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Ferris Bueller

The Sustainability of Blame

Posted on 2012.06.24 at 11:49
Current Location: 67114
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Blame fascinates me. It fascinated me as a child and it fascinates me now. When I hear it from my children, I use it as a tool of instruction - to better their lives. When I hear it from an adult a little piece of me withers and dies because it kills me to see a grown-up confused about simple social constructs.

Fault-finding can be a powerful coping mechanism for children who require absolution from wrongdoing, and I applaud it and use it, applying it liberally as needed. But nothing screams "I am petulantly immature" as when an adult uses it, especially as a coping mechanism. Maturity provides us with much more effective tools in which to cope than blame - this, on the heels of pcofwildthings' post of the TED video on being wrong. Apparently I am the aberration in the world for teaching my children to celebrate failure as the world's most effective learning tool. Guess what? Even as an adult I too can still learn through failure. The rest of world apparently fears it, doesn't understand it, or fears that which they do not understand. Two of those scare me, one of them I can work with.

So when something goes wrong, what do you do?

Primitive (Childish) Defense Mechanisms


    • "Acting out" refers to the discharge by means of action, rather than by means of verbalization, of conflicted mental content; Emotional Management - "The ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately to them and keeping them in check despite wanting to do otherwise are all important aspects of emotional management."

      • PROBLEM SOLVING EFFECTIVENESS: Not effective; Problem still exists.


    • When confronted by stressful events, people sometimes abandon coping strategies and revert to patterns of behavior used earlier in development. For example, an individual might cry or sulk upon hearing unpleasant news.

      • PROBLEM SOLVING EFFECTIVENESS: Not effective; Problem still exists.


    • The misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who does not have those thoughts, feelings or impulses. Projection is used especially when the thoughts are considered unacceptable for the person to express, or they feel completely ill at ease with having them. For example, a spouse may be angry at their significant other for not listening, when in fact it is the angry spouse who does not listen. Projection is often the result of a lack of insight and acknowledgement of one’s own motivations and feelings.

      • PROBLEM SOLVING EFFECTIVENESS: Not effective; Problem still exists.


    • Its not just a river in Egypt! It is the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. Children do this, as to immature adults. Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit.

      • PROBLEM SOLVING EFFECTIVENESS: Not effective; Problem still exists.


    • Inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.

      • PROBLEM SOLVING EFFECTIVENESS: Not effective; Problem still exists.


    • Freud believed that anxiety is an unpleasant inner state that people seek to avoid. In an attempt to protect ourselves from this anxiety, people employ reaction formation unconsciously in their daily lives. Reaction formation involves adopting opposite feelings, impulses or behavior. Someone adopting a reaction formation defense strategy would treat a spouse or loved one in the same manner in which they’d treat a hated enemy. Another example would be that two people really fond of each other fight all the time to suppress their desire of love for each other.

      • PROBLEM SOLVING EFFECTIVENESS: Not effective; Problem still exists.

There are however more mature defense strategies - coping mechanisms which afford us a greater flexibility in maintaining our sanity while simultaneously addressing the stressor. In learning about myself more and more, I find I employ neither the mature nor the primitive, rather the few in between, to varying degrees of success. Or failure. I have used "repression" - albeit not unconsciously, and "undoing" to less effectiveness than my primary mode of coping, which I recently learned was "intellectualization."

Intellectualization is a 'flight into reason', where the person avoids uncomfortable emotions by focusing on facts and logic. The situation is treated as an interesting problem that engages the person on a rational basis, whilst the emotional aspects are completely ignored as being irrelevant. Jargon is often used as a device of intellectualization. By using complex terminology, the focus becomes on the words and finer definitions rather than the human effects.*

This is exactly me, warts and all. I assume, perhaps incorrectly knowing what I now know, that by first understanding the logic, I can then allow my feelings to catch-up. Then again, I know myself very, very well and how I act/react to certain stimuli through a rigorous regime of scenario running - my entire life has been a construct of problem solving by viewing problems as parts of an overall (holistic) system in an attempt to piece together outcomes or events based upon development of (causal) intended/unintended consequences rather than reacting to specific or individual parts in isolation - the behavior behind the seemingly innocuous event rather than focusing on the innocuous event itself. My global thinking, while sometimes a grievous hindrance to my own wisdom though incomprehension of simplistic ideas allows for a marvelous feedback-loop of self-correction. In my opinion. Your own outsider's view on this may vary :)

