When someone or something puts us out and creates problems for us, our initial response might be to blame the person, event, or thing we view as the obvious culprit. We focus on that person, event, or thing, give it all our anger, call it names, and we might carry our emotional response with us for hours, days, or longer.
But that angry response where we focus on blaming someone or something for causing the situation and how we feel isn’t helpful. And it certainly doesn’t *poof* the situation away or erase anything. Blaming doesn’t help us travel back in time to prevent something from happening.
Instead, blaming keeps the negative aspects of that situation alive and present. And it often impedes our ability to handle the aftermath.
Some simple examples:
- Someone spills coffee on the carpet.
- Someone breaks a plate or bowl while clearing the table.
- A tree branch breaks off and crushes your almost-ready vegetable garden.
- A driver cuts you off and prevents you from beating the red light.
- The weather folks got it wrong and spoiled your picnic plans.
It’s so easy to get mad at someone for staining your rug or shattering your serving ware. It’s easy to curse the tree for destroying your harvest and costing you money. It’s so very easy to villainize the disdainful driver who delayed your commute. And there’s certainly no chance of sunshine for those unfortunate weather demons…I mean folks…weather folks.
Even if you go through the motions of scrubbing the fabric, sweeping the tile, clearing the branch, making up for lost time, and postponing your plans, if you still harbor the anger, frustration, anxiety, or disappointment, you haven’t truly resolved the situation. And it’ll screw up the rest of your day…or longer.
You might even develop a habit of blaming such that your baseline emotional state gradually gets angrier or more resentful.
Then when bigger things happen – when someone breaks a window instead of a dish, or when a distracted driver rear-ends you instead of cutting you off – how do you expect to respond? You’ll likely be even more angry, frustrated, anxious, or disappointed and carry those emotions deeper and longer so that they start impacting every aspect of your life.
Blame mentality is a slippery slope.
You might think it’s okay to assign temporary blame as part of your emotional processing, especially if you keep it to yourself and don’t act upon it. But you still develop the habit of blaming as a kneejerk reaction to something unpleasant. And as a result, you’re less prepared to handle bigger events that require a lot more mental and emotional stamina.
If you want to become mentally and emotionally stronger, you need to practice shifting away from blame mentally and towards personal responsibility.
Oh, man…I can already hear some of you protesting, “But what if it wasn’t my fault?! Why do I have to be responsible?!”
Well, it boils down to focusing on what you can and can’t control.
You can’t control what just happened. It’s in the past, and you can’t change it or erase it.
You also can’t control how other people respond to the situation. Maybe the driver will zip out of their car apologetically and readily exchange insurance information. Or maybe they’ll speed off and hope you can’t read their license plate. You just don’t know how they’ll respond, and you can’t do much about how they behave.
But what can you control in any situation?
Your response. Your reaction. The way you think and feel and how you behave.
You can control how you communicate with other people. You can decide to kick the fallen tree branch and rip out all your precious plants in angst. You can choose to let the weather rule the rest of your day and dictate your happiness.
You can control what you think, feel, decide, and do.
See, taking personal responsibility isn’t about taking the blame. It’s about taking back control over what you can control, which is you.
The side effects of practicing personal responsibility instead of blame include:
- Increased confidence in your perception and capabilities
- Less reliance on external circumstances for emotional satisfaction
- Less stress and anxiety, both in situ and prolonged
- Increased mental, emotional, and physical resilience to change
If only all those medication advertisements promised the same…
But there’s no oral supplement that can do the mental work for you. Even if you feel you need to take prescription medication to ease your anxiety and curb your emotional response, pills can’t make decisions for you. There’s still work you need to do.
And you don’t wait to start the work until the big things happen. No, no, no. There’s no need to throw yourself into the wolves and get eaten alive.
Instead, start with the small stuff. Start with the tiny inconveniences that irritate you throughout the day. Start with the coffee spill or the television volume or the empty toilet paper roll or the unmade bed or the sink full of dishes.
Think about the little things that push your buttons. And when you feel those buttons activate, pause. Think about what just happened and how you feel about it. Think about what you wish would have happened instead and who or what you’d like to hold responsible.
Start becoming more aware of how you respond to those little things. Practice pausing after each occurrence and doing a quick self-check.
After a while, when you’re used to pausing your reaction, practice choosing another reaction. Start by interrupting and challenging your kneejerk response to dismantle its legitimacy. For example, if you’re usually inclined to feel angry, begin asking yourself, “Is this really worth getting angry over? Is this worth ruining my day?” Then, consider an alternative response that’s more helpful to you in the long run.
If another person is involved, consider whether a verbal response is needed. If so, consider the tone and words you think would be most helpful to resolve the situation. And accept that you can’t control how the other person reacts.
Please be patient with yourself as you practice. You’ll probably mess up a bit, forget to pause, or say the wrong thing. It’s going to take time to build your awareness skills, and it might take even more time to change your response style.
But, as you gradually substitute personal responsibility for blame mentality, you’ll feel lighter. Daily inconveniences won’t shatter your spirit, and you’ll be better equipped to handle the bigger, more emotionally charged events.
And that’s what you want, right? You want more emotional stamina so that you can face life’s challenges without crumbling. Right?
You want to feel happy most days, have meaningful relationships, and live a good life. Right?
If so, then it’s up to you to make it happen.
You got this.