Do you self-blame?

Recently I drafted an itinerary for an event. I checked it several times before confirming it was finalised. On the day of the event there was a little confusion with which session would take place next as the timings were slightly out of sync.  I felt a little embarrassed and took a long look at the itinerary to identify if I had indeed made an error. I had not but it brought something to light. I have a strong tendency to assume I am to blame if something does not go to plan. Without knowing why, where, how or who I quickly point the finger at myself and leave it there until I can gather substantial evidence to prove I was not in the wrong. It does not matter how many people are involved, I instantly volunteer to take some of the blame. I feel responsible and have the desire to find a solution.

Whilst it may be seen as commendable not to run away when you may have a part to play, there is also something quite damaging about self-blame.   People who self-blame tend to live with guilt. They feel guilty even when everything is running smoothly. They tend to assume the worst whether there is any evidence of wrong doing or not.

I have in the past attended ad-hoc meetings with my managers and wondered what on earth they needed to speak to me about. I would wrack my brain trying to recall any incidences or exchange of words that may have taken place. Did I speak to someone out of tone, did I display an attitude without realising, am I underperforming? Nine times out of ten, they wanted to discuss a matter the  complete opposite of the thoughts running around in my head.

Where did these thoughts come from?
Why was I so open to thinking the worst?
Why do I self-blame?

There is always a root and it is our responsibility to find it.  Until we find this root, we will be unable to deal with the problem.

As a child I had a constant feeling of guilt. Guilty for being born to a young mother of 20, guilty for being raised in a single parent household, guilty for my mother’s struggles – both financially and emotionally.  I also felt I was a burden and was to blame for everything that did not go according to plan.

So, how can we work on minimising self-blame?

1. Accept that you will make mistakes and it is okay to do so as long as we do not consistently repeat them.

2. Avoid taking responsibility when it is not yours to take

3. Setting boundaries for yourself – at work and with friends and family

4. Arrange to speak to a counsellor or therapist to talk through your feelings and explore where the self-blame started

Have you battled with self-blame or do you know someone who has?
What advice would you offer?

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20 thoughts on “Do you self-blame?”

  1. I have a version of “self blame”. My father was a very negative person. Consequently, my sisters and I have at times been paralyzed by negative self talk about not being good enough or “as good as” –even in the face of sustained evidence to the contrary. My husband has helped me overcome this to a significant degree by being the exact opposite of my father in terms of being sure of his own worth and confident that he can do what he sets out to do. He also encourages me to take risks which resulted in me starting my own law practice and becoming a speaker at national law conferences.

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  2. I too have thoughts like those you mentioned. I wonder what I did wrong, or said. I think it comes from being a child with a speech impediment, until I corrected later as a teen. You are constantly bullied and berated. As a result, you do look for blame and faults in yourself. For me, a lack of confidence was a benefit. I never feel satisfied with what I achieve, which causes me to drive harder.

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  3. Phoenicia — I can relate to your experience. When I was younger I lacked self confidence and always thought I was to blame when things went wrong. Counseling helped me to become more confident and gain respect for myself. Now I don’t always point the finger at myself. But it’s not always easy.

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  4. Yes, Phoenicia! You’re so right. There’s a big difference between taking responsibility for a mistake we made (which is really healthy), and beating ourselves up for it with self-shaming (which is painful). I once learned that shame is a secondary emotion. It usually covers up another emotion that’s too difficult to feel (like sadness or anger), so instead we go to shame because somehow that feels safer. Thanks for such an illuminating post!

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  5. Our parents taught us to take the blame and share the credit. I think the four of us learned that balance fairly well. None of us pass blame onto others when something is our fault, even though admitting you’re wrong can sure be difficult. I like Marquita’s comment–look at it through the other lens.

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  6. It’s commendable that you have learned to identify these behaviors Phoenicia. I tend to look at this from the other end, focusing on building self-acceptance rather than reducing self-blame, but either way, it is a process that takes time and willingness to develop self-awareness, but it is certainly worth the effort. Thank you for shedding some light on this important topic!

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  7. HI Phoenicia. I would say that you and my husband share a history and some thought patterns. He, too, came from a single parent household where resources were extremely scarce. I don’t think those memories ever leave you, and that they are indeed partly responsible for the way you look at and handle the challenges of today.

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