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Freedom from Shame and Blame

by David Truman

Why we go into blame

Why we go into shame

Getting more realistic about blame and shame

What blame and shame REALLY cause

Look at the whole picture

What REALLY causes blame and shame

"How would you feel if . . ."

The unsung powers of interpretation

Creating our destiny through interpretation

The responsibility connection

The ego's idea of LAME responsibility (that is, IRRESPONSIBLE responsibility)

True responsibility

Everybody knows that blame and shame are negative, destructive activities. But apparently, we don't know it well enough, because virtually everybody still goes into blame and shame at times.

When we know blame and shame are truly negative and destructive, why do we still indulge? Well, the embarrassing truth is, at the point in time when we point the finger of blame or shame, we actually think blame or shame offers us advantages, things we WANT.

Why we go into blame

Why do we want to blame? Part of our reason to BLAME is to avoid responsibility: we have "no" responsibility when our lives are not "our fault." Pride is part of it, too -- not wanting to be wrong -- or to admit it when we are. And then there's attachment -- not wanting to change what we're doing, even if it's hurting us and others.

Blame lets us "look good" even when we feel bad -- or so we THINK. Blame asserts that our troubles are all an effect of external causes: what others have done to us, unfortunate circumstances, etc. Blame lets us believe that our reactions are entirely caused by what THAT THING or THAT PERSON is doing to us. And blame assures us that whatever evasive or tactical action we're taking, no matter how negative it may be, is justified, appropriate, and perhaps even unavoidable, because of what's happening to us. We may even hope that some of our evasive or strategic actions will teach a lesson to the people we're blaming. (For example: "If they don't appreciate that I'm ________, then what I'll do is ________ -- and that'll teach them!")

Blame. Running away. Vengeance. Now obviously, that's all ego-talk and ego-goals, right? These, typically, are the concerns of the ego: Number one, WHO is causing my problems? Number two, HOW can I ESCAPE the problems they are causing me? And number three, HOW can I punish those who are causing my problems? Blame answers all those questions in ways the ego likes.

Blame is our blank check. The disturbing events, our reactions to them, and the strategic actions that follow -- none of it's our responsibility. We blame it all on the world, and the people in it. Ego loves it!

Why we go into shame

What about shame? As strange as it may sound, shame, too, is loved by the ego. The ego claims, "Shame is good for me." Here's the logic behind that:

EGO-mind reasons like this, "Shame causes TURNAROUNDS. And through turnarounds, shame facilitates REDEMPTION. If I am ashamed of what I've done, I'll turn around and be redeemed, resurrected, thanks to the experience of guilt and shame. That's how shame helps me."

Thinking that way, ego encourages us to feel ashamed when we've done something that didn't live up to our standards, or got us in trouble, or let someone else down. So, despite the obvious fact that, when we're in it, shame looks and feels like a bottomless black hole, ego wants us to believe there's a light at the end of that tunnel. It tries to convince us that shame is equivalent to caring, conscientiousness, repentance. If we buy that view, we jump right in.

Getting more realistic about blame and shame

Our relationship to blame and shame is paradoxical, or perhaps perverse. We all know that blame and shame aren't good for us, but we indulge in blame and shame anyway. And, although the results may be consistently bad, we may be so habituated to shame and blame, we're like a goldfish who doesn't notice the water.

Apparently, before we will really give up shame and blame, we need a larger perspective, a deeper understanding. How do we GET this deeper understanding? From a deeper, more honest, more thorough look at our own experience, and the experience of those around us.

We evidently THINK we know what blame and shame cause. But too often, as we've just explained, we tend to think that blame and shame bring about GOOD results, results we want. That attracts us -- and may even addict us -- to blame and shame. To break that vicious cycle, we need to look at what blame and shame REALLY cause, not just what we (superficially) think they cause.

What blame and shame REALLY cause

When a person is blaming, or ashamed -- or a combination of both -- they will tend to withdraw in their marriage, or in their relationships with their friends. Maybe they withdraw from the whole world, and God too.

That behavior pattern known as withdrawal is thought to have many effects that are, from the ego's perspective, desirable. For example:

Solitude: "My withdrawal gives me space."

Revenge: "My withdrawal hurts others, and because it hurts them, it pays back those who have hurt me."

The list goes on and on.

But as I've said, the real question is, "What does this behavior REALLY cause? Let's look at that:

Supposition 1. "My withdrawal gives me space."

Reality 1. That could be true, but while a little space is healthy, too much space creates alienation and dysfunction. We generally go overboard on withdrawal when we withdraw because of blame or shame.

And, what about the SPIRIT of withdrawal? Doesn't the spirit of withdrawal determine the effects of it? If we withdraw in a spirit of blame or shame, we are stewing ourselves in a toxic brew. Then we feel worse as a result, not better.

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Supposition 2. "My withdrawal hurts others, and because it hurts them, it pays back those who have hurt me."

Reality 2. That, too, could be true, although it is also possible people will feel relieved to be rid of a blaming person.

But let's say we succeed in hurting them. How much good does it REALLY do to invest our energy in the intention to punish other people? Will it really encourage them to relate to us, in the future, in a truly good spirit? Not likely!

