This Week is National Email Week: Blamespeak. What is it? (excerpted from BIFF)

© 2011 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.


Blamespeak is the term I use for the language of high-conflict blaming. It has increased rapidly over the past ten years, although it’s been around for eternity. While everyone may “lose” it and use Blamespeak on a rare occasion, HCPs (high conflict people) use it a lot.

Blamespeak often sounds like the intimate, disrespectful way that young children talk to their siblings or their parents in anger in the privacy of their homes before they learn how to be adults with adult self-restraint: “I hate you!” “You’re an idiot!” “I’m never speaking to you again!” Then a minute later, these young children are playing happily together. Unfortunately, such intimate disrespect has broken out into the airwaves and onto the screens, with modern radio, TV, movies and the Internet. And there’s no playing together afterwards.

It is a way of interacting with others that avoids the vulnerability of true adult relationships. It may be a result of never learning the self-restraint skills that children used to learn in their families and communities. Blamespeak would be considered child-like behavior, except that it is demonstrated today by some of the most powerful people in our society. It is a way of getting attention at a time of rapid change, when there are fewer established ways of getting attention – such as used to occur within a large family, a tight community, or stable religious and political organizations.

If you want attention these days, you have to grab it! And Blamespeak is the cheapest and easiest way to grab attention in our society. Our brains are wired to pay the most attention to emergencies – following the nonverbal cues of extreme facial expressions, tone of voice and hand gestures. This is what you see on our screens today. Blamespeak does grab your attention!

Unfortunately, electronic media has the ability to manipulate our emergency brain wiring, by repeating the exact same blaming words and tone of voice over and over and over again. This gives these repeated words exaggerated power and respect, which hijacks our attention and makes us believe we are in danger and should be more anxious than circumstances truly warrant. Have you noticed how hard it is to ignore loud, dramatic and intense Blamespeak in the news and on your own computer screen – every day?

Recognizing Blamespeak

You can recognize Blamespeak by the following characteristics, which make it hard to ignore:

1. It’s usually emotionally intense and out of proportion to the issues. Although sometimes it can seem calm, but be subtle and passive aggressive and bring out the worst in a reasonable person’s response. Blamespeak is never boring.

2. It’s very personal: about your intelligence, sanity, memory, ethics, sex life, looks, etc.

3. It’s all your fault: the Blamespeaker feels no responsibility for the problem or the solution.

4. It’s out of context: it ignores all of the good you’ve done and all of the bad the Blamespeaker has done.

5. It’s often shared with others to emphasize how “blame worthy” you are and how “blame less” the speaker is. The Blamespeaker has no sense of shame, embarrassment, or boundaries. He or she will speak this way about you in public. Unfortunately, Blamespeak often sounds believable to those who aren’t informed about your situation.

6. You have an intensely negative gut feeling about the Blamespeak, which sickens you, makes you feel intensely fearful, suddenly helpless, and/or very angry at someone: the Blamespeaker or another one of their targets of blame.

7. You find yourself compelled to respond with Blamespeak of your own. It is extremely hard to step back to prepare a reasonable response, or to decide not to respond at all.

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Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.