My mood shifted. I had been feeling stressed, worried, and my thinking was cloudy. And then it all shifted. I became relaxed, happy, and clearer. I sat down and retraced my steps, specifically, my interactions. When did my mood shift? It was a compliment. Someone said something positive about my behavior. It was an emotional response to a relationship. I decided to dedicate this blog to another mood shifter: blame.
To blame is human. We all do it. But why? Blame serves a purpose. It calms down a relationship system that is tense and anxious. Pretend your congregation has spent weeks planning an event. The day of the event arrives, and nothing goes according to plan. Attendance is low, and the people who manage to show up are disappointed. In this case, it’s not unusual for someone to be blamed for everyone’s disappointment.
Inevitably, someone will take responsibility, not for the event, but for the feelings of disappointment in others. They will either blame themselves or blame others. When the person taking responsibility for the outward display of feelings of disappointment by others manages to get everyone to agree on whom to blame, the congregation will calm down. The extent to which this happens is an indicator of the level of maturity of the leaders of the congregation. The more blaming there is, the less mature the leaders.
Politicians are certified blamers. The public may dislike politicians who blame others. We may think it’s manipulative or callous. But politicians are humans. They react to the tension and anxiety of their constituents. They are just as tempted as the rest of us to calm down their people (their base) by blaming someone else.
Clergy are prone to blame. If a congregation is uptight, stressed, anxious, and tense clergy may find someone to blame. In congregations with a large staff, it’s not unusual for one staff person to be blamed for the disappointment or upsetness of the congregation. Someone on staff (often the pastor, but not always) will feel responsible for the negative feelings of the congregation and seek out someone to blame. We don’t like to admit it but (and for some people it is difficult to observe) we simply feel better when we blame others. It’s the only reason we do it.
As I mentioned earlier, some leaders blame themselves. Clergy overfunctiong when they blame themselves for problems in the congregation by taking too much credit for the success and failures of the congregation. When clergy overfunction, the relationship system calms down. Judicatory leaders who work closely with clergy are aware that clergy experience burnout and often do a poor job of self-care. Missing from this awareness is an understanding and appreciation of the emotional process in the relationship system. You can see it at work when clergy self-blame. When clergy blame themselves for problems in the system, they put pressure on their body to perform. It may sound counterintuitive, but clergy perform better when they stop overfunctioning.
The desire to blame diminishes as leaders work on developing a systems view of relationships and an awareness of the emotional process. A good coach can help with this. Consider the following questions:
- What does a more responsible leadership position look like?
- How clear are you about your responsibilities? What are you willing to do for others and self? What are you not willing to do for others or self?
- What challenges are others facing in the relationship system?
- How will you redirect future conversations away from blaming someone toward articulating a systems perspective? How can you be more responsible for the way you engage other people?
- How does blame (blaming others or blaming self) work in your family of origin? Where do you see it light up? What insights are useful for thinking about blame in the congregation?