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The Power of Self-Blame

The Power of Self-Blame

| Dr. JJ Pursell | Emotional Care

I was recently helping my 10-year-old daughter navigate new emotional terrain with her BFF. You see, my daughter is changing schools next year and they both were feeling all the feels of what that would mean for them. The one being left behind needed to begin forming new bonds for next year’s survival, and my daughter, although excited to be moving on, was forced to witness the shifting dynamics. They were at odds, not truly understanding the depths of their feelings and acting out in 10-year-old ways. 

The missing piece was that neither of them was talking about what was happening, or acknowledging how much they loved the other. But both were feeling like they were to blame for the awkwardness. According to my daughter, these were simply the rules. You take on the blame and avoid the discomfort and did your best to go along with your day. The problem with this method was that her actions were filtered through her hurt and suffering, and as result, compounded more hurt.

I thought a lot about this and really pondered the programming. Where did these rules come from? I imagined 1st grade groups on the playground being secretly mentored by the older kids on the new rules of school. How was it that all of the kids in her class followed them? And how much misunderstanding and pain was most likely the result. 

Later that night I ended up having my own trigger with a friend, one that instantly put a knot in my stomach. Conflict, if you’ve had enough of it in your life, seems to have an automatic physical accompaniment whenever it arises. The uncertainty of my friend immediately shifted my really nice day into a tailspin of self-blame. It overwhelmed my thoughts, my mind raced along with my heartbeat. What had I done? She is angry. I’ve done something bad. 

Thankfully, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years and I recognized this pattern and gave myself the grace to pause for a moment. Breathe. Breathe again.

Realization – I have not done anything wrong. 

The act of self-blame holds incredible power. And from talking with my kids, apparently, we adopt this belief at a fairly early age. With each day, month and year that passes, our experiences mold the self-blame perception so that we readily shift into the “it’s our fault” in any given moment. Even those who act like nothing is ever their fault, I’m willing to wager they feel self-blame even more than most but have developed an exterior of protection because of their inability to decipher when something actually is their fault and when it isn’t so in place is a steel wall of resistance to either. 

But to me the point of this entry is this – forget the past. How can we, as individuals, move past the self-blame to reach others with authenticity? This, my friends, is no easy task. 

For me, with my recent and quite intense experience, I had to work really really hard to stop the process. First, as I mentioned above, I recognized the physical and mental alarm bells and gave myself pause to breathe and regroup. I’m no stranger to taking on the blame and convincing myself that I must have done something wrong. It has taken up hours, days of my life and mind space creating imbalance in my work, family and passion projects. 

For this situation I decided I did not want my mind space to spin out of control. (it is sooooo uncomfortable!)  I internally walked through the situation. I reread my friends text, and reread the email which included a business agreement we had made with one another. This slowing down, reviewing and pondering brought me to a different place. One in which I was finally able to discern what might have set my friend off in the first place. One in which I was able to see a path moving forward through a clarifying conversation to ensure we were on the same page, or to discover we aren’t. Either way – there was nothing bad, wrong or that warranted my self-blame cycle to kick in.

But let’s pause a sec and talk about the conversation I would need to have with my friend. How many of you can pull yourself out of the self-blame to have a productive, emotionally healthy and authentic conversation amidst possible disagreement or pervading anger? This is extremely tough as a human, especially depending on what our life experiences are. 

I can not stress enough how hard this is. You – coming to a conversation doing everything you can to remain centered (while calming your racing heart, breathing to keep your stomach from tightening up and trying to have a clear mind)  knowing you will be met with someone who is presenting resistance. I almost weep with the fear of it all. But – it can be done, with practice. 

I have finally accepted that one of my life purposes is to help guide others to feel safe and held in emotionally triggered environments. I have resisted this for so long. Mainly because I have been desperate to be held myself and have rarely experienced it throughout my almost 50 years of living. But – I have felt it a few times and let me tell you, it is glorious. Having another human believe in you, encouraging you to speak your truth without repercussion is akin to spreading your wings and flying into the horizon. We all deserve that flight. 

So, as I sit here, healing from a recent gallbladder removal surgery, still going through the daily cycles of human emotional existence, I ask you:

How often do you self-blame?

What are your identifying physical signs?

How can you break the cycle?

How can you practice your truth in an authentic way that brings you peace?

I’m lighting a candle for you to see the light. 

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