Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Blame Displacement at Work and Home

Written by: on February 22, 2024

This week’s reading, A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman [1] came with high reviews, both from my lead mentor, Dr. Jason Clark and pastors who have utilized Freidman’s teachings in their ministry contexts. The word “utilizing” might be a bit of an understatement. “Those who have been transformed” might be more appropriate. The Very Rev. Canon Dr. Dan Alger of Church of the Redeemer at New Garden Park describes it as the most formative book outside the Bible.[2] 

Going into the reading, I had high hopes for the book and decided to read the entire thing. But as I was reading it, I quickly realized that the book has a threshold concept, as described by Meyer and Land, that I couldn’t quite cross.[3] In a sense, it felt like I joined in on an insider conversation, but without understanding all of the previous context, I could only grasp the general ideas, despite my desire to go deeper. I can tell that the information could be transformational and offer a complete paradigm shift in my thinking, and potentially free me, my family, colleagues, and organization from the bondage of anxiety – but I have yet to be able to fully internalize it. 

Friedman describes 5 characteristics of chronically anxious individuals, families, systems, organizations, and societies: Reactivity, herding, blame displacement, a quick-fix mentality, and lack of a well-differentiated leadership. 

Despite not fully grasping A Failure of Nerve, there were certainly thought provoking ideas presented, especially around blame displacement: an emotional state in which family members focus on forces that have victimized them rather than taking responsibility for their own being and destiny.[4]

In 2012, I joined an anxiety driven organization, and I reel when I consider the anxiety I contributed to the organization and people. My tendency towards perfectionism put a yoke of bondage on my team that was too heavy for all of us. Our focus on weakness rather than strength was demonstrated when things failed. As a response to pacify our anxiety, we would search for someone to blame, as the boost of self-righteousness always felt good. 

The Lord revealed to me that the perfectionist tendency was rooted in a desire to earn favor, approval, and self-worth. In 2017, I left the organization, feeling a sense of freedom from my own chains that had once shackled me. 

But bondage is hard to actually break, and it will often manifest itself in other ways. 

Shortly after leaving the organization, we began our foster care journey, entering into the hardest season of our lives. The emotional weight we carried from the trauma the children had faced (and the behavior resulting from the trauma) was more than we were equipped to handle. Looking back, I’m noticing an interesting phenomenon during this season. Our biological family rallied together and it brought all of us closer together. This was a sweet season for our family, because we were “in it together”, and because we bonded over the shared trials and challenges. But before this, we certainly were not a perfect family. So where did the other family problems go? They disappeared as we all had a common challenge to displace blame upon. 

When our foster care journey came to a close, our biological family suddenly faced internal challenges that were not present before. Did these challenges just appear? Unfortunately, I suspect not. I suspect that we were pacified by blame displacement, and when the foster children were gone, we then displaced blame on each other. 

I have since repented of using our foster children and their trauma filled backgrounds to displace my own anxiety and insecurities.

While I’m still prone to blame displacement, I pray that the Lord gives me the courage and wisdom to take responsibility for my own destiny rather than focusing on forces that have victimized me. 


[1] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure Of Nerve (New York: Church Publishing, 2017).

[2] Alger, Dan, “Redeemer Book Club: A Failure of Nerve”, YouTube Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QcZ_Hi7A2E

[3] Jan H.F. Meyer and Ray Land, Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (New York: Routledge, 2006).

[4] Friedman, 60.

About the Author

Christy Liner

12 responses to “Blame Displacement at Work and Home”

  1. Nancy Blackman says:

    I kept sensing so much self-awareness as I read your words, and for that, I say, “Give me a high 5!” Often leaders stay in the anxiety wheel because they don’t recognize their own anxiety, and the fact that you wrote about the anxiety you might have contributed to an organization speaks volumes to your character.

    Question: once you recognized it, what did you do next?

    Your statement of “our focus on weakness rather than strength” reminds me of something my therapist mentioned about society giving praise for some “isms” and villifying others, such as praising a workaholic but telling the alcoholic they are full of sin. Aren’t they both a repetitive cycle of past trauma in that person’s life?

    I loved reading your family journey through challenges and how that bonded you all. That is not a common occurrence in families, and, once again, such a high level of self-awareness to recognize the blame displacement.

    How are you navigating blame displacement through new situations?

