“You can get discouraged many times, but you are not a failure until you begin to blame somebody else and stop trying.” John Burroughs
Placing the blame at someone else’s feet often feels as natural as breathing. We all do it. It’s really easy to execute because we see people do it around us all the time. I don’t think there is anyone who can say they haven’t played the blame game? There are so many examples of our friends, family, colleagues, political leaders etc. refusing to take responsibility for their actions and pointing fingers at others. All of the blame shifting is to deflect attention away from peoples own wrong doing. “It’s their fault!” they cry, “I am the victim in the story.”
It’s much more comfortable to share your tale of woe looking for commiseration and words of consolation. But maturation of the spirit requires that we look inwards to ascertain our part in the situation. Owning up to our part in a series of events is a massive step in our self-development. If you can admit your part in ‘battles’ and can eliminate your need to play the victim role, you will always be in complete control of your choices. This is what sensational freedom looks like –radical responsibility. It’s a hard act to perfect, but is ultimately empowering.
What I am advocating is exceptionally difficult especially when something horrible has happened because of something we chose to do (or didn’t do). It’s much easier to blame someone else than to face the consequences of our actions.
"Take accountability... Blame is the water in which many dreams and relationships drown." Steve Maraboli
Blame Shifting Auto Pilot
As a mental health therapist, I naturally encounter many patients who blame shift as a default setting or abdicate the responsibility for their actions to God’s will.
I am not immune to blame shifting. From time to time, I find myself having to deal with my need to hold others accountable for my choices. It feels like learned behavior that I need to unlearn. You know when you learn to drive a car and after a while the whole process happens purely by muscle memory. You don’t have to think about the mechanism of driving it seems to happen all on its own. My blame game seems to happen in the same way. I can go onto autopilot muscle memory in an instant. It feels quite a normal thing to do. I have to consciously wrestle with the balance between taking personal responsibility for my choices and holding others accountable for their perceived negative actions.
How I Put on the Victim Jacket
Earlier this year I found myself in a fraught situation where I had to negotiate with a group of people who operated from a lack of integrity. They showed me a mask of authenticity and I chose to believe their ‘sales pitch’ regarding their moral compass and ethical way of conducting their business. I believed the story they offered me and made the decision to engage with their organization. It was a truly stupid decision on my part as I didn’t do my homework thoroughly and failed to see the cracks in the glossy veneer. I realized quickly that I had aligned myself with people who were acting in “bad faith”.
I became enraged with the situation when I discovered the depth of their dishonesty. I couldn’t believe how they operated. I immediately placed the blame of aligning with them at their feet. I was in a predicament where I was working for people who were inauthentic and damaging to people who interacted with their business. I felt like a “victim”. I stayed in that blaming mode, spewing fire about them for quite a while.
Signing Up Your Army
I repeated my story to anyone who would listen and my community commiserated with me. They listened as I went on and on about what I had endured and that the blame lay squarely with these “perpetrators”. The blame place was familiar, comfortable and it actually alleviated some of my tension. I felt justified by my blame shifting outrage. I found comfort from family and friends who quickly joined in with slandering these terrible “oppressors”. I was “right” and they were definitely wrong.
“It is a painful thing to look at your own trouble and know that you yourself and no one else has made it.” - Sophocles
Light Bulb Moment
Later, I had a client. In the session I realized I was listening to a fellow blame shifter. They outlined the atrocities they had faced at the hands of a vindictive boss. I listened but I could also see the places where he was culpable in the dance of office politics. And a big light went on in my head. My client had healed me in a moment. I had to dig deep and repair the victim idea of my self. I wasn’t really a victim? As I stood in my successful, growing therapy practice, looked around at my loving, support group, counted my blessings and remembered the strong, confident, honest human being who I was at my core –I came to accept my part in how the situation had developed.
Faulty Moral High Ground
I also had to own up to being the “perpetrator” –spreading negativity and harsh words about these people? I had been gaining a sense of righteous indignation at how I thought I had been treated which had emboldened my blame shifting gears. Had I been revealing these people’s conduct publically to feel better about myself? Yes, I had been slanderous.
I had engaged in revenge fantasies and in so doing lowered my highest potential. I blame shifted and believed “everyone was on my side”. I Began looking at these things more intensely with my own therapist in a self analysis. I can now completely embrace my part in how I subjugated myself in a work relationship. I willingly signed up to an unequal, dishonest partnership and put myself in a disastrous environment.
“The more you talk about it, rehash it, rethink it, cross analyze it, debate it, respond to it, get paranoid about it, compete with it, complain about it, immortalize it, cry over it, kick it, defame it, stalk it, gossip about it, pray over it, put it down or dissect its motives it continues to rot in your brain. It is dead. It is over. It is gone. It is done. It is time to bury it because it is smelling up your life and no one wants to be near your rotted corpse of memories and decaying attitude. Be the funeral director of your life and bury that thing!”
― Shannon L. Alder
The best part was that as soon as I could honor my own culpability in the events that unfolded I was reinvigorated mentally, emotionally, physically, psychically and spiritually. Taking responsibility is about owning up to the mistakes you’ve made –even if it’s only to yourself. I am a believer that outside extreme circumstances, we all have a part in the creation of our reality and what goes on around us. So think about your part in it, and own up to it, even if they're not owning up to theres.
I had wrestled with myself and the good rose up to meet me.