When it comes to blame most people fall into two camps. They either blame everyone else for their pain or they blame themselves for all of their problems.
In reality, there’s enough blame to go around — for ourselves and others.
The benefit of apportioning blame
While assigning blame seems like an exercise in futility, it does serve a purpose, as long as you don’t dwell in negative emotions that can accompany it. The purpose of assigning blame is to develop the ability to recognize problematic patterns in your own and others’ behavior.
For example, if you have a friend who repeatedly disappoints you by promising one thing and doing another, it’s important to make the connection — “I probably can’t trust what my friend promises.” That friend is responsible for her words and her actions or non-action and she is to blame for not following through.
However, if you continue to count on that friend, then you are also to blame for the disappointment that results, because you have not learned from your experience. Blaming yourself here is the acknowledgment that your desire for a positive outcome tends to blind you from recognition of the other person’s weaknesses.
The problem with dwelling on blame
Even if we carefully divvy out the proper proportions of blame, we can still get stuck brooding in the state of blame. “Ah, look what he’s done to me and look how I’ve contributed! Can you believe this rotten state of affairs?!” Dwelling in blame, resentment, and anger will only worsen relationships and bad situations.
Blame is only useful in problem-solving when we use it to figure out how to avoid repeating the harmful behavior, not when we use it to brow beat ourselves or others.
How to use blame to improve your life
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves in order to move from blame and shame to arranging positive change:
1. How do I tend to project my fears and hopes onto others, contributing to the way people will respond to me? How can I change that?
2. How can I change my interactions with others to avoid repeating this painful pattern?
3. How should I change my expectations of others to avoid inevitable disappointment?
4. Am I allowing myself to dwell in blame?
5. How can I change the focus of my thoughts and feelings to help me move on? Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotional reactions and the focus of our thoughts.
In short, we can draw conclusions and learn from those who are to blame, be it others or ourselves, as long as we don’t drop into a state of self-pity and hopelessness or start carrying a grudge.
No heavier burden than to carry a grudge. Let go, don’t judge, Forgive.
~Ros McIntosh “In Search of the Good Life”
by Alison Poulsen, PhD