It was only 6:00 AM and the roads were already covered with snow. I was slated to present at a conference in New York the next morning and my flight was at 3:00. The weather channel said the storm would be over by noon, but Delta had canceled several afternoon flights already. I thought of […]
Taking one hundred percent responsibility for your life is not popular or easy. Can’t you just blame your parents, spouse or coworkers when life does not turn out the way you expect or want? Everyone else does. We believe there is an explanation for why something went wrong and we will feel better if we identify the person responsible. If that person is not pointed out and you are involved, the blame may fall on you. You would be revealed as the unworthy person you secretly fear you are. Consequently, we blame anything and everything outside ourselves to keep the spotlight focused elsewhere.
The downside of blame is it inevitably lands on us. There is always enough to go around. The most painful criticisms can fly our way from the lips of those closest to us because they know us best and can personalize them. They are personalized but not personal. Attacks can be a misguided attempt to hurt us, but mostly they are the weapon of choice for those trying to avoid blame and responsibility themselves.
Blame is a weapon that inevitably turns on the wielder and fosters resentment, hopelessness and unhappiness. You insulted me and are a jerk,’ weakens both parties and increases bitterness.
‘That felt like an insult and I will take responsibility for my bad feelings,’ strengthens the person willing to take control of themselves.
Responsibility without blame builds resilience, confidence and compassion.
‘That less qualified hustler took my job,’ increases bitterness.
‘I am feeling vulnerable in this economy and need to explore what I need to do differently,’ is self-empowering.
People will still lie, cheat and steal and need to face the consequences. Consider a self-empowering scenario where you notice what happened and take action but without disparaging the other party. If someone steals your purse, call the police but understand the thief is in a situation where she felt the need to steal and hope that improves in the future. In a blame scenario, because of her actions, you now believe the world is an unsafe place full of terrible people.
You may not lie, cheat or steal but blame is still a knife with two edges. As long as you are looking for someone to blame, self-blame is ready to fill in the blanks. If you do not believe this, watch your thoughts for a day. Notice how often you automatically blame others for how you feel. Or how often are your thoughts self-critical and belittling. Try a one day, no blame challenge. For 24 hours, do not blame anyone for anything (including yourself). If another driver grabs your parking space, notice but stop further thoughts. When your partner does not pick up dinner as promised, come up with an alternative without demonizing or criticizing her in your mind.
See how you feel at the end of the day. You may be a bit calmer and stronger. Or perhaps you will be ready to burst with all the unspoken criticisms and accusations. With practice, you can get rid of the blame habit and embrace full responsibility for whatever you feel.