Externalizing Blame Can Have Deadly Consequences

Two days ago, a disgruntled former employee of a television station came upon a field reporter and her cameraman and shot them both dead before eventually taking his own life. These kinds of things seem to be happening more and more often.  And when they do folks tend to blame all kinds of things from the ready availability of firearms to the prevalence of untreated mental illness. But the fact is that because of certain sociocultural factors that have been tearing away at character-fostering institutions for decades there are far too many character-impaired individuals among us who are all-too-ready to blame everyone else in the world for their own failures in life.

Time was when mental health professionals almost universally accepted and promoted the notion that folks who externalize blame were unconsciously using the “defense mechanism” called projection to alleviate anxiety, shame, and guilt by attributing to others attitudes, beliefs, actions, etc. that they found too unconscionable  to admit were actually present in themselves. But that notion implies a person has the level of conscience to actually experience unbearable levels of shame, guilt, etc.. And time and experience has taught me that the greater reason folks find fault everywhere else is that they simply don’t want to bear the burden of reckoning with and correcting their own shortcomings.

In my book Character Disturbance, I point out that one of the main “thinking errors” to which disturbed characters are prone is what I call “quick and easy thinking” (for more on this topic see the article:  Quick and Easy Thinking). Like all of us, they want the precious things in life, but unlike most of us, they’re not willing to put out the effort to truly earn them. In their attitudes of entitlement, they feel they are “owed” something, and when they’re denied, they feel cheated. And when things go wrong in life because of their disordered ways of doing things, they’re supposed to experience discomfort. That’s the way nature has fashioned things. But what folks do to end their misery makes all the difference in the world. Folks who’ve failed and want a sense of power, control, and success back in their life always have two options: blame everyone else for what’s gone wrong and vent rage on them or take stock of themselves and begin the arduous and often lengthy task of self-correction and improvement. Which do you think is easier?

In the case of the disgruntled former TV station employee, he’d been cautioned several times about his “difficult to get along with” manner, and his unmodulated displays of anger and aggression.  And he’d been cautioned about this not just at the station he’d been let go from two years ago and still carried a grudge against but also from another station prior to that. That time, he blamed his difficulties on discrimination and filed a lawsuit.  When it comes to disturbed characters, it’s always someone else’s fault.  It’s far easier to blame than it is to accept responsibility.  Changing one’s attitudes, one’s ways of thinking, and especially one’s ways of doing things is really difficult, especially as we get older. Pointing one’s finger takes almost no energy at all.

The old notion about why folks commit murder-suicide is that they’re so deep into anger-laden depression that they no longer value life.  But after scrutinizing many of these cases very closely, another pattern emerges: a disturbed character’s last-ditch attempt to cheaply and quickly restore a sense of power.  And so it was with the gunman two days ago, who apparently boasted of the power he’d finally wielded over his supposed victimizers and only took his life when his planned getaway ran into problems.  Disturbed characters never let “them” (i.e. anyone who might exert power over them) get the upper hand, and they will never willingly accept the consequences of their actions. As far as they’re concerned, they write the story and determine the end of the story, period. They’d rather die than admit their culpability or subordinate themselves. So, if they know they’re going down, many times they become determined not to go down alone (for more on the topic of murder-suicide, see the article:  A Different Perspective on Murder-Suicide).

The tragedy we witnessed two days ago is an old, old story becoming far too commonplace in our character-deficient age.  We live in a complicated, demanding world and there are too many among us who never developed the character resources to deal adaptively with life’s challenges – especially failure – and to profit from their experiences, including their disappointments. It’s far too easy to just point a finger.  And sadly, for too many, it’s easier still to place that same finger on a trigger and shoot.  We can pass all the laws we want to but it won’t stop the madness. We have to face the character issue head-on and insist that those whose character is so disturbed that they’re dangerous receive the interventions they truly need. And we have to address the sociocultural factors responsible for “enabling,” promoting, and even rewarding so much character disturbance.

Character Matters won’t be a live broadcast this Sunday.  Instead, you’ll hear a previously recorded program.  But I should be back live Sept 6 and will be happy to take your calls.

44 thoughts on “Externalizing Blame Can Have Deadly Consequences

  1. Very interesting article. I think that I was guilty of thinking that there must be something wrong with my ex-psycho that the doctors and everyone else overlooked. I spent several hours looking through mental issues that could be could be the cause of his multiple transgressions. I knew he had a terrible childhood (supposedly.) I knew that there must be a cause why he acted out the way he did. I did not want to believe that anyone could be so evil without a reason. I really overlooked the fact that he could be the REASON. I was really in dire straits and just happened to be talking to one of my friends about the issue. He told me that it sounded like I was dealing with a narcissist. I was relieved when I did my research and discovered that this was the case. 

    The gunman in the TV shooting case was described as a narcissist. I don’t think that most people realize what word narcissist means. Until I had done the extensive research I thought it was just someone with an unhealthy sense of self. After all that was what Narcissis was all about, right? People do not know what kind of soulless individuals they are. There are a huge amount of these individuals who commit school shootings or other kinds of senseless violence. I have even heard my own father say that the local thug and drug dealer is not a psycho because he is not a bad ass. He doesn’t understand that psychopaths are weak, insincere, soulless, and ignorant individuals who don’t care what they do as long as they are the winners. It is very sad that the thug is a drug dealer who has several kids from several women. His last woman ended up dead and the psycho managed to make it look like a suicide. This is just the average profile of a psychopath. 

    1. Dr. Simon, The above article fits my X to a tee. Over time I have developed a shell so to speak and refuse to be afraid but then there is good fear and bad fear. So many people fear he is going to do something similar to the above mentioned scenario, I predict the same except he fears me and jail. There are incidents I believe that set the CD off in their decision to decide to kill. They come to a point where their hate and vengeance overtakes their concern as to whether they are going to continue to live also. In my circumstances that could make me a sitting duck.

      This particular person has no regard for human life. It seems that as he got older he hated humanity more, HE is the trier, fact finder and decider, He is his own God! I believe that growing old generated some of this behavior. He is sick, mentally diseased, but then he knows exactly what he is doing. He does not want (refuses)to change or look inward and admit his failures and flaws. He does not want to (refuses) to accept the consequences of his life, accept the shame, instead he prefers to Blame anyone and everything except himself. He cannot because he choses not to forgive, or look for the good in life and humanity and to strive to be the best person he possibly could be. Instead of being part of the solution he is the problem.

    2. Dr. Simon, The above article fits my X to a tee. Over time I have developed a shell so to speak and refuse to be afraid but then there is good fear and bad fear. So many people fear he is going to do something similar to the above mentioned scenario, I predict the same except he fears me and jail. There are incidents I believe that set the CD off in their decision to decide to kill. They come to a point where their hate and vengeance overtakes their concern as to whether they are going to continue to live also. In my circumstances that could make me a sitting duck.

      This particular person has no regard for human life. It seems that as he got older he hated humanity more, HE is the trier, fact finder and decider, He is his own God! I believe that growing old generated some of this behavior. He is sick, mentally diseased, but then he knows exactly what he is doing. He does not want (refuses)to change or look inward and admit his failures and flaws. He does not want to (refuses) to accept the consequences of his life, accept the shame, instead he prefers to Blame anyone and everything except himself. He cannot because he choses not to forgive, or look for the good in life and humanity and to strive to be the best person he possibly could be. Instead of being part of the solution he is the problem.

      No I have never made this comment before and if there is a problem I will withdraw my response.

      1. BTOV

        I’m sorry you’re living in fear. Our CDNs are so similar, as we’ve spoken of many times.

        Problem is, I have to go to the house, which is for sale, which we each have “possession” of – but I chose to leave because it’s such a sick dangerous environment – because I have to clean the upper level before house showings. It gets trashes because my daughter and her toddler live there. CDN is in charge of the lower level keeping clean, which smells like a dog house down there.

        Anyway, yes, I feel at some point he may just lose it and first kill me then himself. He has two safes full of guns, automatic weapons, ammo.

        I hope this house situation rectifies soon. I can’t hang on much longer paying half mortgage, half utilities, taxes, etc. in a home I’m not living in.

        BTOV, you are describing my STBX perfectly.

      1. I finally got the link downloaded and opened concerning the psychopath research. I do agree that you’re able to see the anger in these individuals eyes. I can agree that getting the person to face that piece in their childhood that caused the pain (often disguised as anger) is the key to a certain extent. I don’t know if my ex psycho can ever be nice. He is a monster with so many issues. The greatest problem would be getting them to admit that they are anything less than perfect. The narcissist would never admit to such a thing. Self-examination is never easy and especially for the psychopath. I would have to say that there is always that one in a million chance that the psychopath would discover something that is so important to them that they would want to change paths. I suppose with God’s help anything is possible.
        I know that this statement and train of thought is way off course but it makes me think of when a person wants to be changed from his homosexual ways so he goes through Christian counseling and is found out later at the gay bars. Way off course, and I don’t want to get into a discussion about a person’s private life but I just am trying to add some food for thought to the conversation.

