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Blame Shifting

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Shannon Reed Colorado Technical University Criminology Individual Assignment Week 5 Instructor: Russ Pomrenke August 11, 2014

Twenty four year old James T. Johnson has a problem, he is a thief. James works during the day as a construction and returns home to a house that he shares with his mother. He sells his ‘goods’ on the internet or pawns them a few counties away so that he will not get caught. However; Mr. Johnson got caught red-handed in a burglary just this past weekend. In order to help her son Mrs. Johnson mortgaged her home in order to bail him out of jail. During the ride home Mrs. Johnson yelled at her son for his behavior and stated he has “ended up just like his father, a criminal” and that she will probably die from stress that he has caused. James in anger yelled back that it was his mother’s fault and that his father taught him nothing but crime and that he drank because of their constant fighting.
Parental Responsibility
Should parents be blamed for their adult children’s behaviors? At what point should an adult take responsibility for their own actions no matter how their childhood was? Did James learn his behavior from his father? More likely than not, James did learn his behavior from his father. When children are born their parents are their main role models. This means the actions and behaviors of the parents are a large influence to the development of the child’s personality. In Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, boy’s wish to copy the actions of their dominant father. It was also concluded in a 1966 study that boys are more heavily influenced by male role models, like a father (Robinson, 2013).
Parents are responsible for the nurture of their children. Nurturing is described as the care for and encouraging the growth or development of something or someone. Nature versus nurture is one of the oldest issues that psychology faces. There are many differing opinions on whether human development is influenced more by genes or environmental factors. Many things that children learn they learn by example. If the parents use foul language in the home, the child will think that it is okay for them to use that language because their parents do it. In James’ case the case is not so much nature but nurture that causes him to act the way that he does. There is not a criminal gene in a person’s body. People are not born knowing how to steal, this is a learned behavior.
James’ Responsibility
Isn’t there a point in a person’s life that they have to take responsibility for their own actions, rather than placing blame on others? At what age should a person be in charge of their own destiny? These are questions that we should ask in James’ situation. James is 24 years old and still living at home with his mother, why? Most young adults move out of their family home after school. They get a job and move forward but James is a narcissist. A narcissist project guilt, blame, and responsibility onto others, pass the buck, and hold themselves immune to the consequences of their actions (Vaknin, 2014). Could there have been other contributing factors that would have an effect on James’ problem? Sure James could have introduced drugs or alcohol into the equation and that could have added to the reason that he stole items. He would have needed money to fuel his addiction. We do know that James has an alcohol problem which he is blaming on his parents fighting.
If James would have been removed from his home as a juvenile, would he have become a burglar? It could go either way. Since James is a narcissist, he would blame any behavior on his parents. So as an adult he could shift the blame to being removed from home instead of blaming his behavior on watching his father in action. Blame-shifters have difficulty taking responsibility for problems. James would need to learn to be in control of his own actions before he could change his behavior.
Reaction Formation
Reaction Formation occurs when a person feels an urge to do or say something and then actually does or says something that is effectively the opposite of what they really want (unknown, 2014). An example of this would be a female who is gay, yet has many relationships with men and speaks poorly about the gay lifestyle.
Reaction Formation is related to Agnew’s Strain Theory by the fact that people do not want to go against what is socially acceptable. Society looks favorably on people that follow the rules, but looks down on those that tend to buck the system. Agnew’s Strain Theory causes, negative emotions such as anger, frustration, depression, and anxiety and these feelings can lead to a person doing things that they normally would not do such as crime. An example of this reaction formation and the subculture theory is when a group of boys were aiming to achieve a higher class status and failed, they created their own culture that rewards the exact opposite behavior of physical aggression and toughness. Many of these ‘gang’ members do not worry about future consequences they instead only focus on the instant gratification of obtaining their wants.
In James’ situation I do not see a subculture mentality, instead I see a grown man that refuses to grow up and take responsibility for his own actions. James’ inability to see that he is responsible for his own problems instead of his parents will continue to be a hinder to both James and his mother. Now his mother might lose her home because of the mortgage she took out to bail out her grown son. This type of behavior from James is now considered a social syndrome called “entitled dependence”. James’ mother needs to quit feeling guilty for any prior doings in James’ life as he is now responsible for himself. He got himself into this mess and he can get himself out, is the position she needs to take. And James needs to get a job, pay back his mother for expenses and bail and become a functioning member of society.
James’ father
James’ father tried his best to not inflict abuse onto his son as he was raised in an abusive home and did not want his son to have the same life that he did. So to shelter James from the abuse that he often inflicted on James’ mother, he ignored James. This type of behavior can be classified into a psychological theory; Cognitive Dissonance.
Psychological theory
Cognitive Dissonance is what happens when one of our beliefs conflict with another belief. In James’ father’s situation, he felt that it was okay to ‘abuse’ James’ mother even though he felt that abuse was wrong and did not want to subject his son to it. The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance (Cherry, 2014). And for James’ father the thing that reduced the dissonance for him was to ignore his son and pretend that his son did not see the abuse he was inflicting on the mother.
Sociological theory
The sociological theory that can be brought to this scenario is the Structural Strain Theory. James’ father is a known criminal, who has done nothing positive with his life. In the Structural Strain Theory when there is an imbalance between cultural goals and structurally available means can actually lead an individual into deviant behavior (Crossman, 2014). Because of his upbringing, James’ father saw abuse and did not want to involve his son in that life. But he could not control his use of alcohol and the abuse that he inflicted onto James’ mother. This led him to ignoring his son and all of his son’s antics because he was wrapped up in his own strain.
Future Generations
Cognitive Dissonance can affect future generations who are taught to believe things in one way. This closed thinking does not allow for people to make their own decisions and assumptions in the future. So when kids grow up they can get confused when they have to decide if they believe what they were taught or if they have to go against all that they know and think another way. So when the force of dissonance is sufficiently strong, it leads to intense emotional responses such as anger, fear or hostility (Bateman, 2006). An example of this is for smokers who know that smoking is unhealthy. They are torn between wanting/needing to smoke and knowing that they are hurting their health, so they make excuses to explain away their unhealthy habit. If they did not make the excuses, they would feel a great deal of dissonance and cause strain.
The Structural Strain Theory can affect future generations in many ways. The main way that it will affect the future generations is that children are taught that society accepts things one way and not another. When we are born we are taught the “American Dream”, to grow up get a job, make money, have a car, house, get married, have children and grow old with financial success. So when children go to college, get a good paying job, have a nice home and family will be considered a success and those who do not follow that order are considered a failure. This can put a strain on the child that does not have the means to achieve that financial goal. Many children do not have the means to put themselves through college in order to land a high paying job and this causes strain.
In reality, no matter what issues caused James’ father to ignore his son, the fact is that the way that James was raised contributed to his delinquency in his youth and his criminal behavior as an adult. James was not mature enough to move on from the neglect and pull himself out of the behavior that was modeled to him his entire life. There is nothing to say that if James’ dad would have shown his son more attention that James still would not have turned out the same. Because many children that are shown attention still turn out to be criminals. But James might have turned out differently and not gone down the same path as his father, we will never know.

Resources:
Robinson, A. (2013). To what extent does nurture cause a child to grow up to be a criminal? New Political Center. unknown. (2014). Reaction Formation. Changing Minds.
Vaknin, D. S. (2014). Narcissistic Blame Game: The Guilt of Others . Samvak.
Bateman, C. (2006). A Problem in Mind. Only a Game.
Cherry, K. (2014). What is Cognitive Dissonance. Psychology.
Crossman, A. (2014). Structural Strain Theory. Sociology.…...

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