change course. Nor are they so consumed with emotional pain that they must ascribe to others the motivations they can’t tolerate in themselves. Rather, when they blame others for their wrongful acts, it’s simply an attempt to justify their stance by casting themselves as being in a position where they simply had no choice but to respond the way they did. In this way, they simultaneously evade responsibility as well as manipulate and manage the impressions of others. The tactic goes hand in hand with the tactic of portraying oneself as a victim. It’s typically an effective tactic that gets others to pay attention to everyone or everything else except the disordered character and his wrongful behavior as the source of a problem.

Sometimes the tactic of blaming can be quite subtle. By calling attention to a wide variety of contributing circumstances, a manipulator can effectively obscure his or her role in the creation of a problem. This “it wasn’t me” tactic is hard to detect when your attention is drawn to other “culprits” through this diversionary sleight of hand.

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Holding manipulators and other disturbed characters accountable for their choices and actions is a must. A person who won’t acknowledge his or her bad choices and bad habits and repeatedly blames others for his shortcomings will never correct his erroneous thinking or behavior. Whenever he plays the blame game, you know the disturbed character has no intentions of changing his ways. Habitually blaming others for his own indiscretions is a principal way the disturbed character resists modifying his problematic attitudes and behavior patterns.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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