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Are You Stuck Between Blame and Shame?

One dysfunctional pattern you may be stuck in is cycling between blame and shame—being unhappy and wanting to blame someone else (or lots of people) alternating with blaming yourself and feeling deeply ashamed of your deficits, mistakes, etc. Nothing good can come out of ping-ponging between these two effects which both may trigger emotional eating. Here are two examples of this dynamic.

  • You, an adult, have an alcoholic father whom you take care of more often than you’d like to. You often blame him for keeping you stuck living at home making sure he stays alive or gets to work and you feel angry that he’s dependent on you. Or you blame your mom who divorced Dad a long time ago. Alternately, you blame yourself for staying in the situation which makes you feel terrible about yourself. With blame comes deep disappointment and shame that you don’t do anything to help yourself.
  • You and your spouse/partner fight constantly. Mostly, you blame her for starting fights and for being unwilling to let disagreements go. You’re angry that you never feel heard by or receive an apology from her. When you’re not blaming her, you feel ashamed that you sometimes say mean things to her which escalate the fights and leave you thinking that you’re not a very nice person. You feel a need to blame someone for the situation and take turns having it be you or her.

In each case, there’s an assumption that someone is or did wrong and that someone must take the blame for your unhappiness. Not true. There’s another way to look at any situation. There may be a cause and effect, but there need not be blame. Say, lightning strikes the tree which catches on fire and burns down the cottage next to it from which the young couple but not their pet rabbit escape. Cause and effect, but who’re you going to blame. Sometimes stuff just happens. Nor does there need to be shame which blinds us from seeing situations clearly and paralyzes us from taking action to affect change.

In the first example, you could feel compassion for your father and for yourself. You could understand that Mom left him to take care of herself. If you weren’t blaming and shaming, you could problem solve to improve your situation. In the second example, you could recognize that you and your spouse are stuck in an unhealthy cycle of anger. You could change your part in the dynamics, refusing to shame or blame, or you could seek counseling together or by yourself.

Don’t let yourself stay stuck in the blame-shame cycle. It will get you exactly nowhere because it inhibits problem-solving and personal growth and creates further dysfunction in relationships. Everyone is doing the best they can even though that sometimes isn’t nearly good enough (or even very good at all). You may want others to do better, but you can only control your behavior. Since that’s the case, stop blaming and shaming you or someone else and point yourself in the direction of being an agent of change.

Best,

Karen

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