Whether we talk of warring nations or wounded spouses, the one thing that maintains antagonism and distance is the tendency to blame and shame. To make matters worse, continuous fault-finding often leads to holding a grudge which can turn into damning the other so vehemently the chances for reconciliation become slim.
So, why do we humans persist in this behavior? Blaming serves deep psychological desires: to feel blameless oneself, to scapegoat another, to switch from a defensive to offensive position, to play god and punish people who hurt or disappoint us, and, last but not least, to protect one’s ego.
The common phrase: “Someone must be to blame for this” neatly addresses our society’s penchant to punish undesirable behaviors, even though that rarely increases the desirable ones.
The proliferation of prisons and recidivism among criminals are perfect examples of how blaming, shaming, and punishing usually create more bad behavior.
The urge to blame is typically triggered when you don’t get what you want, or feel entitled to. This knee jerk response may feel satisfying at first because it exonerates us from any responsibility and punishes another; however, it only hinders any chances for reconciliation and rapprochement. Most people intuitively know that, but assigning blame and meting out punishment are hard habits to break as both deeply satisfy the ego’s love of basking in self-righteousness. Unfortunately, the potential long-term gains get sacrificed for the short-term ego boost.
Here are some ways to tame the blame:
Watch how easy it is to rush to judgment. Then, take a minute to focus your energy on your heart center and gather up some compassion. Remind yourself: People who behave badly are usually just acting out their suffering. By remembering this and sending them some compassion, you can soften your heart. It softens towards them and you, for who never does hurtful, thoughtless, inconsiderate, or selfish things? By cultivating understanding when others miss the mark, you will find yourself lavishing more kindness on yourself, too.
Notice any demands you might have made of this person, situation, or of life. Any “shoulds, musts, or have-tos” you are generating in response to something you did not like or agree with. Ask yourself: “What law of the universe says people should behave the way I want them to?” or “Must life always be easy and fair?” or “What law of the universe says I must get what I want simply because I want it?” or “Must people who disappoint me be punished?”
On the other hand, if you find yourself full of self-blame, or guilt, please read the chapter on this site called: “Guilt, The Useless Emotion.” If you apply its suggestions and philosophy, your guilt will evaporate.
When you blame others you are effectively saying, “You are bad.” When you blame yourself, the internal message is “I’m bad.” Both can easily escalate to blaming and shaming, neither of which help anyone change for the better. But, worse than that, they entrench the thought that someone is a huge screw-up and deserves to feel lower than a snake’s wiggle. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter much whether that someone is you or another because when anyone feels unworthy, or ashamed, it hurts everyone.
When you feel ashamed it effects every aspect of your life: your relationships with friends, family, mates, co-workers, bosses, and yourself. Its tendrils reach deep down into your sense of who you are, what you can accomplish, and even your dreams. Lodged in shame is the kernel of unworthiness that blocks you from being your truest, most developed self as it saps your energy and enthusiasm for life. There is absolutely no upside in feeling shame. If you think your sense of shame comes from ideas instilled in childhood consider getting professional help. You can feel better. Everyone is born with a capacity for joy and wholeness, don’t let shame keep stealing yours.
Naturally, there are times when you will miss the mark. Taking responsibility never equals assuming blame or larding on the guilt. Paradoxically, by taking responsibility it is less likely you will ruminate over your lapses in judgment or behavior. Instead, you are likely to make amends and change some ineffective or insensitive behaviors.
On an energetic level, guilt and blame deplete your energy as they fuel negativity towards yourself and others. Emotionally, guilt and blame either make you feel depressed or angry. Behaviorally, they often lead to isolation, resentment, fights, shunning others, and a host of physical symptoms born from all that anger and tension.
Imagine how different you would feel if you ditched the blame and shame. What burdens would be lifted, and how much more easily you would flow through those inevitable times when people, life, or even you, disappoint you.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Tame the Blame and Shame To Encourage Positive Growth & Change December 3, 2013
We’re All In Recovery, So Welcome To The Club July 26, 2010
Whether it was a parent, teacher, grandparent, uncle, aunt, friend, boss, sister, brother, classmate, or co-worker, at some point, everyone has been affected by damaging remarks, criticism, physical abuse, harassment, or sexual abuse.
You may think it extreme to say that we are all in recovery, but you don’t have to be a mathematician to add up the numbers: at least one in four women is a victim of sexual abuse, one in ten adults is addicted to alcohol, and one in four women is likely to experience domestic violence during her life. Then there are all the other issues flying under the radar, like elder abuse, bullying, and living with someone dealing with depression, guilt, hoarding, or addiction.
Each person who is directly affected by these issues indirectly affects many more. And how could that be otherwise? Even the kindest soul reacts to abuse either by taking it out on others, himself, or both.
When we look at the statistics, the chances of not having some toxic interactions are infinitesimally small. If that is true, and we are all negatively affected by verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, perhaps post-traumatic stress is far more common than we think.
Surely, growing up in a family with an addicted parent leaves one traumatized. The trifecta of unpredictability, lack of primal trust, and insecurity, often all shrouded in a family pact of secrecy, is more than enough reason to embark on a recovery mission.
If the Buddhists are right when they say our suffering is our benefit, we can all help by first recognizing how pervasive emotional trauma is and developing more compassion for ourselves, and each other.
What would happen if our society recognized this epidemic of PTS? (I don’t call it a disorder as it’s natural to be incredibly stressed after trauma.) Ideally, we would cultivate gentleness for ourselves and our fellow travelers. We would all embrace a culture of recovery by speaking more kindly, acting more considerately, owning our own issues, cooperating rather than competing, embracing our natural sensitivity, and remembering that everyone struggles at one time or another.
If we assume that each of us has been hurt, probably numerous times, we might be tempted to chalk it up to human nature and suggest everyone simply buck up; but, isn’t developing a thicker skin part of what led to these issues in the first place? Furthermore, how does burying our true feelings help in the long run? Doesn’t it make it more likely they will come out inappropriately in sarcasm, or even abuse?
What if we used our collective pain to catalyze our evolution?
What would our better selves look like?
Would we be more generous, more patient, tolerant, and sensitive?
What about how we treat ourselves? Could we show more generosity, patience, tolerance, and sensitivity towards our own sweet selves?
What if, for one day, none of us took anything personally? Remembering that each of us is carrying far more baggage than is obvious.
What if after being cut off on the road we thought, “I wonder what that person is dealing with that made them so distracted?”
What if we assumed that every single person was dealing with something difficult, and we cut them some slack?
What if we smiled at everyone, whether we knew them, or not?
What if we practiced compassion?
These days, there is a great awareness of how we have hurt the environment. When will we own up to how we hurt ourselves, and each other?
Isn’t our treatment of the environment, animals, and others merely a projection of how we treat ourselves?
I believe it is.
By hurting anything we hurt everything.
Today, why not vow to start a real new age by taking the very best care you can of your sweet self? If you do, you will watch that inner love manifest to everyone’s benefit.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang