Last week, I introduced a new way of defining how different people handle disappointment, and I shared a typology that I called the Four Faces of Disappointment. I’m going to be honest – I was pretty proud of that post. As the Four Faces model started to take shape, I sensed I was on to a different way of viewing disappointment.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it goes much deeper than that. Disappointment is actually a calling card for something far greater – adversity. Moving forward, I plan to revise and rename the model to better reflect a broader discussion of adversity, but for now, the Four Faces works.

This week, I’m looking at the pitfalls faced by internal and external blamers, and how that influences each of the Four Faces. And don’t worry – we won’t stay in the land of problems and disappointment for long. Next week, we’ll discuss ways for each type to work through blame and grow in the process.

The Problem of Blame

Blame has two components – causal attribution and judgment. We attribute the cause of an event to either the self or the other. Either I caused something to happen, or someone or something else did. Attribution itself is neutral, but when we add judgment into the equation, we judge the cause as being good or bad – and in the case of blame, it’s bad.

Here’s an example: let’s say a prospective client turns down my proposal for coaching due to cost.

If I’m an internal blamer, I attribute the client’s refusal to my actions – “I priced the proposal too high for the client’s budget.” That statement by itself is emotionally neutral. But then part two –judgment – comes in, and I think to myself, “I really blew it.” I might  internalize the blame even deeper and make judgments about my self-worth – “What was I thinking? I’m clearly not good enough to charge that fee.” That’s the slippery slope of blame into shame.

Now let’s say I’m an external blamer. In this case, I frame the attribution around someone or something else – “The client could not afford the cost of the proposal.” Neutral, right? But once we add in the judgment, it becomes blame. – “Who the hell do they think they are? They’re crazy to turn me down.” And just as internal blamers can take it to a deeper level, so can external blamers – “How could they do this to me? No one supports me.” And again, we move from blame to shame.

Internal blame leads people to accept more responsibility than what’s reasonable, which can wreck their self-confidence in the process. It may also hold them back from confronting someone or something that’s contributing to the problem.

External blame causes people to be unable or unwilling to accept responsibility for their role in the event. Consistently blaming other people can lead to distant or combative relationships, and a lack of self-awareness can lead to feeling stuck.

The Burdens of the Four Faces

The pitfalls each of the Four Faces experience are based primarily on their blaming tendency, but how it manifests has a lot to do with their processing style.

If you’re a Recluse, you beat yourself up over what you did and what you should have done. Because you process best by yourself, it’s easy to fall into that blame-and-shame trap, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and isolated.

If you’re a Confider, you’re also Player One in the game of Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda, but you’re sharing those feelings of blame and shame with someone else. If you become overly preoccupied with your own experience, that can blind you to the needs of others and lead to imbalance and conflict in relationships.

If you’re a Seether, you rage against the machine, not yourself, but that anger stays inside. As with Recluses, it’s easy to become mentally overwhelmed, and you may feel stuck in your situation with no exit strategy.

If you’re a Confronter, you have no problems directing and vocalizing your anger at others – especially those who you view as being at fault. This can cause others to view you as intimidating or combative, which can lead to strained relationships and isolation.

Regardless of your tendency, one thing is clear – blame is toxic, infecting ourselves and the people in our lives. Next week, we’ll talk about how each of the Four Faces can break out the blame cycle and turn adversity into resiliency.