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Blame: Changing the Game

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“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.

It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others…Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”

Pema Chödrön

If you’re a human being and you have somehow managed to avoid playing the blame game, this post is not for you. In fact, let me take a moment to prostrate myself at your feet.

If, like me, the blame game has graced your life either as the blamer or the receiver of the blame, or both, welcome to the club. Today, I’m going to turn this sucky, no fun game on its head.

Calvin and Hobbes

Wondering if you’ve played the blame game? It goes like this:

Shit happens.

Say you show up at the airport for your 2:30 flight and the airport is closed. It’s closed because the flight you are showing up for was at 2:30am, not 2:30pm. Whoops. While it all works out in the end (as things do), while it was a perfectly reasonable mistake (who flies at 2:30am!), it was a costly mistake. Who will take responsibility for this mistake (blame) and make sure it never ever happens again?

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It feels bad when things don’t work out the way we want them to. When things don’t go as planned. When we are disappointed. It feels bad and we want relief.

Do you blame yourself? Stupid, stupid stupid, how did I not see that? Do you blame the people you are traveling with? Stupid, stupid, stupid, how did you not see that? Do you blame the travel agency? Terrible service—why did they not better prepare us for this trip with proper travel documents?

Then:

I must figure it out, (obsess about it) so they or I never ever make this mistake again (get really small, and tight and play it safe). Then I will get relief (because I have learned my lesson or taught them their lesson). Ever heard that one before?

Really, all we want is to feel good again, and the blame game only provides temporary relief that  then usually (unless you are a psychopath, in which case you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about) morphs into even bigger bad feelings and a story that just won’t go away.

Trust me, I know what I’m talking about here. I’m days into this game. I’m watching it play out. I’m frustrated it won’t go away. I know there is no one to blame, and yet, I’m mentally writing a terrible review for the travel company that booked our tickets and thinking about how many forums I can post it on. I’m doing this at 4:30 in the morning. I’d really rather be sleeping.

I am kind of hilarious that way.

AND, I think, “I know better!”

Yeah, I always think I know better than to fall into the habits of being human. And that’s when I need to be reminded to embrace this human. That’s where it all begins.

“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

You see I was able to embrace the human who made a mistake and was bummed and disappointed and mad. I thought that should do it. It didn’t. It just kept bugging me. I was having a hard time embracing the human who wanted to do something about it. Let it go—focus on the positive stuff. That’s the message I was hearing loud and clear.

Fuck!!! I can’t. This is really bothering me. I had this amazing trip in the most breathtakingly beautiful place and got to share it with my kids and connect with them away from the distractions of home. It’s what I wanted. I got exactly what I wanted. And the sun was shining 85% of the time. Literally all night long at some points. That’s pretty freaking amazing.

Why can’t I just focus on that?

Because I can’t. Period. End of story. Stop asking why.

My practice offers me a couple of options here. Options for relief. They have nothing to do with blaming anyone (especially myself), which only makes matters worse.

Drop it. This is one option. It requires discipline. Sometimes you have to drop a story like this a thousand times a day. Every three minutes, every five minutes, every 26 seconds. Like a hot potato. Drop it. If it’s causing you to suffer, drop it. Shift your focus. To the trees, the sky, a bird, a flower, anything else. If there really is something you need to see, invite it to find you later. It will, when you are relaxed (never when you are obsessing).

Embrace it. Embrace the part of you who is seeking relief. Who is obsessing. Who wants some kind of resolution. Embrace her. She really needs a hug right now.

Mmmm, what would be fun? What would feel good? What does she need?

For me, I needed to take action. Needed to try to get a credit for our missed flights. My Dad, he was ready to write it off. Let it go. We each did what we needed to do.

I embraced the part of me who was showing up. We ended up with a partial credit for our missed flights. It didn’t really matter what the resolution was, just that I honored the part of me who was showing up. 

Now I will play the dropping it game. It’s more fun, really. Dropping it in favor of something, anything that feels better. It almost feels naughty. The rebel in me loves things that feel a little naughty. And I’m feeling a little better already.

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How about you: what are your tools for disappointment, plot twists, and shit bombs?

 

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