A feedback loop involves four distinct stages. First comes the data: A behavior must be measured, captured, and stored. This is the evidence stage. Second, the information must be relayed to the individual, not in the raw-data form in which it was captured but in a context that makes it emotionally resonant. This is the relevance stage. But even compelling information is useless if we don’t know what to make of it, so we need a third stage: consequence. The information must illuminate one or more paths ahead. And finally, the fourth stage: action. There must be a clear moment when the individual can recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act. Then that action is measured, and the feedback loop can run once more, every action stimulating new behaviors that inch us closer to our goals.*

Be mindful. Strive continuously for self-improvement. Never become complacent. And aggressively reevaluate without provocation.


Happiness isn't just the destination, its also the journey. ~ehowton


michelle1963 at 2012-06-24 18:57 (UTC) (Link)
Intellectualization. Guilty also! That said, over the years, I have learned that it is actually a wonderful tool used in the short term. Not so much in the long term.

In the short term, it can help a person analyze a situation allowing for measured resolution, instead of quick emotional reaction which may actually make the problem worse. It's like giving myself a little breathing room.

However, if a person keeps intellectualizing, and uses it as a tool to simply repress emotions, rather than dealing with them ~ yeah, not good. They'll come back to bite you in the ass anyway.
ehowton at 2012-06-25 13:41 (UTC) (Link)
Fortunately for me there are no hard and fast timelines defined :)
CeltManX, Devlin O' Coileáin
celtmanx at 2012-06-24 23:24 (UTC) (Link)
It's all your FAULT!!!
ehowton at 2012-06-25 13:29 (UTC) (Link)
It usually is.
slchurchman at 2012-06-25 12:30 (UTC) (Link)
An excellent essay on defense mechanisms. The primitive ones I was familiar with, but had not thought of intellectualism in the same category. Once you pointed it out as a another defense mechanism, I could relate to it. Sometimes there is a conflict between the intellectual and the emotional. These ultimately need to be integrated. As I have matured (aged), I've found that if after careful analysis of a problem, the emotional response keeps pulling and reasserting itself, it is time to give much more credence to that side of the equation.
ehowton at 2012-06-25 13:40 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! While we are all prone to reacting either emotionally or intellectually, I think understanding that the reconciliation of the two is paramount to life above mere survival.
pcofwildthings at 2012-06-26 01:28 (UTC) (Link)


A go-to defense mechanism for me: Avoidance.

Sometimes temporarily and sometimes for longer. The weird thing about defense mechanisms is that they do often "work," at least in the short term (sometimes very short term). By "work" I don't mean to solve the problem, as you more eloquently put it, but to buy time, allow for emotions to catch up to reason or vice-versa, etc. When you chain a few of them together, well, good times (See, another favorite: I am pretty sure sarcasm is a defense mechanism too).

Sometimes if I avoid long enough, the problem does go away on its own. But repeated and habitual avoidance will usually get me into trouble somewhere down the line.

Intellectualizing is a form of avoidance. Conversely, I often avoid thinking about stuff in too much depth, on purpose.

Edited at 2012-06-26 01:29 am (UTC)
ehowton at 2012-06-26 02:19 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Avoidance

Interesting. I did look it up because I didn't know and it sounded plausible. Apparently intellectualizing is only avoiding the discomfort of your own emotions - not the stressor, which is more closely associated with avoidance. Same with sarcasm; yes to a coping mechanism, but I couldn't find any easily identifiable relationship specific to avoidance. Given what I learned about how avoidance works, I would have to assume that sarcasm works justthe same - helps avoid the emotion, not the stressor.

Mind you this was just a cursory glance, an in-depth study might turn up more :)
pcofwildthings at 2012-06-26 03:52 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Avoidance

an in-depth study might turn up more.

I'd avoid that, if I were you. (Sarcasm, humor) ;)
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