      2. joey zane
        Thank you for posting the link, I watched the lecture and wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Kernbergs work. It would be interesting to hear Dr. Simon opinion on this excerpt of Dr. Kernbergs work.

  2. As it is so much easier to blame others for our own failings, it would be nice to learn more ways to catch this in ourselves. I find myself looking back on situations and thinking how arrogant or selfrighteous I came off…and then follow with apologies and questions of correcting myself. Gosh, it would be nice to be as humble as I should be.
    I have recently been exposed to two different CD individuals that I had to completely back away from…the experience was heartbreaking for me as these were both young people with so much potential..yet the word “compromise ” was just not in their vocabulary. Both called me manipulative, thus sending me on a quest of finding out exactly what that meant and if I really did fall into this category. I know now, that I may have been able to keep these relationships open if I knew about CD and how to behave correctly myself and with the rise of this problem in our world, the how to correctly deal with the younger ones could be very helpful.

    1. Roxanne,

      You say those words that manipulated you so sent you on a quest. Turned out for the better. Good so!

      It’s good you want to take care of yourself. Sounds obvious, BUT really, you’ve taken steps to be more conscious. That counts, really does!

    2. Yes, I have also met the very young CD’s. From my personal experience I have never been able to talk to the dysfunctional individuals. I can not stand to talk to ignorant people that have a closed mind. Your CD’S were “playing the victim” and that is one of the qualities that is their favorite. They also like projection. They were projecting their manipulation habits onto you. The narc that I came across was still a teenager but very aggressive. She did so many underhanded things and never wanted to take responsibility for anything. I ended up turning her in for sexual harassment. She used so many manipulative tactics on the men at work. I did not want to watch the predator at work. It was a very uncomfortable work place.

  3. I just heard on the news that the shooter had two cats. After a hard day at work he took the cats into the woods and killed them. He not only did the unthinkable but filmed it and put it on social media. This is very typical behavior for a psychopath. My ex psycho got a cat for my son. My son loved the cat very much but he only got to see her when he went to his dad’s house. One day my son called his dad and his dad told him that the cat got sick and had to be put to sleep. I have always figured that he came home after a bad day at work and strangled the cat. The psychopath is a very volatile individual.

    1. Accourding to Dr James Fallon ALL psychopaths are a loaded GUN cocked and ready to fire. All it takes is somthing to pull the trigger. He uses the analogy of a three legged stool. I cut and paste this

      1. The ‘high risk’ genes make up associated with aggression. 
      2. A specific loss of activity in the orbital cortex, amygdala and ’empathy’ brain areas  
      3. Early trauma. Abandonment by parent, sexual,physical or emotional abuse, in the first few
      years of life.
      All violent psychopaths have these three components.

      1. Joey, Very interesting. I have always thought that a narcissist was a less violent version of a psychopath. Tell me your thoughts. I know that the psychopath that I was married to was very hardcore and fit all of these 3 descriptions very well. The counselor I spoke to when I was trying to get away from him told me that I should tell him to GET HELP OR GET OUT. I spoke to another counselor that told me that I should tell him that he needed anxiety medicine. I knew that there was no way he would ever do anything like that. He was just a demon that enjoys that kind of lifestyle. He has four brothers and I don’t see the same dark personality in any of them. I know one is on medication to be able to cope with life. One brother is a drug addict and the other is a vice president of a very large company. The last brother seems very nice also. The father showed many of the same kind of dark qualities though. You could see the devil in his soulless stare. I know it was a hard life for the boys. His entire family was abandoned by his real father.
        I walked on eggshells constantly when I was around him. I do have a little bit of a hard head and I got to the point where I was sick of his attitude. He tried to beat me. He backed me into a corner several times and acted like he was but I managed to get away but he chased me. My daughter (16) took up for me and I expected her to get beat on also. Oh well, he is gone and in another state.  This leads me to other narcs I know. I am very close to an individual who has NPD, BPD, and I see a pattern of being a malignant narcissist. I can also see these 3 qualities of the psychopath in her also. I also have another person in my immediate circle that shows strong signs of a psychopath. She is very volatile but in my family that was always looked at as a good thing. I was never agressive enough so I was looked at as weak and was.the black sheep of the family. They also have a very distinctive look. These two are also capable of murder but not in the normal sense. They just love to play mind games with people until they are ready to commit suicide.  What are your thoughts? I would love to go into a dysfunctional psychology type field. Maybe forensic psychology.

