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Blame Shifting: 5+ Subtle Signs to Look for in Your Man

Last updated on November 11, 2022 by Florence Adepoju

As a woman, I hate to admit that I am far too familiar with blame shifting. While hate can be a powerful word, if there is one thing I hate in the world, it would have to be someone that never takes responsibility for their actions. To this individual, this abusive behavior is almost second nature. It becomes their defense mechanism.

For many instances in my life, I believed everything that went wrong was my fault, even when it wasn't. All the evidence could absolve me of blame, but a blame shifter is unlikely to let something as fickle as the truth get in their way. 

This is because the blame shifter is excellent at what they do, and they continue to do it so long as they can get away with it.

What is Blame Shifting?

Blame shifting can be described as an emotionally abusive tactic or behavior. This individual will not accept blame or take responsibility for their own actions. Blame shifting occurs when abusers or individuals with abusive behaviorshave difficulty taking responsibility for the problems they create. These individuals can even go as far as attributing blame of their circumstances on anyone else, regardless of how far-fetched it sounds.

They also do not take ownership of their emotions. Someone who blames shifts is a person who expresses both positive and negative feelings using language such as "I wouldn’t have done this if you didn’t…” or “you make me so mad.”

The emotionally abusive person’s behavior underlines their capacity for self-deception.If you are in a relationship with a blame shifter, they are unlikely to accept ownership of their difficulties. You are responsible for their emotional needs.

Usually, this person will project the blame for any relationship difficulties they have on their partner. He is only angry because she nags him so much. He wouldn't have to lie if she didn't get upset.

How Blame Shifting Works

When you are in a relationship with an emotional abuser, they create a dynamic where you begin to believe that you are to blame and not them. This results in you working harder to fix any issues—such as improving the relationship due to the abuse and control. 

The victim should know this never works because the problem is never with you—abusive behavior is the issue. Nothing can change that, regardless of how accommodating and friendly you are. Nothing can change an emotionally abusive person's behavior.

Surprisingly, you will discover that your blame-shifting partner becomes ever more aggressive when you attempt to make things better. In their mind, they believe you are at fault, so when you try to fix things, it underpins their beliefs. As a result, they will never take responsibility for their own actions. 

Blame shifting is a special type of context switching. When you confront your partner on something bad or wrong that they did, or perhaps you desire to set boundaries, they have difficulty taking responsibility and instead switch the entire focus on you, placing you on the defensive. With an emphasis on you, they can extricate themselves from the situation. This sudden switch of focus can place you off-track and unbalanced.

The best way for this blame-shifting person to escape taking responsibility is to try to discredit you, making you take the blame for their actions. An emotional abuser might even say that you are the one that committed the abuse. 

This can cause you to feel defeated—in a highly weakened state; you might begin to believe that you are, in fact, at fault. Emotional abusers tend to claim that family, mental health professionals, and authority figures such as church leaders agree with them. This, in turn, results in you feeling isolated, causing you to withdraw from seeking help. When you do this, the abuser has all the control and all the power over the relationship. Simply put, blame shifting is a way to escape taking responsibility for their actions.

Is Blame Shifting the Same Thing as Gaslighting?

is blame shifting same as gaslighting

Gaslighting and blame-shifting are two verbal and emotionally abusive techniques used by narcissists. They can also happen in a relationship between someone that wants their relationship to work out and a narcissist abuser. 

In this instance, you are highly invested in remaining in that relationship, perhaps more so than the narcissist, even though you feel unsafe. This creates a power imbalance in the relationship since the narcissist starts to pick up on it, leveraging it. While you are more interested in saving your relationship, the narcissist cares more about being in control.

Your whole focus will be making the relationship work which will put you in a vulnerable state. As a result, you find yourself a victim of abuse, at the mercy of your abuser. You endure all the blame, shame, and even work harder to make the relationship work.

As stated earlier, blame-shifting is typically used subtly by a narcissist to distract you and escape taking responsibility for their actions. Conversely, gaslighting is a different form of manipulation named after a play made into a movie in 1944. 

In the movie, Gregory, the main character, distracts Paula from his criminal activities by convincing her that she is going insane. This is precisely what gaslighting is—when a narcissist or an emotional abuser tries to make you believe that you are losing your grip on reality or that you are insane. 

It is a popular technique even narcissistic parents deploy against their children. This results in the children believing they do not have a firm grip on reality. This is because all the power belongs to them.

Fortunately, it takes a lot more effort to convince an adult that they could be losing their sense of reality; however, with consistency and enough time, it can be done.

How Does Gaslighting Work?

As with blame-shifting, gaslighting involves playing on your insecurities, weaknesses, or fears. You, as the victim on the receiving end, even go to great capacity, and work harder to please them. 

Gaslighters will use just about any vulnerability they see in their partners to convince them that they are the problem, helping them avoid responsibility.

For instance, if you are in an argument with your narcissistic partner, the following scenario can happen:

N.P: "I left work around 5."

