“The urge to blame is based on the fear of being blamed.”
— Douglas Stone, America author and lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School
“I’m glad for the company,” said Annette. “I’m usually at these things alone.”
It was the weekend of the annual craft fair at the local garden centre and the writers group had set up a table displaying books by club members and local authors. I was busy setting out copies of my new self-esteem book while Annette, a fellow writer, was setting out copies of her latest work — the biography of a famous southern belle. I was standing back inspecting the display when Annette recognized a one-time neighbour in the crowd and waved her over.
“How have you been, dear?” she asked. “It’s been years since we’ve spoken.”
“Oh, I’ve been better,” admitted the woman. “I’m not working — my health hasn’t been too good the past couple of years.” She picked a book up off the table. “I blame that on my work, though. The atmosphere at the shop was terrible. I think the stress finally got to me.”
“I see,” said Annette. “And how are your children — you have three, right?”
“Three, yes,” she nodded, turning the book over. “This book is about self-esteem?”
“Yes,” Annette responded, winking at me. “And I hear it’s a pretty good one, too.”
She placed the book back on to the table. “My youngest son could use some self-esteem. He’s a mess. I doubt he’d accept a book from me, though. He and I don’t get along well. I blame his father for that — turned him against me.” She let out a long sigh and shrugged.
We’ve all been guilty of foisting the blame for our current situation onto the shoulders of another. I see it often in my coaching practice — folks blaming others for their poor choices, lack of job satisfaction, failed relationships, inability to experience happiness or achieve the level of success they feel they deserve. At the root of blaming is a lack of self-responsibility.
Why are so many of us afraid to own our lives? Perhaps we grew up in a family where it was painful or even unsafe to accept responsibility for our choices. Consequences may have outweighed circumstances. This might have conditioned us to project our fear outward and deflect any form of personal liability. We may have bought into the notion that it is the job of our employer, spouse, society or the government to ensure our level of contentment.
Whatever the reasons, without self-responsibility, few issues are ever resolved or important life lessons ever learned. The result is a cycle of blame and avoidance without resolution.
There’s a saying: “The universe responds in kind.” If our outlook is negative, we will attract negative people and experiences into our life. It’s not metaphysical — it’s simply a matter of like attracting like. If we have a positive outlook and hold ourselves accountable in a healthy and appropriate manner, we attract people and opportunities that help us grow and succeed.
I think we often know intuitively what must be done to bring about positive change. Fear holds us back and invariably leads to self-deception, justifications and blame. The result? Beliefs and values that destroy our self-esteem, devastate our relationships and damage our health.
For years I blamed many of my issues on poor early programming. And though there was certainly some truth to the assertion, hanging onto the belief wasn’t helpful me. I recall sitting down one day and contemplating all the ways I had contributed to my own unhappiness. Part of it was ignorance — simply not knowing anything better — but another even larger component was fear. In that moment, I realized by blaming others I was blatantly ignoring life lessons. I think life is made up of lessons and once we learn one we move on to the next. If we fail to learn the lesson, we keep finding opportunities to learn it again and again. Though not easy, things began to slowly shift for me when I decided to stop blaming and start growing up.
I certainly don’t have it all figured out but here are a few tips that may help you.
Acknowledge life lessons. This was a vital step toward shifting your thinking. Admit there are lessons to be learned and consent to learn them. Unless you’re willing to be open and aware, you’ll be stuck (at least to some degree) forever.
I believe that each situation brings with it a gift if you are willing to receive it. That gift is often awareness, understanding or appreciation.
Own the parts. Admit that you might be part of the problem. Notice I said “part” of the problem. It doesn’t mean that others played no role in the situation. It just means that you are willing to be accountable for your part in the event. This can be tough but definitely worthwhile.
Reflect and review. Look back over past experiences and try to view them from different vantage points. This is vital. Be objective and try to see it from someone else’s viewpoint.
Look for recurring themes. Do the same situations play out repeatedly in your life? Is there a lesson you’re missing? A shift in your thinking that you’ve been resisting? What are you trying to avoid by blaming others for your situation? What have you been hanging onto?
Let go of attachments. Striving to control people, situations and circumstances only brings stress into your life. When people and events fail to conform to your wishes, it’s easy to grow anxious and frustrated. You may feel the urge to lash out at the unfairness of it all.
American western novelist Louis L’Amour put it best when he wrote, “A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner, so if one’s life is cold and bare he can blame none but himself.”
Got something in your life you don’t want? Face it, accept it and choose a positive means of moving through it. Tough situations require tough choices. No more blaming! The moment you accept full responsibility for your life is the moment you gain the power to change it!
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.