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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Fear of getting hurt is often connected to blaming communication (see my article: Fear of Intimacy Can Lead to Fault-Finding, Which Can Destroy Relationships).  Blaming communication occurs  when a person communicates anger or hurt by blaming the other person instead of focusing on his or her own internal experience of what happened (see my article:  Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable).

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Behavior?

Examples of Blaming Statements
  • You made me feel hurt when you forgot my birthday.
  • You made me feel unloved when you ignored me at the party and talked to your friends the whole night.
  • You were so inconsiderate of me when you made reservations without asking me where I wanted to go.
  • You were selfish when you chose to make plans with your family without inviting me.
And so on.

Why Do People Engage in Blaming Communication?
As you can see, what all of these statements have in common is that one person is blaming another person without speaking from his or her experience or taking responsibility for his or her own feelings.

Often when people communicate in this way, it's because they are afraid to make themselves emotionally vulnerable by expressing their own emotional experience.

People who communicate this way in their relationship often have no awareness that they're afraid of getting hurt because the fear can be unconscious.

It's not a surprise that this fear usually originates in early childhood where children feel blamed, criticized, unloved or invalidated by their parents or other significant adults in their lives (see my article:  Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past).

How Can People Learn to Stop Engaging in Blaming Behavior?
This fear is difficult to overcome alone or by reading a self help book.

Even if people who engage in this behavior learn to make "I statements" where they speak from their own internal experience (without blaming the other person), if the fear of getting hurt is strong enough, the fear can be emotionally paralyzing, especially if they grew up in a household where they were invalidated emotionally.

This problem can be overcome by working with a psychotherapist who knows how to gently help clients to get to the underlying issues that are causing the problem (see my article: You Can't Change Your Past, But You Can Change How the Past Affects You Now).

Once clients feel safe enough to get to the underlying issues, they can begin to differentiate between "then" and "now" in terms of being a young child with their family back then and being an adult now (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma: Learning in Therapy How to Separate "Then" From "Now").

They can also learn to distinguish between their family (when they were children) vs. their current relationship.

Psychotherapists who specialize in working with this type of problem often do inner child work to help that aspect of the client to feel safe (see my article: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

Fictionalized Vignette
The following fictionalized vignette demonstrates this dynamic and how therapy can help:

Ida began therapy to deal with the loss of a three year relationship after her boyfriend broke up with her.  She was sad and upset about the loss.

What is the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Initially, Ida said she couldn't understand why her boyfriend left her.  He told me that he was fed up with being blamed for the problems in their relationship.  This was something that he had told her many times before, but that she didn't understand.

From Ida's point of view, "I was only telling him how I felt.  I don't know why he got so upset that he left me."

At that point in her therapy, Ida was unable to see that she used blaming communication with her boyfriend.

Her therapist helped Ida to see the difference between:

"You make me feel hurt and unlovable when you don't call me."


"I feel hurt and unlovable when I don't hear from you."

When her therapist asked Ida to practice saying this, Ida froze.  To her surprised, she was so afraid that she couldn't utter the words.

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Since Ida was too afraid to say the words, her therapist asked Ida about her internal experience, on a physical level.

Ida told her that her chest was tight, her heart was racing, her throat was constricted and her stomach was tight.  She also felt light headed.

Fear: Chest tight, racing heart, throat constricted and stomach tight

Ida's therapist asked Ida to stay with those sensations, if she could, and see what else came up for her.

The first thought that came to Ida was an early memory of telling her mother and grandmother that she felt sad about her grandfather dying (see my article: Looking at Your Childhood Trauma History From an Adult Perspective).

When her grandmother left the room, Ida's mother slapped her and told her that she made her grandmother feel sad by bringing up the grandfather's death.

Ida had many early memories of being scolded and beaten for expressing her feelings, and she was able to see the connection between her current problem and the abuse that she suffered when she was a child when she expressed her feelings.

Her therapist helped Ida by doing inner child work.  She asked Ida, as her adult self, to speak to her younger self in a compassionate and nurturing way.

But when Ida imagined her younger self and began to speak to her compassionately, she felt a great deal of shame.  Then, she got angry and blamed the younger self for causing problems in her family.

Ida and her therapist had to work for a while to gradually help Ida to feel compassion for her younger self.

Ida was someone who loved children and who would have felt compassionate for a young child who was being mistreated.  But she had trouble summoning up self compassion without feeling shame.

So, her therapist had to help her to separate out self compassion and shame before she could truly feel compassionate for herself.

After a while, Ida was able to see that she could express her feelings to her therapist and there were no negative consequences.  She felt safe with her therapist, so she began to believe that it was possible to feel safe with other people if she was discerning with regard to the friends and romantic partners that she picked.

Gradually, Ida felt less and less afraid to express her feelings and she learned to express them without blaming others.  When she knew that she could trust the person, she didn't feel the same emotional vulnerability that she had felt in the past.

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Eventually, she was able to get into another relationship and express herself in a healthy way.

Fear of being emotionally vulnerable often starts at a young age in the family of origin.

This fear can result in your communicating in an unhealthy, blaming way instead of expressing your feelings and taking responsibility for them.

This fear is often unconscious and difficult to see on your own, especially if it has been part of your life for a long time.

Working with a therapist, who can help you to discover the origin and meaning of your fear and who can provide you with a safe place to talk about your feelings, can help you to express your feelings in a healthy way so that you're no longer engaging in blaming communication.

Getting Help in Therapy
Blaming communication can ruin a relationship.

After a while, this type of communication erodes the relationship and can lead to its demise.

If you are in the habit of engaging in blaming communication and you want to learn to express your feelings in a healthy way, get help from a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in this area.

Not only can it save your relationship, but it can also help you to work through unresolved childhood trauma that can be at the root of this and other problems.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

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