Stop Blaming (Yourself)

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In the words of Brene Brown, “Blame is a way we discharge pain. “

We blame others, hurling insults and digging our heels into the cushy comfort of self-righteous indignation.

Or we blame ourselves. We beat ourselves up. We call ourselves names like “loser” and “failure.” And then we wonder why we feel small, alone and sick to our stomachs.

Next time you notice you are blaming someone or blaming yourself, no matter why, try getting curious instead of launching an attack. Ask yourself:

“What am I feeling that makes me want to judge, criticize or belittle my friend right now?”

“What am I feeling that makes me judge, criticize or belittle myself right now?”

No doubt there is emotion involved.

Being curious about yourself is good for your brain. The mere act of inquiry is positive in so many ways. Being curious:

•    Stops the hurtful impulses dead in their tracks

•    Creates space in your mind

•    Allows you to practice going deeper beyond just what you think you know

•    Creates a flexible mind over time

•    Solves problems before they escalate

To illustrate what I mean, here’s something that I recently experienced:

I had a miscommunication with someone and it was really frustrating and upsetting for me. I found myself oscillating between my anger at her and judging myself. I was angry at this person for misunderstanding my intention and “making” me feel bad. I was judging myself for causing this tension between us. In other words, I was blaming her and then I was blaming me. Neither felt good. And neither felt right or led to any relief or solution.

And then I remembered to be curious. I pulled back and tuned in to what I was feeling inside on an emotional and visceral level. I felt my pain. I felt my discomfort and the desire to move away from it and back to the blame game. But I didn’t this time. I stayed with my sadness. I felt my anger. I felt my shame and anxiety. I sat with myself for as long as I could to see what might happen if I didn’t attack myself or my friend. I found myself needing to take deep breaths to manage what I was feeling. It was hard at first and then something shifted—the pain lost intensity. I no longer felt the pull to act or to have to figure out who was bad. Instead, I was left with a manageable sadness over the whole ordeal. Miscommunications and bad feelings suck!

It was a relief to just be sad. We were both hurting. My pain turned to compassion for us both. And that also felt better. We both had suffered. Maybe that was enough to hold in mind for now, I thought.

Pema Chodron writes, “Getting curious about outer circumstances and how they are impacting you, noticing what words come out and what your internal discussion is, this is the key. If there is a lot of ‘I am bad, I am terrible,’ somehow just notice that and maybe soften up a bit. Instead say, ‘What am I feeling here? Maybe what is happening here is not that I am a failure—I am just hurting. I am just hurting.’”

I was just hurting.

About Hilary Jacobs Hendel LCSW

Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author in private practice in New York City. She has been published in academic journals and The New York Times. Her New York Times article, “It’s Not Always Depression, Sometimes It’s Shame” was the #1 emailed article on March 10, 2015 and lead to the book Hilary is currently writing on her work with emotions (Random House, 2017). She also enjoyed being the Mental Health Consultant to the television show Mad Men. You can sign up for Hilary’s blog to learn more about emotions, tips for every day living, and updates on the book at hilaryjacbshendel.com.

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