Imagine that you’re in a canoe with a friend and there’s a fork in the river. Your friend convinces you to take the channel on the right. Next thing you know, you hear the roar of a waterfall. What do you do? Do you start yelling at your friend? Of course not! It’s counterproductive. You paddle like crazy for shore! Let’s say you make it. Now do you start screaming? That’s what a lot of people would do. But why? Blame solves nothing. It’s counterproductive. Irrelevant.
When you’re in the middle of a life-threatening situation, you naturally ignore blame. It’s a survival instinct. But life itself is the ultimate life-threatening situation, because all life ends. You are headed for certain death, now and every moment of your life. The same instinct to ignore blame should apply. But it doesn’t. We take the finite, wondrous accident of our own existence for granted and act as if we can play self-destructive blame games forever. We pity ourselves and hate those who have hurt us. We hold grudges, sometimes seek revenge, take secret pleasure in the suffering of those we blame – and feel totally justified.
Worse still, we commonly withhold our love from the people who have helped us the most – our parents – usually because with all that help, there was some hurt, too. We label our parents with terms such as “dysfunctional,” “toxic,” and “emotionally abusive,” and allow these labels to influence not just our feelings, but our very memories, sometimes so much that we begin to rewrite history. Anything outside the label fades in our recollection, to the point where it may as well have never happened. In the name of healing and self-discovery, we ignore the greatest gifts of love we’ve ever been given.
Some parents really are abusive. But the vast majority are just imperfect people who make about the same number of mistakes parenting as they do in the other aspects of their lives. Even so, the very foundation of modern clinical psychology is grounded upon blaming parents for the problems of their adult children. Even parents, though, are not at the top of the list of those we blame. Virtually all people have the same favorite target: themselves. Even people who don’t blame others often blame themselves. It feels tough and strong to blame yourself. But it’s the opposite.
It’s not a sign of strength, but of fear. When you run into difficulties and take the fork in the road that leads to fear, a natural reaction is to blame yourself. Fear needs a bad guy, just as rescue needs a hero. When you blame yourself, all you do is reinforce fear. You convince yourself that your worst dread is real: You’re not good enough! When you believe this, the wound you create becomes a huge emotional drain. It’s as if a psychological artery has been severed, causing you to bleed out, until your personal power has been drained.
Even as this happens, though, many people are still proud of themselves, thinking that they are taking responsibility. Blame isn’t responsibility. Responsibility is about using personal power and making changes. Blame is about sabotaging personal power and staying frozen in fear. Responsibility is a call to action; blame is a call to anger. Action solves problems; anger solves nothing. Anger is just fear wearing the mask of aggression. Because blame is inspired by fear, the strongest force against it is love. When your heart is focused on love, you don’t indulge in blame.