Psychological Impact of Being Unfairly Blamed

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Sometimes when someone dies, relatives of the deceased blame others who they believe either could have prevented the death or exacerbated it. What affect does this blaming have on those who are blamed? To be more specific, I am aware of someone who committed suicide. As with many suicides, there was alcohol abuse involved on the part of both the one who committed suicide and the spouse. Now relatives of the one who died are blaming the spouse and this individual is drinking even heavier. I am wondering how much the blaming by relatives of the deceased is affecting the spouse’s increased use of alcohol.

That is a complicated question, so I am going to address it in a more general manner, than to get too specific. Since this appears to be someone near you, I urge you not to take anything I write in this article and use it to push back against (blame) those who are blaming the spouse of the deceased. Because of the sensitivity of this issue, I have attempted to alter the information in the question and in my response to not make the situation easily identifiable, while still maintaining the integrity of the question.

First, we have a legal system in our country that in the case of a criminal trial allows for the discovery of facts. The system is adversarial in nature on purpose. It allows for those “facts” to be debated in a public setting—a trial. The system allows for a jury of peers to listen in on those “facts” and decide whether someone has broken the law or not. The purpose for such a mechanism is fairness. If you were charged with breaking the law, you would want your day in court to defend yourself. 

The situation you describe is closer to what might be called a “kangaroo court.” The individual you describe has been found guilty by the relatives of the deceased without a trial and an appropriate defense. Therefore, it would be a terrible position to be in, and it would have potential for extreme psychological stress. Whether or not this individual contributed to the spouse committing suicide, probably no one but God knows. And if the issue is pushed long enough and hard enough, the person you are concerned about may come to believe he or she is guilty.

However, whether or not this person’s increased alcohol abuse is the direct result of the blame is not something I can speculate on without evaluating this person. You stated that alcohol abuse was a part of this person’s life before the spouse’s death, and it continues to be a serious problem. Individuals who abuse alcohol and drugs will find excuses to use. It could be as simple as the sun is not shining and I feel depressed, but on another day it could be the fact the sun is shining and I think I will celebrate. It could be the fact that someone forgot his or her birthday, or it could be to celebrate a birthday.

I would recommend that if you are close to this person, that you attempt to get him or her help. Help is not defending this individual against those who are blaming, but by connecting this person with those who can help him or her get an assessment and treatment.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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