Radical Self Responsibility: Doing away with the blame game

21 Dec 2016




In a few weeks I am turning 40. This year has included lots of change. Our family is now complete and our work is changing as now I work closely with three other (remarkable) people rather than alone or just with my husband. Life is in a constant state of evolution. As my work and family life have grown I have faced numerous obstacles and navigations and have realised that self-responsibility is key to spiritual life.

This is not just the responsibility of paying the bills, going to work, making sure the food is on the table, but a more radical self-responsibility, in which my internal world and experience of life is entirely my responsibility.

It’s pretty scary to reflect on that my own happiness and unhappiness are part of a long line of mental choices that I make – choices made so quickly if we are not watching carefully we may not catch them! I notice the blame game often at its onset – it is human nature to look outside ourselves for reasons for our sadness or unhappiness. The niggling thoughts or desire to move outwards in search of a reason why things aren’t going my way on a certain day. More now I can catch these thoughts at their onset, before I start playing the blame game too deeply. And in doing so I realise that actually dropping the blame game is a hugely empowering space to be in, as no longer have we given our happiness or unhappiness to someone else to be in control of. Happiness and peace is something which I can actively cultivate. It means regularly practicing unhooking from external praise and criticism and resting within myself, with the breath. It isn’t always easy.

Anxiety makes it harder

One of the reasons it can be hard is that anxiety is my weak spot. If I am sleep-deprived, sick, or overwhelmed, anxiety comes a-knocking on my door! One of the bigger stressors can be interpersonal anxiety. I truly want the people around me (and everyone really) to be happy. Not the sort of fluffy cuddly kitten happy, but deep, steady happiness. But I know happiness is not something I can give to or take from anyone else.

What I notice is that part of being human is looking outside of ourselves to blame others for our unhappiness and conversely looking outside of ourselves for our own happiness.

The fact is, there is no one to blame for how we feel. We are complex beings – yes many factors result in the experience of anger, disappointment or sadness. It is true that people commit great harms to one another and blaming others for where we end up because of this harm or hurt makes sense in certain ways. Yet to point the finger outside of ourselves to another is hugely disempowering. The problem with playing the blame game is that we take away our own agency or power to feel differently.

When we blame other people for how we are feeling, even if it is related to that other person’s words or actions, we lose the opportunity to become responsible for how we feel.

It is quite normal for us to go through our life blaming other people for our internal experience.

The blame game doesn’t help us in the long run, in fact we just spend longer avoiding taking responsibility for our own internal world! No matter what someone says or does or how right or wrong you might think it is, we have a choice – to go down the dark alley of blame and anger or to begin to make choices that nourish us, help us take responsibility and begin to live with some comfort and ease, less swayed by the words and actions of those around us.

To radically take responsibility for ourselves in this way is tricky. For me it has taken many years of practice daily to begin to see the ways in which my mind likes to play out certain stories. The ways in which I avoid sitting with certain feelings and owning and being present with them.

When we stop playing the blame game there are less variables to deal with when cultivating a happy life. We are more empowered, we become resourceful. We figure out what it is we need to rest in a softer space of letting go, not buying into the blame game and allowing what is to be.

Are people in your life playing the blame game?

When others play the blame game and we are the target, that is tricky too. It takes self awareness and self regulation to not go on the defensive. We can’t save other people from the stories they tell themselves about us, their life or anything else. We can, if possible and if we have the time and energy, just remain patient and hope that some day they will be fortunate enough to feel the freedom and empowerment that comes with letting go of the blame game.

But like everything, this is a work in progress. We can’t just “quit” the blame game and be done with it! With each new trigger, each complex set of emotions and situation the desire to look outside of ourselves and blame someone or something will be alluring!

I don’t believe things happen for a reason necessarily. I don’t believe that what happens to us is predetermined. However, I do believe if we are looking for a teacher, then all we need to do is look at our life for those teachings! When things get tricky, or messy we have the opportunity to drop the blame game and cultivate self responsibility.

Self Medicating?

Self responsibility is not the same as self medicating! As Jon Kabat Zinn wrote about in Full Catastrophe Living, faced with stress, people turn to work, alcohol or TV as an out. Long term this doesn’t help, but I do see for some this self medicating gets them through a dark patch when it is just too hard to be present with what is really going on. To see ourselves clearly and how we play our stories out in our life can be emotionally crushing and overwhelming. But when the space and time is right, it is how we become happier and free. We move from self medicating to self responsibility.

Nourish yourself

On a practical note, dropping the blame game usually involves reconnecting with what nourishes us – nature, reading, walking, being with those we love, gardening, painting, yoga and meditation.

For me I choose practice and to be present with my children and to cook. All three nourish me in so many realms, and I take great joy in nourishing my love for cooking, my dedication to practice and my relationship with my children.

Radical self responsibility allows me to actually be more present with myself and others. It gives me options – it means there is choice in how I react to live situations – not always, but mostly. And it means that I also see when others play the blame game so I don’t take it personally – in the same way my 2 year-old having a tantrum isn’t personal!

So next time you hear yourself thinking or saying “you make me feel” realise you have given your power away to that person. Take it back, make a choice, go for a walk, take a breath, be responsible, and in the end you will be happier.

Dr. Jean Byrne is co owner of the Yoga Space in Perth, a Senior Member of Yoga Australia, Authorised Ashtanga Yoga teacher and on the Yoga Australia Council of Advisors. She has a PhD in Yoga Philosophy and teaches Mysore classes in Perth, Australia. Find out more about her:
Instagram @jeanbyrnephd

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