How to Change Immediately
Something exists in many of us that desperately needs to be right and finds it difficult to admit making a mistake or being wrong. When something goes wrong we immediately look for someone to blame. We abhor being blamed ourselves. I have seen this in myself. It has been hard for me to own making a mistake, yet I have found that nothing terrible happens when I do. My wife doesn’t divorce me. In fact, she tells me she loves me even more when I admit I was wrong.
So how is it that we have it backwards? What makes blaming so inviting and taking responsibility for being wrong or making a mistake so intolerable? I believe it has to do with our shame. Shame is a powerful feeling. It causes us to be embarrassed for our human imperfections. It enables us to look to God for perfection, for guidance, and for solace when we need it. Shame causes us to be embarrassed when we belch in public. It stops us in time from offending others by violating their boundaries, like standing too close or touching another person without their permission. Feeling shame keeps us from acting shamelessly like yelling and swearing. Shame keeps us right-sized. Shamelessness leads to arrogance.
When we have been shamed through abusive experiences we build a shame core inside us that is easily triggered and causes us to feel unworthy or worth-less even though we are not. I know for me to admit a mistake or being wrong can trigger my shame core. To avoid feeling unworthy I would quickly blame others. I evaded taking responsibility for my mistakes.
Years ago I had a life changing experience. My wife and I were dancing together at a wedding. I gave her a loving look. I expected her to return the look. Instead, she took a step back and told me she felt uncomfortable. When she did not return my look I felt crushed. My shame took all the wind out of my sails. In my mind I blamed her for hurting me. I felt like a victim when she did not return my look the way I expected.
An hour or so later when we were preparing to go to bed she tried to console me by asking whether I wanted to cuddle. I told her to go to hell. I lost two ways: I didn’t get to cuddle and I felt ashamed for what I said. The truth is I sent myself to hell.
I learned many lessons from this experience. I learned I was a blamer using the blame game. I learned I was choosing to take offense when I didn’t need to. It was my expectations that set me up for disappointment and the anger that followed. I learned that expectations are premeditated resentments. I learned that feeling shame sets off anger and rage as an erroneous way of trying to regain self-respect. The anger and rage I expressed at my wife only made me feel guilty and more ashamed. I eventually got over my shame by reminding myself that I am enough and I matter, and that God loves and approves of me unconditionally and forgives me for my shortcomings.
I learned that while my blaming relieved me of responsibility it cost me my ability to change the situation. By blaming my wife I had given her all the power. When I saw myself as a victim I felt helpless. When I took my power back I learned that I could love and respect myself and I didn’t need to be totally dependent on my wife to do that for me. I learned, as well, to turn to my relationship with God for love, approval, and forgiveness. This was a transforming experience in my life.
I learned that I was a scorekeeper. In my mind when I looked lovingly at my wife I was keeping score on whether she returned the favor. I woke up to how undermining scorekeeping is to a marriage or any relationship. Love works best when it is freely given, which is what makes it loving. The expectation of getting something back is bargaining not loving. I learned that when I catch myself having expectations, what works best for me is to let go of my attachment to their outcome.
I learned that the rapidity of my emotions and the power of my shame took control of me. My reactivity happened so quickly I realized only later that I had interpreted my wife’s not returning my loving look as a rejection. Later, when I was able to regain my composure by putting my thinking ahead of my feeling, I asked my wife why she had stepped back. She had a very reasonable explanation. We were dancing in front of her entire family. My “loving look” made her feel like I wanted to start lovemaking right then, and she felt uncomfortable returning my look in public.
I learned to identify when I was involved in the blame game. We are all responsible for what we make ourselves think and feel. I am the only one who can make me think a thought. Even in a Nazi concentration camp Dr. Viktor Frankl described in Man’s Search for Meaning how he held onto his sanity by knowing that he alone could determine what he thought. The guards could force him to carry out their commands or be killed, but they could not control his mind or his thoughts.
Our feelings arise from our thoughts. It is how we interpret events that give rise to our feelings. It was how I interpreted my wife’s taking a step back and telling me she felt uncomfortable that gave rise to my shame and my anger. I was blaming my wife for what I made myself think and feel—that I was being rejected. One form of the blame game is to blame others for what we make ourselves think and feel. When my wife told me that my look made her feel uncomfortable in public, I blamed myself for what she was making herself think and feel. The second form of the blame game is to blame ourselves for what others make themselves think and feel. I was in the blame game both ways.
In my experience it is the fear of feeling shame and worth-less that leads us to fear being wrong or admitting mistakes and keeps us from accepting responsibility. We need to reset the critical judge in our minds to accept our imperfections and mistakes and to comprehend that they do not make us worth-less. In fact, no one grows except through making mistakes. If we cannot admit to mistakes or being wrong and learning from them we stop ourselves from growing. We remain stuck in our false sense of being perfect, as though we are above making mistakes and no longer need to continue to learn.
Our shame-based thinking leads us to act as if we are perfect by not admitting when we are wrong. We believe being infallible makes us more likeable, more desirable, and even more loveable. It doesn’t.
The simple truth is that blaming kills love. Blaming someone doesn’t solve the problem, it doesn’t correct anything. It just spares us from feeling responsible. It gets us off the hook, or attempts to do so. In truth it stops us from learning and growing. I will tell you something else that blaming doesn’t do: it doesn’t gain you respect. No one respects a blamer. No one loves a blamer. You don’t respect yourself when you’re a blamer. I know. I’ve been there.
Here’s the good news. When you recognize that you are a blamer you can change in an instant. All you have to do is take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and actions. If you have ever said, done, thought, or felt anything your spouse or anyone else says you did you accept responsibility for it. You will transform yourself in that instant. You will never be the same again. You will no longer be a blamer. You will be amazed how much better you feel about yourself, and about how you live your life, when you are self-responsible. You will find your spouse respects and loves you more and so do your friends, your family, and other people.