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We've just had a taste of some of the REAL effects of shame and blame, depression and withdrawal, on the people in our lives -- and on ourselves too. Now, to generalize what we've learned, and nail down our gains in understanding, let's quickly review:

We THINK our behavior is causing A, but it's REALLY causing B. What we think is we're going to get some healthy SPACE, or inflict some healthy VENGEANCE. We're going to do all these beautiful/harmful things that we, as egos, are so happy with. That's A, our INTENDED effect.

But what it's really causing is B -- not the intended effect, but the ACTUAL effect. We're not getting SPACE, we're getting ALIENATED. We may get REVENGE, but no real SATISFACTION. Those are the REAL effects, not the postulated effects.

Look at the whole picture

So you see, in practice, the reality is far less rosy than the theory. NONE of the predicted benefits of shame and blame come true. That's because the results that our ego mind thinks will be so wonderful are FAR from the total picture. The whole picture IS the REAL effects of what we're doing (as opposed to the effects we hope and think we'd create).

We need courage and strength of character to be willing to deal with the whole picture. But what do we have to lose? We and our friends are already suffering the REAL effects of what we do, whether we look at the whole picture or not. That's a sobering thought!

Here's the thing: Cluelessness means pain all around. So if we're serious about our smile, we're truly much better off facing the REAL effects of blame and shame. When we do, we are strongly motivated to change. And indeed, we see it as a matter of INTEGRITY to change. Now, that kind of motivation is WONDERFUL to have. It opens the door to liberation.

What REALLY causes blame and shame

Once we've seen what shame and blame REALLY cause, we have plenty of motivation to AVOID shame and blame. But we are so used to THINKING that circumstances and other people cause our life to be what it is. And those things are totally out of our control. How do we actually BREAK those deeply ingrained habits? Here again, we need a larger perspective and a deeper understanding to get free.

We evidently THINK we know what causes our life to be what it is. But as long as we feel victimized by causes outside of us, we're stuck with all our habitual patterns of reaction and action. To break that vicious cycle, we need to look at what REALLY causes our life to be what it is, not just what we (superficially) think is the cause.

When we investigate honestly, we find that the most powerful "causes" we experience -- IN our lives, and OF our lives -- are NOT external. In fact, the main causes are these: what we ourselves are thinking; how we ourselves are reacting; and what we ourselves are doing in reaction and response.

NOTE: When we speak of causes in our lives, and on our lives, we're talking about PRIMARY causes. It's also true that other people DO affect us to some degree -- and so do external circumstances; but external factors affect us much LESS than we affect OURSELVES. The obvious conclusion is this: Circumstances and other people DO create our lives -- but not half as much as WE do.

"How would you feel if . . ."

Now, beware of this common pitfall: We are likely, at least at first, to admit that our thoughts and actions affect us deeply, while still tending to feel our thoughts and actions are DOWNSTREAM EFFECTS of what happens to us. In that case, we think of our own powerful creative forces -- our thoughts and actions -- merely as inevitable RESULTS of the events of our lives. We're still stuck thinking this way: "He did this, and THEREFORE, I reacted." And: "This circumstance arose in my life, and THEREFORE I did this." And, "Of course I did that. How would you feel if . . . ?" What do those statements imply? They imply that we had no CHOICE -- no choice but to react as we did to a particular experience. The experience "made us" FEEL what we FELT, and it "made us" THINK what we THOUGHT.

There is tremendous danger in assigning too much cause to external sources. The danger is precisely this: we lose control of what really IS creating our lives. First, we displace FAR too much responsibility onto others. And second, we disregard the tremendous power of our free will choices of thought and action. To break old patterns requires us to USE our God-given powers, not GIVE them away, or THROW them away. We need a more responsible approach if we are to exercise control over our lives.

The unsung powers of interpretation

If we look even more deeply at this matter of causation, we will find that the real cause of what we did is not so much what happened as HOW WE INTERPRETED WHAT HAPPENED. I'm not denying that what happens to us has an impact. I'm only acknowledging that what happens doesn't have as MUCH impact as how we INTERPRET what happens. So, where our destinies are concerned, what happens IS important, but how we INTERPRET what happens is FAR MORE important. It has much more IMPACT.

Here's the proof of that assertion: Two people can have the same experience and interpret it differently. Thereafter, their lives will follow different routes, each according to his or her interpretation.

Consider this: Some Viet Nam vets are living in mental hospitals for the rest of their lives. Another group of Viet Nam vets are semi-functional. And a third group are fully functional, even highly functional. Now listen: All those vets lived through the same basic nightmare, but each of those groups interpreted the experience differently. That's why the three groups got different results.

The same observation can be made in much more ordinary circumstances. I know two identical twins who were raised by the same parents, went to the same school, and in fact did nearly everything together from infancy to college. They were both prom queens, school officers, and valedictorians.

Yet those two girls grew up to be very different. That is largely because they had different ways of interpreting things. Now look: The differences in their interpretations created different reactions, responses, actions. The things each of them felt, thought, and did became primary causes in their lives. Consequently, through their different interpretations, different lives were CAUSED by each of them.