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You then ask them what they have been doing between when they left work and when they arrived home. They could then say nothing, causing you to ask them why it took them so long to get home if they left work at five and got home around 8. The narcissist could then say:

N.P:" I never said I left work at 5."

At this point, you become increasingly frustrated because they, in fact, said they left work at that time. However, the narcissistic partner will stick to the stance irrespective of what you say. You know what you hear but begin to doubt your version of reality when this happens consistently. You might start to think that you are losing it in one way or another. The gaslighter aims to gain control over you as you begin to doubt yourself.

Narcissistic Blame Shifting

While a person can employ blame-shifting without being a narcissist, blame-shifting is just one of the many techniques used by narcissists. When a narcissist begins to employ blame shifting and attribute blame, it typically means that you are beginning to touch a sore spot. 

The most effective way to circumvent this is to bring the focus back to the original conversation gently. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries on what you will and won't discuss with them.

You must understand that blame shifting is a tactic used by all types of people–not just narcissists—to deflect responsibility and distract attention. Narcissists love this tactic of blame shifting since it helps them escape responsibility. The way you respond is essential to the direction of the conversation.

Narcissists use blame shifting as a manipulation technique to distract attention from their own abusive behavior. This, in turn, shifts the responsibility for any abuse, issues, or errors to someone else. Typically, this tactic is used by the narcissistic abuser once they know your dislikes, likes, tendencies, and weaknesses, all to try and control you.

Remember that narcissists are incredibly skilled at spotting individuals who like keeping the peace and avoiding conflict. This narcissistic abuse tactic plays into their emotionally abusive behavior since they understand that conflict can make them uncomfortable. Another weakness they can seamlessly spot is any insecurities you may have coupled with doubts concerning yourself.

A narcissist will not hesitate to focus on these doubts, magnifying them. These doubts might exist if you grew up in a household where your emotions were disregarded, or you experienced abuse. It could also be that you felt unsupported and unloved as a child. As with a narcissist, you were emotionally abused; however, you both took different paths to cope with that abuse.

All of this can play into a narcissist’s manipulation tactic since they know how to use context switching to blame shift and push your buttons in a way that you don't realize until it is too late. For instance, instead of choosing to blame you outrightly, they could say something along the lines of "you were distracting me so that I couldn't concentrate." This is a subtle way the narcissist uses to attribute blame, stating it is your fault because they were distracted.

The narcissist can also say, "if you weren't so focused on your needs and yourself, we wouldn't be having this argument." This is a highly effective technique, especially if you are prone to keeping the peace to maintain the relationship.

Blame Shifting Examples

blame shifting examples

The most significant problem with this is the damage to your self-esteem. You likely feel defeated all the time due to a series of abuse. It is a heinous act that leaves you questioning many things and facts about you, your character and life. 

While an emotional abuser might not see it, the emotionally abusive person’s behavior can be extremely dangerous, even to the point of destroying lives.

I understand this might seem an exaggeration; unfortunately, that isn't the case. Many people have been so hurt that they begin to doubt their worth. The best course of action is to be able to identify these people before making us their victims.

With that in mind, here are a few blame-shifting examples:

1. Flipping the script

While this is an archaic term, it fits perfectly with the blame shifter's tactic. Typically you catch a blame shifter red-handed; the first response they have is shock, while they quickly gather a way to flip the script over to you, blaming you for whatever problem there is. 

Now you might think, how can someone caught in the act make the victim look bad? They do so using carefully calculated manipulation. For instance, if you go to your partner's work to see them and he isn't there, you ask him about it when he gets home.

Some individuals in this scenario will lie and say they needed to leave for one reason or another. However, a blame shifter will go a step further by turning the attention to you. He might say something along the lines of “why are you stalking me at work?”, “You don’t trust me, do you?”, “what is wrong with you?” and give an excuse for where he was while being angry for several days. The whole situation has been shifted to you, and now the entire confrontation is your fault.

2. When they become the pity part

A way to discover if your partner has this trait is to focus on when they tell you stories about their troubled childhood and abuse. In that instance, they could begin rationalizing how their troubled childhood made them the way they are. 

While numerous people have a terrible childhood, the toxic individual will tell their story, even exaggerating9 it to ensure they do not have to take the blame for present mistakes or issues.

There is nothing wrong with discussing past issues and how they have shaped your present; however, shifting blame and using your past as an excuse for every mistake isn't healthy. If your partner cannot take responsibility for doing something in the present, they are a pity party and will always try to use that argument.

3. When they cut off communication

Also, blame shifting typically expresses itself with poor communication or failure to communicate. Although blame shifters can discuss their problems on a surface level, they tend to clam up when others prove they are wrong. 

There are no reasons or excuses for their actions. Ultimately, they say there is no need to speak on the topic anymore because they are angry. This can be damaging since it leaves pertinent relationship issues unresolved.

