Serenity in an Age of Anxiety

no-end-street-1408983      When you are anxious, fearful and angry the mind tries to solve the problem  There are clues to uncover, culprits to identify and worthiness to earn. If there is no action to take, there is always rumination. What should I do? Why isn’t the situation different? Who is to blame?


It feels like the mind is helping by hashing over the details of your latest concern. Unfortunately,  identifying the right person to blame for your discontent will not reduce anxiety or make you happy. “You have insulted me and I have correctly identified you as the cause of my distress.” (Still angry.) “You should apologize and feel bad about yourself.”


Contentment has a dirty sheen when earned at someone else’s expense. Blame comes from the need to validate why you feel the way you do without taking responsibility for your feelings.  And if we are honest, a way to feel better about ourselves compared to someone else.  “I am right and clearly the better person.  You, on the other hand, have issues.”


The Blame Cycle


“You never visit me,” Cindy’s mother Bea* complained for the umpteenth time after moving to an assisted living facility. “This place is disgusting.  Why can’t I go home?”


“No matter how much I do, it is never enough, “ Cindy reported after her latest interaction. “I put her in the nicest place money can buy and all she does is gripe and complain.” Cindy spent the next few minutes cataloguing the many ways her mother never appreciated her. She, in turn, retaliated with rare visits and a chilly demeanor.


Cindy blames Bea’s self-absorption for her coldness. From Bea’s perspective Cindy is aloof and uncaring so she must needle her for attention.  Welcome to the closed feedback loop, a relationship gridlock where each party blames the other for their unhappiness while remaining wholly unaware of the impact of own behavior.  Both parties in a closed feedback loop blame cycle say they behave the way they do because of the actions and attitude of the other person.


These examples of the blame cycle may sound familiar:


My husband is selfish so I don’t take him into account any more.

Because my wife does not care about me, I must watch out for myself.


Or,  My boss is mean so I don’t respect her.

My employees don’t respect me so I don’t bother being nice.


Or, She is always cranky so I tune her out.

She tunes me out so I am cranky.


The blame cycle is as poisonous as it is ubiquitous in intimate relationships. Even if one person starts a conflict with bad behavior, blame and shame keep the misery flowing. If the offender knows she was hurtful and has not made reparations, chances are she has reframed the story to justify her actions and reduce guilt. I cheated because you ignore me or I said your cheesecake tasted off because you are such a food snob, are versions of the same old closed feedback loop.  Fortunately, it takes two people to keep a blame cycle going but only one to break it.

Post 19

*Not their real names.

Next time: Part 2: Your Hidden Superpower



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