I’ve been listening to a series of talks by Caroline Myss on self esteem. Much of what she says is valuable. But I noticed how she propagates a staunch attitude of absolutely not blaming anybody else. Instead, she insists in a tone that sounds punitive, that we need to take responsibility for ourselves at all times. Of course we don’t want to get hung up on pointing the finger at others. But there are factors that have to be considered.
Especially in relationships with a partner or a close friend, it’s highly detrimental to insist how only the other is to blame for whatever is going wrong. Persistent blame in intimate relationships is toxic.
There also is a limit as to how long we can blame our caregivers for the sins of the past. All parents make mistakes. It’s a built in feature of being human.
Yet some parents never admit to their terrible misconduct or take responsibility for the damage they’ve done.
We have to deal with the sins of our abusers. We have to confront that we were victims at one point, when we were young and dependent on their care. That we had no power over what was done to us. That we suffered at the hands of the people we were supposed to trust. We need to acknowledge the powerlessness of these situations, and grieve the abuse.
Then, at some point, sooner rather than later, we need to move on. Whether we can forgive or not is not necessarily the point. Sometimes forgiveness is not possible. But we have to take responsibility for our present life as adults, and work towards having the power to not allow anybody to abuse us ever again.
But simply ignoring the misdeeds of the past, especially when it comes to severe abuse, will keep people stuck in depression and irrational self blame.
I agree with the sociologist Charles Tilly, who says it brilliantly in his book “Credit and Blame”:
“Blame occurs in public debate, in courts, and in everyday life. Although the word ‘justice’ alone often calls up a warm glow, justice commonly consists first of fixing blame, then of imposing penalties for blame. More so than the giving of credit, assigning blame can easily become a persistent, destructive habit. Many a friendship, partnership, and marriage break up over the assignment of blame. But when carried out successfully through retaliation, incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation or restoration, blaming brings struggles to an end.”
There is a too much and a too little of everything. If we solely focus on blame, we get stuck. But if we completely repress it, we get equally stuck.
We need to find the right medium how to deal with blame in a healthy way.
Gerti Schoen is a writer and psychotherapist. In her spare time she enjoys learning, being in nature and around animals.