This can result in bitterness, and quite a number of marriages have been wrecked due to a lack of honest and healthy communication. So mostly, you can know a blame shifter through the aversion to communication.

4. When they say "because of this" or "because of that."

Blame shifting can also use cause and effect to counter any situation. Even though cause and effect is real, responsibility is the most important thing to remember. It can be as simple as the interaction below:

Real victim: “my feelings were hurt when you shouted at me.”

Blame shifter: "well, I wouldn't yell at you if you stopped nagging."

From this scenario, we can see that the blamer is wrong. Take note first that this person is continuing the behavior that their partner has constantly complained about. Most people tend to complain to communicate that something is bothering them. 

Blame shifters, on the other hand, do not communicate, effectively causing the problem to be ignored. After a level of complaining, the blame shifter will verbally abuse you to scare you off the topic. They might also employ various situations where they will use cause and effect to extricate any blame attributed to them.

5. When an apology comes with attached strings

If for some reason, you can get the blame shifter to apologize—a rare occurrence—they will say something along the lines of "I'm sorry but…" This means that while they apologize, they will add some form of defensive mechanism1 to the apology. 

It doesn't matter if they are about to excuse their behavior or are attempting to blame you; they stand out by their inability to apologize without the “but” word coming in—a word that completely negates the sincerity of the apology or their ability to accept ownership of their actions.

Other Examples You Should Watch Out For

Countering: the abuser changes what happened, and makes the partner question their view with statements like:

6. That never happened.

7. You are old and losing your memory.

8. Are you sure you remembered correctly?

9. You might be going senile.

Withholding: With subtle tactics, the abuser dismisses your thought and argument. They say things like:

10. You are hallucinating.

11. You are not making sense.

12. You are imagining things.

Repetitive questions: Such questions are meant to make the victim question what they know or feel

13. You sure about that?

14. Really?

15. Is that so?

Trivializing: various remarks to belittle the victim’s feelings. Watch out for phrases like:

16. You are too sensitive.

How to Deal with Blame Shifting

how to deal with blame shifting

The truth is, many people never hope to deal with an emotionally abusive person’s behavior since that behavior is indicative of the serious problems they have with themselves. You should never believe that you are guilty of these issues. When a person cannot take the responsibilities for their issues, it means they have a problem that they need a professional to help them fix, or sometimes do it themselves.

Honestly, it can be almost hard to confront such individuals without them taking the blame on you emotionally or resorting to verbal abuse. This can make you physically and mentally unhealthy5 over time. If you are married to an abuser with this blame-shifting behavior, you will need to find strategies to handle it.

You should remember that none of this has to do with you. The best outcome is if your relative and loved one indeed decides they want to get help and change. While it can be challenging to believe, a couple of people will later see what they are and how their behavior affects those around them. In this instance, it can be worth being around. 

There are many sources to help your partner seek professional help. With platforms like Relationship Hero, they can get matched with a professional who specializes in the specific issue that’s bothering them and get help. Ask your partner to take their short 2-minute quiz to get started.

However, if they have no interest in changing, you can only decide to leave or stay, even if they get angry. There are times when it is simply best to leave rather than get into an argument where winning is almost impossible—toxic individuals constantly move the goalpost to ensure that they win the argument.

FAQs

What are examples of blame shifting?

Apologizing with attachments
Scapegoating
Them vs. us
Flipping the script
Not communicating

What causes blame shifting?

Blame shifting is a type of crazy-making and context switching. It typically happens when an emotionally abusive person is confronted about something they did. Rather than accept the criticism, they prefer to switch the focus back on you, thereby placing you on the defensive.

How do you stop a blame shifter?

While it can be challenging to stop a blame shifter, one effective way is to ensure they take responsibility by expressing boundaries.

How do you react to blame shifting?

You can do the following:

Trust your version of reality
Set boundaries
Keep the conversation on the topic
Keep a journal

What does blaming do to a relationship?

Blaming, over time, can result in bitterness creeping in, causing resentment to set in, thereby bringing an end to the union.

Conclusion

Nobody deserves the type of treatment a blame shifter gives. It is essential to acknowledge your responsibility only for what you do; however, you should also understand that it is necessary for someone you are in a relationship with to do the same. 

Blame shifters cannot do this, especially if they are narcissists, as it makes them look less than perfect. The main goal is to ensure you do not lose your identity and reality to them, as this gives them control over the life they seek.

Do you feel like all you think about is him, but he only thinks about himself?
This doesn't mean he doesn't like you. You have to understand how he is wired. Once you do, you'll find there is a subtle thing you can say that to him that will drastically change how he shows his emotions towards you.

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Florence Adepoju
I am a trained teacher, psychologist, writer, and stay-at-home mom. I am passionate about children, girl children, and the female gender. My interests include volunteering, caring for the elderly, watching movies, and cooking. I currently stay in Lubbock, Texas, with my family and dog, Ayden.

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