Such is the ill-will that occurs when we blame or are blamed, that we need to develop strategies for intervening in our own blame games.
In our household, we've invented an imaginary friend to blame when things go missing, utensils are put away in the wrong drawers or taps are left running. This turns an otherwise unpleasant exchange into a different sort of game where amusement beats accusation every time.
Blaming others is a hiding to nowhere. The blamed feel chastised (and nobody likes that feeling) and the accuser, while temporarily relieved by pointing the finger of righteous indignation, often feels worse (frustrated, crabby) or conversely contrite and apologetic. Let's face it, blaming places a nasty wedge between you and the blamed. Sooner or later it either grows deeper with resentment or has to be smoothed over before it becomes a chasm from which it is hard to recover.
Blaming oneself is even worse because it's difficult to recognise when that's what we're doing and it feels downright silly apologising to oneself!
"What have I done wrong?" is a question that many of us ask ourselves when something goes awry. It's often a question that we've been asking ourselves since childhood and it is so familiar that we don't even notice we're assuming our own wrong-doing. But we feel it in our bodies because blaming ourselves often manifests as pain in the gut region or the solar plexus as surely as if we had actually been kicked.
I had a work colleague whose mere tone of voice often triggered in me a "what have I done wrong?" response and an associated feeling of dread. It must have reminded me of someone or something from my past that frightened or threatened me in some way.
I think we all experience some version of this at times. So what can we do? Here are some suggestions when you notice that feeling and realise that you are blaming yourself:
* Throw your hands in the air (literally) and say to yourself "Ha. That's interesting". The physical action of opening your chest alleviates the physical sensation of pain or dread and the words allow you to objectify what's happening rather than making it all about you!
* Remember that you always have a choice about how you interpret what's going on. It could be that you've done something wrong that needs to be rectified, but that's just one interpretation. Ask yourself "What's another way I could interpret this?"
* Go back to basics and ask yourself "What actually happened?" Reduce it to the bare facts, eg "I received an email" or "My manager has asked to talk to me on Monday morning". Then ask yourself "What meaning have I added?" Or "How have I interpreted that?" Only then can you see the difference between the facts and the fiction or the story you have made up about the facts. Then, instead of feeling like you are a victim (ugh!) you can see the role you have played in creating your discomfort and that's empowering because you can do something about that. The pain we experience when we automatically blame ourselves comes not from what happened but from the story we created about what happened.
I have a few well-trained friends I phone to ask for help whenever I forget these strategies and get caught up in some drama that's going on in my life. Their job is to ask me "what happened?" followed by "what did you make that mean?" As soon as I see that I have invented some meaning which is making me feel terrible, I can invent another one that makes me feel better.
Sounds too simple?
Believe me, it is that simple and it works. Give it a try.