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Blame

“Blame” was one of the most sensitive areas in these patients. They went to great lengths, at times devious and unnecessary, to defend or justify a feeling or reaction. As a patient went through his defense, one could literally see the tide of anger rise and fall, depending on whether he felt he had acquitted himself or not. The issue could be anything trivial or crucial. Defensiveness seemed to be an unconscious characterological trait which was automatically and facilely employed at the slightest provocation, real or imagined. It was an index of over-sensitivity to or over-anticipation of a counter- aggressive move. In some instances, it usefully and effectively created guilt in the other person, making him feel like the aggressor. Blame was cleverly shifted as the accusing finger pointed at someone else.

What is the psychodynamic equivalent of accepting blame? On one obvious level, it means admitting responsibility, in which case one must decide what should be the next move. That is a big order in itself, because one never knows where the next step will lead to. If the blame is being hurled by members of a group, its admission may mean losing face or losing status, in which case the individual after withdrawing in a painful state of being shamed, must decide whether he will permanently withdraw or do so for a period of time until he feels he has regained face or status. Both experiences are reacted to and handled in a setting of rising anger, either overt or covert. When the pain is assuaged, the status restored, or the problem solved, the anger is gradually and slowly assimilated. If no reparation is accomplished, the person, although seemingly quiescent, is potentially explosive and the next incident, however small, may prove to be the last straw.

The last straw, as one patient graphically put it, is when you are “treated like feces.” On this the most ego-devastating level, to be blamed is to be smeared,- to he treated with revulsion or disgust. Even if the criticism was not with such an attitude, the patients interpreted it to be such. For example: a businessman who was blamed by his father for financial reverses in the family business, exploding in anger, refused to accept the blame. “He is really calling me stupid and incompetent. Why should I accept the blame?” A housewife in an argument with her mother-in-law over an inconsequential matter, flew into a rage when her husband blamed her for starting the argument, in the first place. “If I get blamed all the time, then I’m nothing but a basahan (rag) for everyone to wipe their dirt on.”

In its most damaging aspect, being blamed and accepting blame is akin to feeling shamed. It is worse than losing face; to carry the metaphor further? it is as though one’s face were smeared with feces. In Tagalog, for being cuckolded which causes intense humiliation is may sunong na tae (carrying faces on one’s head). The sense of humiliation involved is not merely “losing face” it is a state of being “defaced.” Revenge fantasies in these patients follow the patterns of reaction. To get even, to right things, to settle a score — all these involve the drastic correction of a horrible, unnamable insult to one’s self-esteem.

The two psychological events of feeling blamed and feeling shamed at this level merge intimately an t e resulting reaction is often difficult to distinguish, whether it stems from one feeling or the other. Both contribute to the escalation of anger, although being shamed is overtly more acceptable as a justification for feeling or getting angry. “I am shamed” is less difficult to acknowledge than “I am to blame.” The first shifts the blame to another person, to the one who did the shaming. The second, particularly when reacted to with anger, admits the blame. As the saying in Tagalog goes, Ang hindi uukol, hindi bubukol. (If it doesn’t pertain to you, you won’t bristle, or your angry reaction indicates you are guilty.)

 

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