Blame vs. responsibility

There is a huge difference between “whose fault is it?” and “whose responsibility is it?” Learning to distinguish between the two (and learning which question to ask) is powerful and empowering.

In a therapy office, blame is often present but rarely useful. Clients come in to deal with problems, and those problems have origins ― and they have solutions. Many of my clients torment themselves with self-blame, or they are caught in a loop of blaming others for the pain they are experiencing. These ways of thinking keep us stuck. Understanding the genesis of a problem is helpful; taking responsibility for solving it is ― well, it is everything.


Self-blame is like a poison, keeping us stuck in the past and nurturing feelings of not being enough, not being worthy. It is the antithesis to self-compassion or self-acceptance. Self-blame dims our light. When we are stuck in a pattern of blaming ourselves, we necessarily will be blameful of and hard on others. When we can’t love and accept ourselves, we will have a hell of a time trying to love and accept anyone else.

Blaming others

Blaming others is like fly tape. When we keep blaming those who have wronged us, we stay stuck in the problem. The more we rail against the unfairness of it all, the more we lash out with blame in thought or word or deed, the more stuck in the problem we become. 

That does not mean that important childhood events don’t leave their mark on us. The trick is to tell the story in a way that sets us free, rather than that keeps us stuck. And then, we need to move from the problem to the solution.

For example, it is one thing to say, “I have low self-esteem because my mother criticized me constantly; it is her fault! She did this to me.”

It is quite another to say, “I have been living with low self-esteem for a long time, and it probably stems from the way my mother criticized me when I was a child. She was not very skillful and was probably pretty wounded herself.”

Whose problem is it now? And who has the power to solve it?

In order to live happy, peaceful, empowered lives, we need to take the reins. Ultimately, our healing lies in our own hands. It is not possible for our critical mothers, or abusive relatives, or inept teachers, or anyone else from our past, to solve the problems they set up for us. Only we can do that.

The first step to solving the problem is to step outside of blame and into responsibility. Yes, this problem has an origin. Yes, someone did something. And yes, now we have a problem to solve.

Blame vs. responsibility: We have a problem to solve.

When we make this shift, the problem and its solution have become our responsibility, and our healing has begun.