          1. I am sorry and I didn’t mean to offend you, if I did. I was just trying to make the point that there are some things that the human mind will never understand.

      2. Carrie, that’s uncanny how that can just be.

        By all means, if you’re into forensic psychology, do go for it! Absolutely do!

        Roxanne said she felt she was sent on a quest. Kinda stuck in my head, those words. “Sent on a quest, sent on a quest”

        I think a quest is always awaiting us even when we aren’t on a quest. You follow me?

        1. This, too, is not obvious, really.

          I’ve long(not always, but long)been of the opinion that finding out what exactly we do with our lives is a quest of its own.

          1. Yes, what anyone chooses to do with their life should be of no concern to anyone else.

          2. Yes, everyone’s got one’s own kinda of “quest”. I think we’re along the same lines.

            Gotta add a thing, though. One shouldn’t hurt others. Not needlessly, at least.

          3. Shoulda added a more accurate description here.

            If one doesn’t feel it anymore with someone, wouldn’t it better to be forthright about breaking up and “hurt” another one than be dishonest?

        2. Thank you for your kind words Timothy.
          Interesting that my choice of wording caught your attention. I think we are all on a quest, or should be, as well.
          I take somethings that people say to heart…especially if I hear the same thing from various people. If only one person called me manipulative, I might consider the person is just having a bad day…especially because I have never been called that in my life…but when two people call me this, I feel that there may be a chance of truth, and I need to correct myself if they are right.
          After reading several books on manipulation, I found that the individuals that called me manipulative, were indeed the manipulative ones…very eye opening for me.

          1. Great, Roxanne!

            Further possible direction?

            Aside from help for dealing with manipulators and other impossible people, you may also like some help with your quest. Of course I don’t know about you, can only give direction and perhaps it’s a different direction than other well-meaning folks have given you.

            During a time of my life, when I had to deal with three difficult people, one of whom was a manipulator, plausible and casual liar, another one an elite gossiper, who gossiped whenever he got away from gossiping, just to spend time as well as an immature prima donna and third one simply an overt a*****e, I found out, myself, the hard way what works and what doesn’t in respect to taking a better charge of myself, which ain’t a given. Found out how meditation’s actually helped me, both Basic mindfulness and visualizations. I posted briefly on that yesterday(or was it day before that? Can’t remember lol).

            It’s wonderful! I don’t get so carried away with anger, anxiety or whatever the heck anymore whenever an a*****e comes pissing on my carpet. Or is ‘a*****e’ too much a colorful word??? Or too little descriptive?

            Good that someone shares my sentiment and thought on being on a quest, first Carrie, now you, too.

            It’s very, very good you found this resource, Roxanne. Please take your time absorbing all these materials.

            Feel personally that folks have said over and over and over and over again everything I’ve wanted to say, including all these suggestions for further journeying. So please lemme echo that Youtube’s a great Place to look for many meditations and visualization exercises(and even hypnosis, if you’re open to that), if you decide it’d help you on your own life quest in any way. At least that’s been my personal experience and I don’t mind if you prefer some other types of methods and approaches.

            P.S.Some other posters here may like to ‘firehose'(like I read a few weeks back in someone’s post) with all kinda references at one go. If it works for them, good. I go about it a tad differently. I can list more specific references, if you ask me to. Otherwise I prefer being broader.

            Hope this helps.


  4. I came across this attachment today and figured it would be something we could all benefit from. Read this and enjoy because I know it applies directly to daily life. It is especially hard when your boss is a narcissist!!

  5. “And we have to address the sociocultural factors responsible for “enabling,” promoting, and even rewarding so much character disturbance.”

    I would love to see a series on this very topic, Dr Simon!

  6. Since it is another Monday I just wanted to get the day going good for everyone. Here is an anonymous quote I found: The narcissist sociopath chose you because you are brilliant, bright, compassionate, and caring. He/she chose you because of all the qualities he lacks and expected you would prop up his low self-esteem and fragile ego. You defeated the monster with your beautiful heart and became stronger in the process. – anonymous I love this and I hope you do too!!

      1. Very beautifully said indeed. What came to mind when reading this post; What beauty is generated from burning the marshlands. The raging fire, sparks and roaring flames, and slowly the fire burns out, smoldering far into the night and early dawn till the fire is spent. Nothing but ashes and bareness. All winter long the marsh lies under snow and then the spring arrives with rains and wind and sunny days. Looking closely the marsh begins to come alive with new life full of glorious richness and beauty generated by the fire.

