Blaming other people for our current situation is a behavior that we learn and can maintain for a lifetime: “It’s his fault”, “It’s her fault”, father, mother, president, it doesn’t matter who, the blame is assigned the other person.
In therapy, we know that there is a developmental process: it is normal to first talk a lot about others and a lot about the past. Then there is more talk about the self and the present. (Anyone who wants to know more about this process can read Carl Rogers’ book, Becoming a Person.)
So does that mean it’s my fault? Is it my fault and not the other? Whose responsibility is it?
Well, life is too complex and varied to make assumptions and assertions that would hold true for everyone, in all cases. However, in order to look good, have more well-being and psychological flexibility, we can reflect on some points:
1) The past is gone
If we leave the memories aside for a few minutes, where is the past? What torments the mind, what was done and said (by me and the other), where is it if not in the mind itself?
Dealing with the past is very important in therapy. Certain therapies, such as psychoanalysis and schema therapy, focus more on the past than others. Freud’s famous text, “Remember, Repeat, Elaborate” already gives a summary of the logic of the treatment in its title. A lot of people need to remember the past, repeat it (perhaps in words, maybe even in deeds) until they elaborate and move on.
It is possible to deal with the past by also learning to stay more in the present. Third-wave cognitive behavioral therapies that use Mindfulness (full attention to the present moment) help with this training. Staying more in the present is less traveling in the mind to the past.
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2) The share of responsibility for each
There is a technique within procedural cognitive therapy that consists of thinking about each person’s responsibility in a given situation. The therapist helps the patient to reframe an exaggerated attribution to himself.
For example, a patient blames himself because he authorized the mother’s surgery and the mother, unfortunately, died. Guilt and regret then make the patient believe that 100% of the responsibility is his. Afterwards, the therapist helps to reduce this 100% quota. There is the responsibility of the doctor, for example, and of the mother herself, who had never taken care of her own health. In addition, other events and people also directly or indirectly contributed to the result (including the virus that led to the infection, the immune system, etc.).
This technique can be very useful in certain cases where guilt is a big issue. It would be like using the logic of assigning blame to yourself, lessening the burden of exaggerated responsibility, questioning the related thoughts and beliefs. For other people, just questioning their own thinking and their evidence may be enough.
The example I gave above was perhaps a bit extreme. We can think of the case of someone who blames himself for losing his job. There are many factors that contribute like broader economic and social factors, the market the company is in, plus the boss, and many other people, perhaps.
Another way to reflect on the issue of responsibility and guilt is the work of Byron Katie. She says the following:
“I can point to only three kinds of affairs in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s. (To me, the word God means “reality.” Reality is God, because it rules. Whatever is beyond my control, or your control, or everyone else’s control, I call God’s affairs.
Much of our stress arises from being mentally connected with what is none of our business. When I think, “You need to get a job, I want you to be happy,” I’m getting into your business. When I worry about earthquakes, floods, war, or the date of my death, I am getting involved in God’s business.
If I mentally get involved with your business or God’s business, the result is separation. I realized this in early 1986. When I mentally interfered in my mother’s affairs with thoughts such as, “My mother should understand me,” I immediately felt a sense of loneliness. And I realized that every time in my life I had felt hurt or lonely it was because I was involved in someone else’s business. If you are living your life and I am also mentally living your life, who is here living mine?”
Byron is a fantastic author, I recommend it to everyone! The effects of work have been studied in some American universities. Evidence points to a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety after work.
3) Going forward
Another way that can help with the issue of guilt and victimization is to look to the future. Things may be difficult right now, but you can almost always do something positive to change the direction of your life, right?
We can start therapy, do physical exercises (even a daily walk is already very beneficial for physical and mental health), we can start a course, read a book with good ideas and that is motivating, we can cultivate spirituality (which also contributes for mental health). Anyway, even if it’s little by little, slowly, as much as possible now, always, almost always, you can start today.
In this sense, we can choose an area of life and start with it: finances, health, relationships, work… and start!
I like the thought of Tony Robbins who says that we think we can do a lot in a year and we underestimate what we can do in ten years. That is, maybe in one year we haven’t changed much, but in ten years we can make great progress. In fact, in ten years life can be totally different! Is better!
What do you think?
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