The difference between blame and accountability

We’ve probably all experienced times when we feel hurt or disappointment, and our first instinct is to start pointing the finger. This is blame. It’s the habit of making other people or things ‘wrong’ or responsible when difficult or painful things happen. 

Blame sometimes takes the form of resentment towards people or circumstances in our lives. Other times it manifests as open expressions of hostility and anger towards others.

However it manifests, blame is a limiting force. Not only does holding onto blame cause conflict in our relationships, it also disempowers us, by keeping us stuck in a state of victimhood, rehashing old pains and robbing us of our sense of agency and strength.

Press play on the podcast, or keep reading below, to find out how to transform the habit of blaming, take back your power and grow greater mental strength.

Why blaming is bad for you

According to research professor, author and speaker Brené Brown, we mostly blame when we are in pain or angry. “Here’s what we know from the research,” she says. “Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Blaming is a way that we discharge anger.”

The problem with blaming is twofold. Firstly, as Brené mentions, blame has an inverse relationship with accountability. Which means when we’re stuck in blaming, we get defensive and we miss the opportunity to look honestly and gently at ourselves, see what role we played in events, and how we might be able to learn and grow from it in our own lives.

Instead, we create wrong-doers and right-doers in our minds and may even feel justified to punish and attack others. We also get stuck in negativity and anger.

The difference between blame and accountability

Not blaming others doesn’t mean we allow, or just put up, with unhealthy behaviour or be a doormat. On the contrary. When we let go of blame we can focus on accountability and solutions. 

So what’s the difference between blame and accountability? Accountability is about clearly identifying behaviours that don’t feel good for you, objectively allocating responsibility when something has gone wrong (including looking at your part in things) and clearly asking for change and/or learning from mistakes. 

Accountability helps us to cultivate mental clarity, promotes mutual understanding, empowers us and helps us learn and grow.

Whereas blame is an unhelpful mental habit that disempowers us, stokes the fires of anger, and locks our thoughts into patterns of hostility, judgement and self-righteousness. 

Blame looks like: Holding resentment and anger towards your boss month after month because you feel overworked and underpaid

Accountability looks like: Having a clear, grounded and honest chat about your boss about your workload and proposing a clear solution to the problem (either more pay or less work perhaps).

Accountability is taking empowering action to change things within ourselves or asking for change in others. 

Holding people accountable takes a lot more grit, courage, kindness, and self-awareness than blaming, shaming, attacking, and fault-finding.

By shifting blame to accountability, we take back our power

Here’s the takeaway – the moment that we place blame, we also undermine our resolve to create change – both within and without. It’s fundamentally a disempowering thing to do to ourselves. In the words of Andy Stanley, “People who blame things rarely change things. Blame is an unassailable change-avoidance strategy.” 

But the moment we take back our personal responsibility, we take back our power. We shift victimhood into ground empowerment, anger into understanding and conflict into clarity. By stepping out of the blame game we break the cycle of attack and defence and promote peace in ourselves, with each other and in the world.

This week’s mental strength practice: Letting go of blame

So, the invitation for this week’s mental strength practice is to let go of the blame game. Next time you feel that urge to place blame, see if you can pause and shift your focus to accountability instead. 

Be curious and open to see how you can learn and grow from the experience. And if communication is needed, if someone needs to be held accountable, then aim to do so with compassion, non-judgement, and open heartedness. Even at the same time as you may need to be firm, clear, and direct.

I hope this is really helpful for you. Wishing you all the best with the practice.

Elevate your mental strength

If you’re getting a lot out of these practices with me, you can take your mental strength to the next level, by joining me in Headstrong

Headstrong is my 8-week intensive mental strength program. It offers the best of everything I’ve learned in over two decades of mental strength training and teaching. The program is designed to give you rapid transformational results. As well as arm you with powerful tools and skills that will last a lifetime. This program will help you not only survive but thrive – even in tough times.

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