After all these years, I remain struck and fascinated by how readily, abruptly, selfishly and destructively my more narcissistic clients use blame as an interpersonal weapon.
This isn’t a surprising observation: Don’t like what you’re hearing (because it’s inconvenient)? Blame the messenger. Find an expectation oppressive (because it’s inconvenient)? Blame your partner as a nag, a bitch, or as insatiable.
Find it inconvenient to admit your deviousness or treachery? Blame the victim of your treachery for driving you into a corner and leaving you no choice (in other words, you betrayed me, before I betrayed you!).
For such individuals, blame becomes a reflex. It is often staggering to watch, as it suits their convenience in the moment, how they’ll switch it up and accuse a partner of something that they (not their partner) blatantly perpetrated.
Blame, in many of these cases, is often projected. By projected, I mean that the blamer (the aggressor) takes a feeling—say, guilt—and projects it onto his partner as, say, blame.
For instance, his guilt over an affair is projected as, “You drove me into her arms!” (In other words, I’m not guilty, but you should be!)
Should you challenge his twisted version of the truth, he may escalate his projecting along the lines of, “Don’t go pop psychology on me! There you go again, manipulating me with your pop psychology! You were a lousy wife, you treated me like shit, and so what the hell did you expect?! Shame on you! Take a look in the mirror, honey. You’re a loser!”
By now, a gaslighting effect risks emerging: disoriented by his vitriol and the seeming conviction of his accusations, you may begin to wonder, who’s crazy here? Him, as I once thought, or perhaps me?
Blame, of course, doesn’t always involve projection; sometimes the abuser’s contempt—that is, his devaluation of his target—is so great that, even while he’s consciously, lucidly aware that he violated you, he’ll blame you anyway.
This, of course, takes hubris. But what it most takes, as I just suggested, is a massive level of contempt. Consider the example of the individual who sexually assaults his victim and, fully recognizing the nature of his assault, nevertheless (and shamelessly) blames the victim, calling her a whore, saying she wanted it, she asked for it, she had it coming, what the hell did she expect?
My own view is that the sociopath, in general, has less need than the narcissist to “self-justify” his use of blame. His feeble conscience, which makes few, if any, demands of him, effectively enables and liberates the audacious expression of his contempt and self-centeredness.
I suspect this also explains (at least partly) how, knowing full well he’s been a scoundrel, the sociopath can look you in the eye with unabashed, naked contempt and brazenly endeavor to blame or lie his way out of accountability.
The comfort with which he can do this, the seeming absence of conflict, guilt and ambivalence with which he can blithely commit, and just as blithely deny, such exploitive behaviors, becomes a diagnostic indicator of his sociopathy.
(My use of “he” in this post was merely a convenience, and not meant to suggest that females aren’t capable of the behaviors and disorders discussed. This article is copyrighted © 2009 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)