    • Christy Liner says:

      Hi Nancy – thank you for recognizing strengths (self-awareness) – you are already putting the book into practice!

      To answer your first question – I didn’t realize the toxicity I was contributing at the time. Now that I know it though, I have changed my expectations, how I communicate with the teams I lead, and try to change the expectations I have upon myself. This doctoral program has been a good growth exercise for me – as I do not have capacity to be a perfectionist and read every book word-for-word.

      To your second question – I caught myself a few weeks ago with the same blame displacement for a family that we’re supporting to try to get out of poverty. The Lord revealed it to me and I repented and confessed it to my husband. It’s amazing how our sinful hearts creep into good intentions.

      Thanks for your thought provoking questions – they are helping me process important things!

      • Chad Warren says:

        Christy, I agree that Nancy’s observation about your self-awareness in fantastic. This is a step towards differentiation as a leader. One of the marks of a well-differentiated leader, according to Friedman, is that they encourage other group members, by their example, to take responsibility for their own problems and emotions. The self-awareness you demonstrate and the desire to grow can be an encouragement to others. Is there a way you can use this awareness to that end? Have you already?

  2. mm Kari says:

    Christy, thank you for your vulnerability in your post. I, too, struggled with understanding all of Friedman’s ramblings.

    What are some things you are doing differently in your current organization and position to fight against the chronic anxiety pull? What is a gift you have in combating this?

    • Christy Liner says:

      Hi Kari – thanks for your question. It’s helpful to consider what I’m going to do differently. You are putting the book into practice and I get to reap the benefits – so I appreciate you!

      Yesterday, I was on a call with a team member and we were sharing about our mutual anxiety in our work. I stopped during our call and asked if we could have a time of prayer, to cast our burdens upon the Lord, and hear from Him on what is most pressing, and what can be let go. I think both of us felt a relief of anxiety as we cast the burdens on the Lord, and reminded ourselves that this is His work.

  3. Debbie Owen says:

    Christy, thank you for sharing this very personal journey. Kudos to you and your family for making a difference in the lives of those foster children.

    As you think about the anxiety that caused you to leave your earlier position, do you notice any of those traits showing up in other places in your life now? How have you been able to move out of that anxious state into a more non-anxious state?

    • Christy Liner says:

      Hi Debbie, these traits and behaviors run deep, and I’m constantly seeing it surface in new ways. The underlying problem (which the Lord was just convicting me on this weekend) has to do with weakness in my identity coming from Christ vs. what I do. This has surfaced in so many ways in my life – but praise be to God – he’s not done with me yet.

  4. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Thank you for your heartfelt post. What I see in it is transformation and self-awareness over the last 11 years – going from an anxiety-driven job (that doesn’t even sound fun) to seasons of trials and triumphs.
    Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently at your anxiety-filled job?

  5. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Christy,
    Thank you for sharing your reflection on A Failure of Nerve and your personal journey. Your honesty about your struggles with anxiety, perfectionism, and blame displacement is truly courageous.
    If you were to face the situation today, how would you handle it?

  6. Diane Tuttle says:

    Hi Christy, Thank you for sharing in your blog about your struggles and awareness of where your need for growth is. The awareness itself is a big step. But equally important is the step you shared in your response to Kari, you stopped a conversation to pray. Thank you for sharing that, the perfect step that I will try to keep in mind too. You mentioned that you think there is a threshold that you haven’t crossed yet. Do you have a sense of what might help you take another step toward that?

  7. Akwése Nkemontoh says:

    Christy, thank you for being so open and vulnerable. You have gained a lot despite your articulated struggle to glean what you initially thought you would from this book. This post highlights a lot of self-awareness around some things that do not sound easy 💪🏾

    I actually had this same question as Diane about the threshold you hope to cross and how you might move there. That said you also mention that “bondage is hard to actually break, and it will often manifest itself in other ways.” Im curious what you’ve learned about the process of deliverance and what ongoing warfare looks like for you and your family?

  8. Elysse Burns says:

    Christy, I echo many of the comments above. Thank you for sharing some of your life experiences that were very difficult and the ways you have navigated through them. Have you noticed life patterns or triggers that cause blame displacement to rear its ugly head? I applaud you for your self-awareness concerning taking responsibility. I am on the same journey!

Leave a Reply