        A new beginning for all the wildlife, fertile and lush from the nutrients of the fire. How can I begin my life after the raging fire to stand tall and straight, weathered but stronger a new beginning. No more tears but a strength and resolve I never knew I had. No, I have not been destroyed from what was intended as devastation and destruction of my soul by the sick CD.

        I am and will aspire to greater heights than I ever imagined I could reach. My I am amazed “you truly are the great OZ.”

  7. After the murders and before his suicide, this killer messaged a friend “I’ve just done something really stupid”. So he was externalizing blame and trying to have all the power , but how do you explain this awareness of consequences only after the fact?

    1. Because of his extreme hatred of humanity , his intense desire to get even and vindictiveness, his desire to fulfill what “HE” thinks and feels should be done. Way deep inside he had a wee bit of knowledge I don’t know whether he had any conscious guilt left, but perhaps he knew deep down inside what he did was wrong. Many go out in a blaze of glory believing they are right to the bitter end.

      The desire to punish and get even are a powerful drug to these sick individuals.

      1. Amen. Even the ‘engaging fun and happy’ type of person, of this ilk, cannot tolerate it when events don’t line up with their expectations.

    2. Jan,

      I’ve just done something ‘stupid’. Stupid is an intellectual error. Murder is a moral atrocity. Even in the final moments of his life this horrid man minimized what he did. Evil, not stupid.

  8. Gautama Buddha said :

    Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.
    You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.
    All that we are is the result of what we have thought.

    Joey Zanne

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  10. One thing that bothers me in conversations about blame-shifting is this: Sometimes the blame really DOES lie elsewhere. Sometimes the person pointing fingers IS the real victim. So how can you tell the difference between a blame-shifter and someone who finally got up the nerve to say, “No, this wasn’t my fault, I was abused and deceived and I’m no longer willing to keep blaming myself for other people’s bad decisions”?

    It can be especially hard for those of us on what Dr. Simon calls the “ambivalent” spectrum. I have both O-C and P-A tendencies, so when I fail my first instinct is to blame myself. But I know for a fact that the bad things that happen to me are not always my fault.

  11. This is my mum. After a fall out recently I stored her new telephone number in my phone as ‘mum: forever the perpetual ‘victim’. I lost my nerve and temper recently with her, which is not helpful I know, but something just snapped. I’ve spent the last 1-3 years ‘managing’ my limited conversations with her. I went on a mini rant and the main issue I brought up was her professional victimhood. She is the type to accuse for ‘discrimination’ and ‘racism’ with the most minor amount of reason and evidence. I know I hit nerves of truth when she says nothing in response. When you confront her with honesty and evidence she says nothing. Then she’ll come back with an attack. Then she’ll go on about how I can’t speak to her in that way because she is my mother. She hasn’t worked for over 15-20 years. She has been on sickness benefits and lives in social housing (we are in the UK) and recently the government has reviewed lots of sickness benefits cases and she lost hers. She appealed and is back on it temporarily. She has actually been studying to get up to date qualifications and has had to change colleges like three times because she always has an issue with authority or sets up scenarios where she is the ‘victim’. She has a plan to set up her own business providing advocacy for a specific issue and I just don’t think she’ll make it. Part of this plan is working for a government agency or similar. I just can’t see her making it through to get employed. As the years have gone on she’s lost her sharpness and even though she’s only 50, she processes things slowly. She is more obviously disordered than she used to be up on meeting her, despite her behaviour being more mellow these days (she used to be very aggressive). Basicly, my opinion is that she has been on benefits for way too long and should of been moved off them to jobseekers years ago. She has lived off the tax payer for a long time now. I lack sympathy for her when she could of got a low level job without much responsibility and had her income helped by tax credits if she had needed. Now she’s suffering because our government has cut housing benefit too and she is danger of being evicted unless she takes a flat with one bedroom (she has two). She’s making that situation harder for herself from what shes told me. She needs to just move, she is not ‘entitled’ to that place. I know I sounds a little harsh to some of you socialists out there. But she is not a person in genuine need. I tried to help her lower her expectations in terms of the kinda of work she will get when she finishes studying and have encouraged her to do volunteering as a way of entering work. I can’t see her being able to manage more than a low level retail, factor, stock room or reception/call centre (no selling) type job. Preferably a job without much too much human interaction. She has displayed a huge sense that she is worth more than kind of work and I guarantee she won’t go for it. Its sad. I always wanted to help her get back on her feet. but now I realise she is beyond a certain level and is more or less untreatable.

    1. You can not help anyone who doesn’t want help. You can only help yourself. If limiting contact with her was working for you and less stressful then you should do it. She definitely shows signs of covert aggression.

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