Michelle and I were having dinner with some friends a few months ago and our friend Joel said, "I’m practicing giving up blame completely." As he said this, I found myself simultaneously inspired and confronted. As I’ve explored the idea of letting go of blame in recent months, I’ve been quite humbled and surprised to realize how pervasive blame is in our culture, my community, and in my own life.
How often do you find yourself blaming other people or circumstances for your stress, frustration, or for things "not being the way they ‘should’ be?"
For me, blame shows up in various places and ways in my life. Some of the most common focuses of my blame are my past, my family, the economy, people I don’t agree with, my body, my clients, my schedule, my responsibilities, and more. And, the harshest blame is usually reserved for me – blaming myself for making mistakes, not doing things "right," and simply not being good enough. Maybe you can relate to some of this?
While blaming other people, challenging circumstances, and even ourselves is common, understandable, and reinforced in our culture, it never leaves us with any real power or with the ability to make positive, healthy, and lasting change in our lives. Blame is about avoiding responsibility and not dealing with the real issues at hand.
One of the best analogies for this is that of an orange. If I have an orange in my hand and I squeeze it, what will come out of it? Juice. If you squeeze it, what will come out of it? Juice. If we give it to a friend of ours and they squeeze it, what will come out of it? Juice. Why? Because, that’s what’s inside the orange. It doesn’t matter who squeezes it or even how it is squeezed, juice will always come out of the orange (because that’s what’s inside).
You and I are like oranges and our "juice" is emotion. We have every possible emotion within us – joy, guilt, love, shame, gratitude, anger, peacefulness, fear, happiness, rage, excitement, sadness, and more. As we walk through life, other people, certain situations, and specific personal thoughts and reactions "squeeze" out some of our own "juice" in the form of these emotions. However, instead of taking responsibility for our emotions, we blame the people around us, the situations that arise, and even ourselves for "causing" these feelings within us.
What if we stopped doing this and let go of blame? This doesn’t mean we live in some unrealistic, Pollyanna world where nothing bothers us. It also doesn’t mean that the things that have happened in our past, the relationships we currently have, and the important situations in our lives right now (and the ones that show up in our future), don’t impact us. What it does mean, however, is that we take full responsibility for our lives, our reactions, and, more important, our emotions.
Here are a few things you can do or think about as you practice letting go of blame in your own life:
1) Take inventory of who and what you blame. Start to notice, with empathy and compassion (i.e. without judging yourself), who and what you blame the most in your life. Maybe it’s your work, your spouse, your past, your co-workers or clients, the state of the world, or other things or people. The more specific and honest you can be about the focus of your blame, the more ability you’ll have to let go. Remember, some of this blame may be overt (direct, and easy to notice) and, some of it may be more covert (hidden, subtle, and "justified" in such a way that it seems "true.")
2) Inquire into what it would be like to let go of blame. Start to ask yourself, especially with the specific people or situations where blame comes up a lot, what it would be like, look like, and feel like to let go of blame in your life. Allow yourself to imagine this, think about it, talk about it, and ponder it. Regardless of how easy or difficult you think it would be, just allow yourself to imagine your life without blame. Inquiry is a powerful tool when we use it consciously like this.
3) Take responsibility for your reactions and emotions. In just about every instance, the person (including us) or situation that we blame brings about a specific emotion or reaction (or set of emotions and reactions) that we don’t like. Instead of blaming, what if we took responsibility for our reactions and emotions, and allowed ourselves to vulnerably acknowledge and express ourselves fully. As Eleanor Roosevelt so brilliantly said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Letting go of blame allows us to be free, to take back our power, and to avoid the trap of thinking that someone or something else has the ability to dictate our experience of life. Whether our life is "wonderful" or "difficult" is always up to us.