Blame and Vulnerability on the Beach in Mexico — by Gary Friedman

Last week we completed our fifth SCPI program in Mar de Jade, Mexico, with the theme of blame and vulnerability.  With participants from Europe, Canada and the US, Norman Fischer and I explored the depth of our personal relationship to blame and vulnerability  as they  impact our work with clients.  Central to all of our SCPI programs is the recognition that our responsibility to our clients compels us to understand ourselves.  

We made some interesting discoveries.    We all easily recognize the problems that blame presents when it arises in conflict: blame cycling into escalation between parties, trapping them in defense and attack mode, disempowering the blamers by placing all of the responsibility on the other.  It also protects the blamer from not only outside attacks, but also from recognizing the layers of vulnerability underneath that can hold the key to opening the lines of communication between parties.   

What is more subtle is to recognize the positive qualities of blame particularly for those people who have felt powerless  to stand up for themselves rather than allow themselves to be doormats for someone wanting to overpower them.   Being able to distinguish between whether the use of blame is helpful to dealing with the conflict or problematic can be a significant challenge.

We also discovered that when, as conflict resolvers, we pretend to ourselves that we are not angry, upset or blaming of our clients, the cost is often loss of connection with our clients.  When we admit our own sense of blaming, at least to ourselves, we have the opportunity to investigate it to reconnect with the people we’re trying to help.

 So when we make blame wrong, or blame blame, we are reinforcing conflict professional tendencies that if recognized and worked with can open a door not only between us and the parties but between the parties as well.

While it is true that blame often protects us from seeing our vulnerabilities, it can also be true that blame and vulnerability can exist simultaneously.  Dramatic examples of this are occurring in the Me Too movement, particularly with the athletes in Michigan speaking up in court against their abuser with full expression of blame and vulnerability.  Particularly turning self-blame, as some did, into a more accurate pinpointing of the blame to the outside can be empowering.

With respect to vulnerability, we also explored how our fears of being weaker by showing our vulnerability are often not realized when we express it, which often is accompanied by feeling more, not less, powerful than when we keep it hidden.

Most of all, our universal experience in spending a week together exploring these themes in our cases and our lives create support that we will all be able to carry into our lives back home.

We’ll be working with this same theme in Talloires, France from August 28-31, 2018.