There is one defense that feels good in the moment, but is actually robbing you of your personal power.
Nobody likes to be wrong and nobody likes to make mistakes. It’s rare to hear someone say, “Whoa. I’m completely wrong here. That is all my fault.” Likewise, if we find ourselves angry, hurt, or sad, it is easier to dismiss the feelings as some sort of external problem. “She really makes me mad.”
Avoiding responsibility protects us and makes us feel better in the moment. Did I drop the ball at work? Maybe, but if my coworker had done his part on time or if my boss had explained the expectations more efficiently, I wouldn’t have been set up for failure.
Did I just snap at my kids? Yes, but if my spouse hadn’t been nagging me and the kids weren’t so whiny, I could have responded with more patience and compassion.
What is your go-to behavior that strips you of power? Blame.
Here are four ways you disempower yourself by shirking responsibility and playing the blame game:
Blaming others for your anger, disappointment, or sadness puts them in complete and total control of your feelings. “You made me angry!” What a common phrase, and what a disempowering one. You are basically saying, “My feelings are completely dependent on what is going on around me.” You are saying that you have no power to self-regulate, and are giving the keys to your happiness to another person. That person could be your spouse, a boss, even a child. By blaming that person for your reaction, you are saying, “You made me angry. I need you to fix this so I don’t feel this way anymore.” You could end up waiting a long time while your resentment and bitterness fester.
Alternate way of thinking: You are coming from a place of power when you can realize you may have been wronged, but you maintain your dignity and autonomy by exercising ultimate control over how you feel. You can notice and observe the stimulus without letting it completely dominate your mood.
Blaming other people or circumstances for poor performance robs you of the power you have over your output. If you miss a deadline at work or come home without the one thing you were supposed to pick up at the store, you’ve failed. It’s easy to generalize that instance and say, “I am a failure because I failed.” If that is your message to yourself, the stakes are very high. It becomes safer to play the blame game. In this case you’re saying, “I don’t make mistakes. Other people cause the mistakes, or they just happen without my consent or participation.”
Alternate way of thinking: You come from a place of power when you can realize, “Yes. I f*cked up. I dropped the ball. I am sorry, and I am also still OK.” You are not defined by your mistakes and shortcomings. Identifying them and acknowledging them gives you the opportunity to remedy the problem and look for ways to improve in the future. And, it can give you a chance to let those around you know in a nonthreatening way the type of support and help you need to avoid a similar problem in the future. You can empower yourself and those around you by avoiding blame.
Blaming your past for your current circumstances causes you to live by an old, outdated script. It is easy to blame our choices in partners, addictions, and other dysfunctions on our past. Yes, our past can have a huge impact on our present, but if your go-to is blame, or a belief that some nebulous force from years gone by is driving your current decisions, you have given up your power. Believing you are on autopilot and that your course was set decades ago by the people who wronged you, gives you little autonomy over your life.
Alternate way of thinking: You come from a place of power when you can say, “Yes. Bad things have happened to me, but life is not just happening to me anymore. I am living it.” If you need help coming to terms with your past, getting help from a mental health professional can help you learn to live a more fulfilling life and find a healthier way forward.
Blaming causes you to lose face, not save face. Everyone plays the blame game at some point, yet everyone—including habitual blamers—really find the habit annoying and unattractive. So, while this point is a bit hypocritical, it is fact. When you blame someone, it doesn’t foster collaboration, understanding, and connection. It puts that person on the defensive. He will either defend himself or point out how you actually dropped the ball. At this point, you will probably blame even harder, and so the dysfunctional cycle begins… and often never ends.
Alternate way of thinking: Don’t be “that one.” If your goal is to save face, keep in mind that blaming others and shirking responsibility has the opposite effect. Nobody says, “Wow, he’s really a great coworker, especially because when things go wrong it’s never his fault. How do I know it is never his fault? He says so. Every time.” Same goes for blame on the home front. How often does this conversation go down with your partner? “Thanks for enlightening me, honey. Of course I should have sent you a third reminder about the event I already told you about twice today. It is totally my fault that you forgot and dropped the ball.” Yeah, that’s what I thought. Never happens. Next time you are tempted to play the blame game, try something different and address the episode without roping in other people or circumstances out of your control. It will change the way people perceive you and relate to you.
You are not a leaf in the wind blown around by forces outside of our control. You are an oak tree, able to ground yourself and stand strong in the face of difficult circumstances. You are a person equipped with the ability to regulate your emotions, learn from mistakes, and live a fulfilling life. Blame strips you of your power. Though it might feel good in the moment, when you blame others, you are abdicating your innate control and handing it over to external forces.
Take back your power by taking responsibility.
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Photo: Flickr/Omarlus 14