THE BLAME GAME
Following on from my last blog post and the biological effects of anger on the body, the danger besides the obvious physical ones (like heart attacks) is that most of us blame this unpleasant body response on the person who hurt us. The problem is when the cause of the hurt lies outside of us we look outside ourselves for the solution as well, and by doing so we start playing the BLAME GAME.
I have a student who has a rocky past with his mother, and every time he thinks about his mother he feels tense. He spends a great deal of time remembering situations and events between them, and his body reacts similarly to how it did at the time when they actually occurred. His stomach churns, he becomes nauseated and he gets a pounding headache. The problem here, aside from reacting to his memories, anger and past hurts, is that these physical symptoms are affecting his life negatively NOW, which only perpetuates his anger toward his mother. Ultimately he blames his mother for his current discomfort which activates his fight or flight response, essentially giving him cause to BLAME his mother for ruining his life.
A quick recap on “Fight or Flight”:
Your body prepares itself for what is known as the “Fight or Flight” response, which is a term often used to characterize the circumstances under which adrenaline is released into the body. These involuntary reactions are completely supported by the sympathetic nervous system – the part of the nervous system that performs INVOLUNTARY FUNCTIONS. The sympathetic nervous system serves specifically to accelerate the heart rate (preparing the body to move), constrict blood vessels, and raise blood pressure.
The “Fight or Flight” response is an early evolutionary adaptation to allow better coping with dangerous and unexpected situations; it is quick and predictable. With dilated air passages, for example, the body is able to get more oxygen into the lungs in a timely manner, increasing physical performance for short bursts of time, enabling the ability to fight back or get away.
Knowing what “Fight or Flight” is, just remember that our bodies cannot distinguish the difference between immediate perceived danger and something that you are dwelling on, which is causing the same physiological response.
And interestingly (little side-bar), I’ve been a long-distance runner for a long time, and it started to work against my body. I started to do some research and found that if you are a long-distance runner, your body thinks you’re running from something; in female runners it starts to mess with our hormones, because as long-distance runners our bodies are always in that fight-or-flight mode.
Our bodies give us feedback, what’s most important is what we do with it.
Remember that the involuntary reaction of “fight or flight” does not know the difference between what is happening now and what happened 10 years ago. In order to counteract it you need to learn to distinguish between real and imagined danger to function effectively and this cannot happen when you are playing the blame game and feeling badly about how poorly your life has unfolded. This only leads to a victim mentality.
Very often we’re committed to being the victim in a situation and in many cases we are justified in this feeling. Literally in an attack, the one who has been harmed is called the victim. But how do you get out of victim mentality? Mistreatment often ends up as a story of victimization. A story told over and over. We tell it to others and ourselves and this constant retelling offers little relief or hope. Blame is one of the hypotheses we make about WHY WE FEEL BAD, but it is deeply entrenched in victim mentality. In order to shift from this mind-set we need to ask ourselves to what we are committed?
Do I want to be a VICTIM or do I want to be a CREATOR? Do I want to be RIGHT or do I want to be HAPPY? Again, what are you committed to?
Please know that holding people accountable for their actions is NOT the same as blaming them for how you feel. It is completely justified to hold an ex-spouse to their commitment to pay child support. It is a responsibility that they need to uphold. But what doesn’t make sense, is making your spouse responsible for your continued suffering or inability to enter a new relationship and find love again. There is a big difference between accountability and blame.
When you become upset do you ask yourself, “Whose fault is this?” Usually those that experience anger describe it as a reaction to what has happened to them, and the angrier the person, the more he blames someone else.
Consider these 3 scenarios with you and your car:
1. If another driver rear-ends you; you will feel wronged by the accident, will become angry and will blame them for what has happened. It will be their fault. They caused the damaged. The injustice happened TO YOU.
2. But in the event of a hailstorm or a falling tree, we would be saddened by the unfortunate accident.
3. And then, let’s say you are personally responsible for damaging your car, crashing into a wall in a moment of carelessness (texting while driving). You will feel guilt and shame through your carelessness.
Since blame is a well-established habit for most of us we need to see how it is stopping us from living a life of joy. Living in a world of blame keeps you in a world of self-pity and victimhood. Instead of saying “Why me?” when something happens, ask, “What is the real reason this situation has come into my life?” In simply asking this question, it restricts our natural impulse to blame something outside of ourselves, providing us with the room to identify the real issues at hand. Always remember that anger is a response to a perceived injustice, and blame only keeps us in our victimhood.
Here are 3 options for dealing with Victimhood:
According to economist Albert Herschmann there are 3 attitudes you can adopt.
1. ACTING LOYAL:
This means complying silently or cooperating without complaining.
But if you’re legitimately angry it’s a doomed strategy. Eventually it will sour your emotional connection with others in the name of keeping peace. An example of this would be the subservient housewife.
2. EXPRESSING ANGER:
Vocalize. It’s more difficult, but it is a productive alternative. You must not only define exactly what’s bothering you, but also be willing to help solve the problem. For instance, at work, in order to satisfy your sense of fairness, suggest a positive solution like a policy change or a salary increase.
Exit is the best option in severely dysfunctional relationships. Anger is a good friend that urges us to leave these situations and won’t let us feel comfortable enduring this treatment.
Remember: The primary cause of unhappiness is often not the situation but your thoughts about it.
1. Write a specific incident or experience that has caused you pain.
2. Where are you placing blame?
3. Are you playing the role of victim or can you see the opportunity for growth in the circumstance?