There are lots of emotionally unhealthy habits that can be acquired during the process of growing up. Included among them is that habit of blaming oneself for every bad outcome that happens in one’s family or environment. This is often the result of being unfairly blamed by family members or peers or teachers who were too emotionally weak to acknowledge weaknesses in themselves.
The opposite can also be true. Children grow into adulthood learning that telling the truth and accepting blame can have negative consequences. If telling the truth is met by criticism and ridicule, while there is no recognition of the courage that it takes to acknowledge a mistake, a pretty lousy lesson has been learned. Excuse making becomes part of the behavioral repertoire.
In psychology, this is known as the defense mechanism of rationalization. It involves giving logical but untrue explanations for certain behaviors of oneself or others (such as family members or friends) rather than acknowledging weakness or unpreparedness or the possibility that someone else earned the victory or the prize or the better grade.
Sometimes dogs do eat homework and sometimes important communications do get lost in the mail and sometimes people are treated unfairly, but when an excuse of that type is knowingly used to avoid facing responsibility for one’s behavior, and if the excuse “works”, it makes it that much easier to rationalize in the future.
Once rationalization becomes a way of life, it inhibits trying and growing and changing. It also accomplishes the opposite of what the rationalizer seeks to accomplish. S/he becomes known as the kind of person who blames others for his/her shortcomings, rather than a person who has no flaws.
Who would you rather have as a friend or professional colleague or leader? Someone who is willing to occasionally say that, “ I don’t know the answer” or “I goofed” – or someone who is incapable of doing so? Think about it next time that you are deciding whether or not to make an excuse.