There’s some responsibility from both sides in the blame game.
One of the more challenging aspects of my work with men is helping them to understand that their partner is not the one making them feel sad, hurt, angry or joyful. Yes, people in their lives are contributing to these experiences, but, ultimately, how we interpret an event in our lives is how we experience it.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius
Fully owning my response and way of seeing things is one of the most liberating things I have committed to in my relationships. It has allowed me to be in charge of my life rather than putting that responsibility on someone else.
Taking responsibility for our emotional experience gets us out of the blame game.
What is the blame game? This is the response I have when someone does something that is triggering to me. A good example in my own life was when my wife was telling me about something that she didn’t feel was cleaned properly. I felt hurt by this and pulled away from her. I started to create the blame game story: “she is so critical, I never do anything right.” My wife checked in noticing that I was pulling away but instead of being honest I told her everything was fine. Finally, after cooling down a bit, I was able to tell to her how how I felt. We processed it through and things were back to normal. If I had stayed in the blame game I could have been disconnected for days.
What does it mean to take responsibility for your feelings?
For me it is creating the new belief that whatever I’m feeling comes from me and not from someone else. This manifests in my life in profound ways. When I’m with my partner and she shuts down emotionally (maybe I said something triggering) I may notice a feeling of hurt inside myself. This is real hurt. And, it is not comfortable.
Instead of going to the blame game and projecting my hurt back on to my partner, getting defensive and berating her for her behavior, I acknowledge my hurt and actually feel it. Then I can come from a different place and let my partner know that I’m feeling hurt. Not because of her but because I just feel hurt. The way of saying this is, “when you pulled away from me emotionally, I felt hurt.” Very different than saying, “you hurt my feelings when you pulled away.”
As your reading this you may be thinking, “wait a minute, sometimes people say mean things. Should I just let them be mean to me?” No, of course not. However, their mean behavior is not the cause of your feelings. How you interpret and experience what is happening in your environment is always on you. Letting them know that their way of behaving is hurtful and feels bad is the way you own your experience. The hope is that they will then be able to own theirs. Blaming is not a way to set a boundary with someone. It only leads to defensiveness and disconnection.
Here are five thoughts I have about how to start taking on more emotional responsibility in your life.
1. Create an intention that you repeat to yourself each day. Intentions matter. If you say something like, “Today, I will work to own my experience and take responsibility for my emotional, physical, mental and spiritual well-being,” day after day your mind will start to believe it. I do it in the morning. It only takes a few minutes but it can have a profound impact on your relational life.
2. Talk with your partner or someone close to you about this new way of being in your life. Let them know that from now on you want to relate to them differently and that you would like their help in making that happen. Ask them to point out, gently, when you are using blaming language rather than the language of responsibility.
3. Mindfulness. It is not difficult to see the cause and affect relationship of someone’s behavior impacting our emotional experience. Someone yells, you feel a rush of fear, and you connect the dots that the person yelling is to blame. This is so habitual in many people’s lives. In order to counteract that natural conclusion (they caused me to feel something) we need to develop the awareness of our emotional world. This takes effort but is really helpful. Take the time to notice the bodily response to someone yelling.
Feel the fear in your body and then notice all of the thoughts going through your head, “she/he shouldn’t be yelling,” “he/she is out of control,” “Shutup.” This is how your mind can go and go and go. Of course none of this is wrong it’s just how our minds react. Using mindfulness we can step back a little and not attach to these thoughts. Then we have more freedom to choose how to respond rather than reacting from habit.
4. Practice a few times. Notice how the outcomes in your relationships change. For many of my clients the proof of this is in the pudding (sorry for the cliché). They don’t really buy into it until they start to see how different the outcomes of conflict can be. Instead of a disastrous argument ending in hurt feelings, a minor conflict can be worked out when the person is not put on the defensive for being blamed. Slowing down and being able to say, “I can see you are upset,” and, “I’m noticing I’m feeling frustrated.” This can bring in an acknowledgement of discomfort and then a shift to solving the problem. This process of conflict, acknowledgement, empathy and solution is much smoother than, conflict, blame, hurt and shutdown (what I see much of the time).
5. Believe in yourself. If you have been committed to the blame game for most of your adult life know that you can change. I was heavily committed to this game but using many of the strategies above, I was able to change over a few years. Our minds are like a ski slope. Each time a skier goes down the hill they create a groove in the mountain side. As time goes on this groove gets deeper and deeper. It is challenging to move out of old habits but you can start to create new grooves. They will start to shift. You just have to get started.
I believe that shifting from blaming others for our emotions to taking responsibility is one of the most important things we an do to create amazing relationships. I’ve done it in my own life and I know you can do it too.