April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Whom Do You Blame?

Take a moment and imagine a scenario where something in your life goes wrong. Whether it’s a traffic delay on your way to a major event, a job firing, a break-up or a cake falling when you’d just spent hours baking it to perfection—whom do you blame?

I’ve found that there are often three camps of responders. There are those who completely blame others. It can never be their fault; there is always some other source that has led to their ultimate demise. And by demise, I mean any sort of wrongdoing or failure. Then there are those who blame only themselves; they are often overheard delivering a flutter of apologies, believing that whatever the issue—big or small—it was caused by them. This may be due to past experiences, having been faulted in the past and absorbing this blame or simply wishing to “keep the peace.” The third type are those who can appropriately assess when they are to be blamed versus when they are not at fault. This generally includes a great deal of mindfulness, processing and the ability to learn from mistakes or wrongdoings, as well as a comfort level in addressing when something is not, in fact, their fault.

The subject of blame arises in everyday life whether at the workplace, or in a relationship or while doing something as simple as driving. There is some comfort in being able to blame a source when something goes wrong, especially when it might seem spontaneous. This allows us to take comfort in knowing it will not happen all the time, and any feelings of fear or sadness can be converted into anger at whoever is to blame.

Blame is also a profound part of conversations when living with mental illness. Countless times parents have asked whether they are to blame for their child’s mental health problems. Then there are those who do, in fact, blame others for their struggles. I processed this in my own life when I struggled with my eating disorder. There had been multiple people in my life—friends, not family members—who had deeply hurt me and I could not help but think that my depression and battle with anorexia nervosa were related to the way they had hurt me. And so I worked on this as a major subject of my therapy. I explored how they made me feel and the shame and anger that had almost killed me. And I also learned that an eating disorder is more complex than being able to blame one—or a few—individuals. It can include genetics, temperament, life events, relationships, lots and lots of feelings, insecurities etc. It does not develop overnight and addressing one element of what may have led to the disorder will not generally be effective.

But just as importantly as learning about the way an eating disorder develops, I also learned that harboring blame and looking for reconciliation would, in fact, keep me imprisoned. Let me be clear: People go through some terrible things. Abuse, trauma, loss, bullying etc. Overcoming is not as simple as “Voila! Forgive the perpetrator.” In fact, sitting with pain like this can easily become self-blame as the individual’s insecurities or lack of support system may lead him/her to think s/he is at fault.

To reconcile this pain, one must first learn to be angry at the injustice of what has happened and to accept that s/he did not deserve to suffer, and does not deserve to continue suffering. Then comes the difficult work: learning to let go. This may take many years and may include joint sessions, individual therapy, grief work and other means of processing how what has happened continues to impact the individual.

I can recall that much of my work related to understanding what my eating disorder was, besides the pain I had gone through at the hands of some toxic friends. But then I also had to stop white-knuckling these memories. I had to let go of their hold on me and the way they impacted how I viewed myself. This took time. My motto had become “Living well is the best revenge” and I reminded myself of this daily. My parents had it made into a necklace for me for when I graduated from treatment.

But much more led to my ultimate recovery. Because it wasn’t truly about those friends. The blame component and the pain were real, but they were also a smokescreen for a deeper question related to how I viewed myself, as well as my hopes for my life and my deeper fears.

I am but one example of how blame can arise while struggling. And yet, this cycle of Understanding, Feeling the feelings, Processing and Acceptance can pertain to everyone. Whether you struggle with mental illness or don’t, see what it might be like to step outside your comfort zone. Perhaps by doing this we may all become part of that third party that appropriately blames and then is able to learn from it and stand up for oneself.

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