Benjy is a nice guy who wants to be a good husband and father. Since he was young, however, Benjy has had an emotional regulation problem. Whenever he feels frustrated, helpless, or overwhelmed, he explodes.

In this way, Benjy is like many other people who don’t handle stress well (and really need to work on themselves). However, Benjy’s explosions stand out: His always contain the element of blame. His wife Aliza explains:

“Benjy and I were sitting at the table eating dinner. The baby was in her booster seat, playing with her food. I was sipping my coffee when all of a sudden the baby yelped in pain. Benjy had dropped his (thankfully empty) mug on her hand by accident. But then he started screaming louder than the baby. He yelled at me for not seeing where he was putting his mug! ‘Why didn’t you tell me I was about to drop it on her? You could have prevented this!’

“The thing is, he means what he’s saying. He was really furious with me. I get so hurt every time he does this. He blames me for everything.”

Aliza isn’t imagining this. Benjy really does blame her — or someone else — for everything.

“Once I was tying my four-year-old’s shoelaces when Benjy happened to be nearby. Oren was getting impatient and started tantrumming. He’s like that sometimes — he has no patience. Anyway, Benjy starts yelling at me for taking so long to tie his shoe and then goes on to say how I’m so slow at everything, I drive the kids crazy, I need to get my act together!

I was devastated. I’m just trying to take care of my child! I feel like Benjy has all this pent-up anger at me and whenever something goes wrong, he just lashes out.”

Blaming Out of Desperation

If Aliza’s been the good wife she claims to have been — mostly loving, helpful, respectful, and all the rest — then it doesn’t really make sense that her husband would have pent-up anger at her. A more likely explanation is that he has poor frustration tolerance. It seems that whenever something doesn’t work out, Benjy feels helpless and erupts into his blaming mode.

This pattern of behavior could happen to anyone, but it’s frequently found in those suffering from ADD/ADHD. The act of blaming someone for a bad event helps the blamer make sense of what can feel like overwhelming chaos; it also helps bolster self-esteem in the face of what might otherwise be perceived as personal failure.

Aliza, like others in her position, would often defend herself against her husband’s attack. “It’s not my fault; I had nothing to do with it.” This generally escalated into a miserable fight. Although Aliza felt like her husband hated her, the truth was that he loved her very much but was lacking certain emotional skills. She needs to recognize the blaming as the desperate strategy of someone who feels out-of-control.

When Being Blamed

If you’re being unfairly blamed, don’t comment on it (unless you are to blame, in which case you can apologize). If the blamer is mid-meltdown, wait until he or she is calmer and then name feelings (“You never meant to hurt the baby,” or “It’s so frustrating when you’re trying so hard.”). When the person is completely calm later on, you can talk to him or her about how you felt being blamed for things you didn’t do and what you’d like to see happen instead.

“I know you like to make sense of what’s happening, and if I’m nearby then it can seem like I must be the cause. The problem is that I often haven’t done anything that could have caused the problem. When you yell at me for causing it, I feel crushed.

When something goes wrong, I understand that you need to express frustration, so go ahead and do that. Please don’t mention my role until after you’ve calmed down and can talk to me about what went wrong. We’ll try to figure out whether I or anyone else was responsible. If I am at fault, I’ll apologize and rectify my behavior.”

Then, stay on the lookout for improvement in this area and be sure to give lots of positive feedback when you find it. Blamers can learn new strategies — especially when guided by loving partners. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 587)