Self-blame is one of the most toxic forms of emotional abuse. It amplifies our perceived inadequacies, whether real or imagined, and paralyzes us before we can even begin to move forward.
We typically hear a great deal about loving-kindness in the faith traditions, like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, as well as in the spiritual and para-spiritual communities. While we are commonly counseled to extend loving-kindness to others, we often fail in first extending it to ourselves; that frequently comes in the form of self-blame.
You, yourself, as much as anyone else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. – Buddha
One factor that significantly contributes to our system of self-blame is the failure to recognize our own humanity. We are, on the one hand, perfect beings. On the other hand, we are very much human beings – perfect in spirit, not so perfect in our humanness. Yet, rather than holding space or acknowledging this abiding double-edged aspect of the human condition, we often dwell in the illusion of our perfectionism or, at the very least, our need to be right.
When either we or the world we create around us does not meet this illusory ideal, we are often apt to take on fault and responsibility that is not ours to own. Our failure to recognize the balance of responsibility in any given situation leads us into the trap of misassigning that responsibility, which can quickly devolve into self-blame.
This need to be right—to avoid blame or responsibility for things potentially getting derailed—can be paralyzing. It can stop us from beginning new projects, or, conversely, keep us stuck in our sometimes all-too-comfortable comfort zone, preventing us not only from moving forward, but, in some cases, from actually evolving.
Secondarily, blame leads to shame and, in the context of self-blame that means self-shaming. Taking on responsibility that is not our own can not only paralyze us, but drag us down into the inertia of self-devaluation. If we are not perfect, we must be something else: something less than. The question is, less than what? Why, less than perfect. Wait…what?
The key to self-acceptance—the lynch pin in the system of becoming a whole human—is recognizing that we are perfect just the way we are and that perfection is stunningly imperfect. In fact, it’s a mess—an absolutely beautiful disaster. It’s, well, human.
When we come to a point of self-realization that allows us to allow for ourselves, then that glorious imperfection is no longer an obstacle, but an opportunity. It is fuel for a fire that burns so brightly as to be blinding. We only need open our eyes—and our hearts—to it.
We are not perfect. We are not going to get it right every time. If we enter into each situation, relationship and moment with that perspective, rather than trying to interject the opposite, we create an opportunity for learning, introspection, self-discovery and, ultimately, personal evolution. If we abide by our need to be right, those opportunities escape us and we get stuck expending all our energy trying to shore up the castle walls just as they are crumbling around us.
The first step in releasing self-blame is recognizing responsibility. In other words, who owns what and where does our personal ownership lie? If we have done our due diligence, if we have entered into the moment honestly and with authenticity, then, should things go awry, it will be clear how much of that is ours to own.
The next step is taking on that responsibility. Taking responsibility is not the same as taking the blame. The idea of blame suggests there is some implied wrongness afoot—an abject negative. Taking responsibility means acknowledging our part in what is wrong. That wrong is not an abject negative, but a circumstance we have created by virtue of our action or inaction.
Taking away the blame without taking away the responsibility keeps us accountable to ourselves and the world around us without setting us up for shame and devaluation. Instead of getting to be right, we get to be wrong, but in the best way possible; with dignity, authenticity and a sense of ownership that is far afield from self-abuse.