That principle is also clearly demonstrated in the trend lines of our own personal lives. With enough courage, honesty, and integrity, we can recognize that when we screw up, there's a familiar pattern involved, and it goes like this:

1. Something happened

2. We interpreted it a certain way -- a very negative, irresponsible way. (And, to be exact about it, the word "irresponsible" refers either to blame or shame.)

3. On the basis of that interpretation, we thought and acted in ways that created trouble for ourselves.

Our choices are extremely powerful, so negative choices of interpretation, thought and action will ALWAYS bring negative results. Now: Are we honest enough to look at that? If so, we can use interpretation differently -- staying away from blame and shame -- to regain control over our lives, and over our personal destinies.

Creating our destiny through interpretation

To understand the tremendous power of interpretation is very good news. It's EMPOWERING to see how MUCH control we have over our lives through our choices of interpretation. And, if we are willing to look at it, THIS is even more empowering:

We're creating MOST of what happens by the way we're interpreting EVERYTHING that happens.

We are ALREADY exercising powerful control over our lives, whether we know it or not, and whether we admit it or not -- because we are ALWAYS interpreting what happens to us. That means our "interpretation muscles" are plenty strong. All we need to do to positively change our destiny is to CONSCIOUSLY flex those muscles in positive ways.

The responsibility connection

Now we've come to understand that our destiny is under our control. We even understand that it always HAS been under our control -- through the way we've exercised our powers of interpretation.

QUESTION: So WHY have we always thought our destiny was out of our control?

ANSWER: Because we WANT to think that way.

QUESTION: And why do we WANT to think that our destiny is out of our control?

ANSWER: Simple: Because we're UNWILLING to control it. We don't want the RESPONSIBILITY that entails. And that turns out to be the biggest payoff of blame and shame: When it's not "our fault" what happens, it's not our job to create it, or fix it.

Finally we understand the real role of shame and blame in our lives. We employ shame and blame to avoid true responsibility. Shame and blame both get us out of making the harder, righter choices. When we go into shame, we get to substitute SELF-loathing for right adaptation. When we go into blame, we get to substitute OTHER-loathing for right adaptation.

We even use shame and blame to make it look like we're being responsible when we're not -- not REALLY.

The ego's idea of LAME responsibility (that is, IRRESPONSIBLE responsibility)

For any person who would like to avoid true responsibility, shame provides an easy way out. This way out even looks virtuous, although it is far from it. The "responsible" path evoked by shame is to disappear from the lives of others -- presumably, to avoid hurting them. For example, you've probably heard this one (maybe even said it):

"Oh, you don't want to be with me! You have no idea how bad I can be."

The idea is: "I will protect my loved ones from me by abandoning them." How "considerate"!

How many potential relationships never even had a chance because of this logic? Millions. And what about existing relationships? How many dads have used "responsibility" to justify leaving their families in shame? Millions. How many women have dismissed themselves from intimacy in this same pseudo-responsible spirit? Again, millions.

In the case of those disappearing dads, their shame-based reaction was to abandon the people they love -- people for whom they were supposed to be responsible. Yes, many of them did it because, in theory, they didn't want to inflict their woes on their family. And they thought of that as a choice of integrity. But the kids whose fathers left never seem to agree. They always complain bitterly about being abandoned. "Where was Dad?" they say. "Dad was a coward. Dad left us in the lurch, because he couldn't handle his shit."

Let's talk about REAL responsibility. Is Dad being TRULY responsible in leaving his family, because he is ashamed of his own uncontrolled negative tendencies? Of course not! Is it REALLY true that his most positive possible contribution to their lives is to "get lost"? Hardly! If he honestly considered what his "compassionate withdrawal" REALLY causes, maybe he'd strap it on, stick around, and do what it takes to NOT be mean, insensitive, and hurtful.

And, is Tiffany taking REAL responsibility when she says, "Justin, you don't WANT me. If you go with me, you're gonna regret it." No! Obviously, Tiffany is not going to love Justin. That, in itself, is sad. But sadder yet is the fact that, like those runaway dads, Tiffany is interpreting abandoning Justin AS loving him. That's her concept of responsibility? That sucks. How limited! How whimsical!

Just look at the REAL RESULTS of whim-driven abandonment disguised as responsibility. Look where it leads. It leads to loneliness. It leads to despair. It leads to dysfunction. It leads, basically, to hell.

All of that is on the downside of the balance. Why DO we go there? Needless to say, we must place tremendous value on the other side of the scale. The UPSIDE of a whimsical life, as judged by the ego, IS the avoidance of TRUE and EFFECTIVE responsibility.

True responsibility

So then, what IS true responsibility?

1. Not just thinking about what caused this, but what REALLY caused this. True responsibility is admitting that primarily, our own INTERPRETATIONS determine the quality of our lives.

2. Not just thinking about what this causes, but what this REALLY causes. True responsibility is acknowledging the negative results we ourselves have created with our negative interpretations.

3. Acting accordingly: True responsibility is being willing to control the REAL causes in our life, to stop and correct our REAL negative results, and to consistently create REAL positive results instead.


by David Truman

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