Listening to people from all walks of life, I’ve noticed a common foe of resilience: self-blame. It’s sneaky, like a deadly undertow. The self-blaming person is all hope and forward intention above water, but underneath, their feet are being sucked backwards. There’s no omen more worthy of dread in that situation than the words “I should”, or their ugly cousin “I should have”. The shoulds have their own mysterious, immobilizing power. It’s hard to think of a way out.
Restrained and thwarted by our own thoughts, we become fixated on what we didn’t do in a way that presents zero solutions. “Why did I do that?” “What was I thinking?” “Why am I so hell-bent on self-sabotage?” Did you ever notice that there is no way of coming up with a good answer to such a question? Questions like these are worse than useless; they’re downright dangerous. And yet we insist on wading into the same dark water without our waterwings.
Self-blame inhibits growth. When we feel accused, we stop taking risks, our hope deflates, we stop looking for solutions. Creativity is stifled, period.
Self-blame is also invisible to most of us, as are many of our murky inner mysteries. The good news is, just because you have a habit of beating yourself up doesn’t mean you have to stay that way.
When we look at blame writ large in our relationships and teams, we can see how damaging it can be. The reason why we have a “good catch/near miss” program in the hospital is that teams learn and improve more in the absence of blame. Without blame, people are more clear-headed and make better decisions. That means patients are safer.
In case it isn’t obvious, people who carry toxic self-blame around can be quite contagious. Frequent hand washing works for infectious disease…. what works for infectious emotions? Is there an alcohol based hand rub for the soul?
Try this: get in there and tinker with your thoughts. If you have the capacity to blame yourself, you also have the capacity to turn it around. Take note at the very first signs of the undertow taking hold, before you’ve been swept away.
Then replace blaming with claiming. Name what you actively chose in the situation, and name what you would like to choose next time. Give yourself credit for your good intentions and for what you did well, and remind yourself of your bigger aspirations so you don’t lose sight of them. Then get back down to the business of living with your head held high.
Remember: you’re the one living your life, and you’re the one who knows your own goals and gifts the best. That undertow isn’t in charge. You have the power to reset your intention, and renew your energy for growth.