We often get these two mixed up, which leads to a very disempowering belief: “if we take responsibility for something, we also admit that we are to blame for it.” This is, of course, not always true, but more importantly, it’s irrelevant.
There are two forms of blame that we both commonly use:
Blaming someone or something.
While they seem different, in essence, they are the same. Something happens, and we start a narrative in our heads about who is to blame. If it is someone else, we are free from the responsibility to take action. If we blame ourselves, we will end up in a negative spiral of self-talk that also does nothing to improve the situation.
Let’s have a closer look at both versions of blame.
Usually, when we assign blame, we assign it to something or someone outside of ourselves.
“Traffic made me late.”
“The dark and rainy weather makes me feel depressed.”
“She was unreasonable, so of course I got angry”.
“He criticized me, and that made me sad.”
As you can see, all of these examples have one thing in common: you can’t do anything to change these things. It was their fault. It was a matter of circumstance outside of your control. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these situations are under your control. Obviously, we can’t control the weather or someone’s behavior.
That, however, is not the point. It’s not about controlling the things that happen to you. It’s about controlling what happens next.
The other version of blame is blaming ourselves. This is very similar to taking responsibility, but it differs in one crucial way. It doesn’t steer us towards action or change. It takes us into self-pity, self-doubt, or another form of negative self-talk. It doesn’t make us move; it makes us stand still.
When we take the blame, we are not looking for solutions or lessons to learn. We are just resigning to the fact that “we are just this way and should feel bad about it.” Of course, this is not helping us change anything and achieves just that; making us feel bad.
Blaming, yourself, or other factors/people, has no positives attached to it and will bring you nothing.
State of mind
Blaming something or someone else for the way we feel (our state of mind) is a futile exercise because they are external circumstances that we cannot change. Assigning blame is just a way to avoid dealing with the fact that we cannot control the outside. It’s a subconscious way of steering us away from taking ownership, responsibility for that which we can control: our inner state of mind, our internal reaction to these external circumstances.
Blaming what happens to us on something else relieves us of the duty to do something about it because “ it’s out of our control, we can’t do anything about it.”
This brings us to the solution to this. Taking responsibility for anything that happens to you.
Responsibility is the opposite of blame. It is taking ownership. It is saying:
“I am responsible for anything that happens to me.”
and most importantly:
“I am responsible for how I feel about the things that happen to me.”
If this is not a habit yet, it can feel a little unnatural at times. Taking responsibility for something which, in our minds, is clearly not our fault.
“I left my house far enough ahead of time. I didn’t cause the traffic jam, how is it my responsibility?”
That, however, is the ego again, trying to assign blame. We need to ignore that inner voice for now and make the conscious decision that we will take responsibility for everything that happens “to us.” When we do this, we will go from a fixed mindset;
“It is how it is. It’s not my fault. I can’t change it, so I don’t have to do anything.”
to a growth mindset;
“Ok, it happened, it sucks. What can I do to make it better?”
As you can see it is not about what happened. It’s about what you are going to do now. What is the next step? What is the action you can take to make it better after what happened?
How can we use this in daily life?
First of all, it’s about becoming aware of the signs of trying to assign blame. These are usually thoughts that follow a situation that occurred and will be formulated along the lines of:
I didn’t cause this.
It was not my fault that…
I did everything I could to…
He/she/it is the reason that…
What all these thoughts have in common is that they try to put it outside of ourselves. What we need to do consists of two steps:
Acceptance; whatever happened, happened. It doesn’t matter who or what caused it. It won’t change by determining who or what is to blame.
Asking two questions:
What can I learn from it?
What can I do to change it?
Even if you caused something, you could still decide to learn from it without taking the blame. If you were too late getting out of bed and subsequently late for work: get out of bed earlier the next day. No blame needed. Learn from it and take the necessary action not to let it happen again.
Blame is an extra step in the process that serves no productive purpose. So why not skip it?
Stop taking (or giving) the blame.
Start taking radical responsibility
Start taking action towards what you want.