Why Bullies Shift Blame and How to Hold Them Accountable

Learn how to identify blame-shifting and deal with it


Many times, bullies have difficulty taking responsibility for their choices. As a result, they often blame others for their bullying by saying things like, “He makes me so mad, I couldn’t help it,” or “I wouldn’t have called him names if he would have done what I told him to do.” They also might shift focus to their problems at home or school as an excuse for their behavior. When bullies engage in this type of behavior, this is called blame-shifting.

Why Bullies Shift Blame

It is human nature to want to assign blame. Whether it is placing blame when the team loses or making excuses when after a failed test, shifting blame has been around since the dawn of time. People even find ways to place blame for bad choices and habits by saying things like “It’s just who I am,” or “It runs in the family.”

When it comes to bullying, blame-shifting is something the bully does to protect himself from the consequences of his choices. What’s more, bullies will shift blame to avoid taking responsibility and to avoid discipline. But on a deeper level, bullies engage in blame-shifting because they do not want to be seen as failures.

What’s more, blame-shifting is an attempt to justify their beliefs or actions by indicating that they were in a position where they simply had no other choice than to respond the way they did. By doing so, they are simultaneously trying to evade responsibility as well as control and manipulate other people’s impressions.

This tactic is equivalent to playing the victim card. Unfortunately, blame-shifting is often an effective tool that gets others to pay attention to everyone or everything except the bully and his bullying behavior.

Pay close attention if you notice the bully has trouble admitting mistakes or gets defensive about his shortcomings.

Other signs of blame-shifting include talking in circles about anything but the issue at hand and engaging in rumors and gossip. These are simply tactics to divert attention away from the issue at hand.

How to Confront Blame-Shifting Behavior

When confronting a bully for his poor behavior, remember bullying is a choice and he must be held accountable for it. As a result, you may need to repeat this point until it gets through. Don’t allow yourself to get caught in the swirl of blame and attack. These tactics are being used to sidestep the issue. Make it clear to the bully that he must take responsibility for his actions.

Do not enable his irresponsibility by dropping the issue or focusing on the issue that “made him” do it. And definitely do not discuss the victim. Focus on the issue at hand and that is the choice to bully others. Remind the bully that regardless of his situation or circumstances he still had a choice. Be sure he can recognize this fact and that he makes a commitment to change.

Make it clear that a little change is not enough. Promises also are not enough. He must face the immensity of what he has done and how he has wounded the victim of bullying. Once he is able to verbalize and accept responsibility, it is important to lay out the disciplinary actions for bullying.

Be sure to follow through with the consequences. Additionally, you may wish to implement a way for him to make amends, especially if the bully is lacking empathy.

Remember, blame-shifting is a manipulative behavior and holding bullies accountable for this behavior is a must. A bully who won’t acknowledge his bad choices and repeatedly blames others for his shortcomings will never correct his erroneous thinking and behavior. 

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