As of late, I have had blame on my mind more often than I would like to admit. It has been difficult to admit to myself that my suffering was perhaps greater than it ought to have been. It is this idea that a condition ought to be, or should be, that forms the basis for blame as a human construct.
In nature, there is no blame. There simply is. There are causes and effects. We blame humans for hurting. We don’t blame nature for a storm. If we do, we blame the divine. Nature is, in this conception, amoral.
Morality thus lives within the human realm, and yields these binary states: right and wrong. We blame someone when they did something wrong. When we blame someone, we believe they then possess fault, another human construct. When we come to believe that our suffering was the fault of another, we blame them.
We live in a world now filled with blame. I might go as far as saying that blame is fashionable these days. Whether listening to one’s preferred news source or speaking with a trendy Manhattan therapist, blame has been popularized to sit at the forefront of our collective cognition. It’s as if our culture is evolving to teach us to blame everyone but ourselves. I can see why some don’t take blame so seriously anymore. But for those who have experienced severe trauma, childhood neglect or abuse, or other adverse events, blame takes a very different trajectory.
Actually, evidence from those who have endured the most adverse experiences suggests that conscious mind at first tries to avoid blame. I posit that when healing from traumatic or adverse life experiences, blame tends to following a three step trajectory. Many, unfortunately, never get past the first step.
As noted in The Body Keeps the Score, the conscious minds of many survivors of traumatic events such as rape, torture, and other form of emotional and physical abuse, especially as children, often lay no blame at all. In many cases, often some of the more severe, the people actually cannot remember what happened to them. But in others, the default is not to blame the person or people who committed the acts. Either consciously or subconsciously, in this first step, one blames themself.
One of the first goals in therapy for people who have had such experiences is acknowledging what happened. I myself was a somewhat dysfunctional child. I blamed myself for that, mostly subconsciously. Consciously, I punished myself, though I did necessarily know for what. What has come into clear focus for me lately is that my life has been much more difficult than it needed to be, or could have been. When I started to realize that my own dysfunction was a result of the dysfunction of others, I moved into the second step of blame: blaming others.
It is extremely painful to feel that I have been wronged, and to put faces to those who wronged me. This second stage of blaming others is not a good place to be. It’s progress, but not healing. Many of the few who are fortunate enough to find the clarity of getting past the first stage have the disfortune of getting stuck here. I can say firsthand that this is a dark place to be, especially when those you blame are still in your life. This does not feel like an empowering place to be. It feels like very much the opposite, a road that leads only to despair. But I think I recently stumbled upon an alternate path, what I will describe as the third and final, healing stage of blame.
I want to reiterate that I have really been struggling with blame for the last few months, maybe the last year, maybe most of my adult life, come to think of it. But it really started to weigh on me recently, which is why when someone told me this little tip about blame, it completely transformed my approach to it.
I actually don’t remember who gave me this tip, which isn’t a surprise as this is a subject that raises my adrenaline and cortisol levels so high that my memory begins to blur, but the tip was simple: all that matters about blame, is that you are not to blame. For healing oneself from the burden of carrying blame, it does not matter so much who is to blame. What matters is that you are not to blame. What happened to me was not my fault.
I’m going to type it again. What happened to my was not my fault. It’s hard to type to that, and it’s even harder to say it out loud. In a way, it feels easier to externalize the problem and blame another. It can feel easier to say that it was someone else’s fault than to say that it was not your fault. But it’s this latter point that is salient to me.
I can’t be sure if this generalizes for everyone. But I suspect it does generalize to many. To those who know they were wronged, my big takeaway on blame is that you are not to blame; what matters is that it was not your fault. How you proceed from there will depend, and is ultimately up to you.