about spanking, blame, and how we justify our behavior

A lot of modern psychology is based upon the idea we can trace back our struggles, predispositions, and even bad habits to the the generation before us or even the one before that. So if we find ourselves struggling, a quick way to identify the source of the issue is to trace a straight line back to those who went before us.

Now I am not dismissing how our genetics, ways we were treated when we we were young, or lack of certain structures (i.e. family, education, church) affect us as adults. I think those things have been proven to impact a lifespan. Just like we look at history to learn about what we should do in the future, we find reasons in the often bumpy stories in the pages of our past that give us perspective about how we feel or how we might be lacking.

While looking to the past has been helpful, I fear we use the past as a justification for our behaviors in the future. Here are common things i have heard from folks justifying habits and behaviors:

“I guess I inherited my dad’s bad temper”

“My family has a history of addiction, so I guess I’m gonna fall into that too.”

“This is what my church teaches, so this is what is true”.

“This is how mom and dad always handled it.”

pointing finger

This gets me curious. When we point back to our past as an reason for our present behaviors and struggles, what are we really doing? I’d like to give an example of something that has been on my mind a lot as a parent.

I have spanked my child more than a few times. I’ll admit it. Something else I’ll admit is most of the time I resorted to spanking I did so because I lost my cool. Rarely can I remember a time I decided to spank my kiddo when I felt well reasoned and in control of my emotions. While I never feel like I crossed the line into abuse, I know the prevailing feeling leaving the room after I spanked my child.


But what do most of us do with guilt? We justify it. Often, guilt is too strong of an emotion to really just let live in our lives. We want to suppress it or find a way to get rid of it. Justification is a great tool to dispose of guilt.

With the national attention turned towards spanking over the last few weeks via the Adrian Peterson child abuse case, I read a lot of folks – especially from the south – defend their decision to spank their children not on well thought out reasons, but because their parents and grandparents.

You see, it is much easier to justify our behavior based upon what those before us have done. Because, we turned out okay, right? If we survived a few rounds with the belt or wooden spoon, can’t our kids do the same?

Now, this particular post has very little to do with spanking. What it has more to do with is how we often will pass off blame to those before us to justify how we act, feel, or respond to our environments. What disturbed me about the national dialogue about spanking centered around our propensity to assign blame for our behaviors rather than come up with reasonable arguments as to why we engage in behaviors like spanking.

I’m not anti-spanking. What I am is anti-blame.

When we engage in blame for our behaviors and beliefs, we essentially slough off our responsibility of our behaviors and beliefs. So often we tell our children not to blame their mistakes on their teachers, friends, or siblings. Yet, we are as guilty of these things by blaming our pasts, environments, and even previous mistakes. Just as we help our children take responsibility for their actions and beliefs, so we should do the same.

I have a lot more to write on this subject, and hope to on a future post. But with these thoughts, I leave you these questions:

1. Who are you blaming for your actions right now? Is this fair? Does this justify your actions or beliefs?

2. With that in mind, what could be different about what you believe? Would it change anything? What would life look like if you changed that belief or action?

3. What belief or action should replace how you have always felt? Is it biblical? Is it based on love?

4. Who would notice? Does that make you nervous? Is that keeping you from doing things differently?

What do you think about this? Leave your thoughts below and give us some feedback!

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