Of course we contribute to some of the pain in our life.
And, of course we’re not responsible for all of the pain or bad things in our life.
Our brain very often wants to make it an all-or-nothing thing…but that’s just not how the world works.
Why does our brain do this?
Often, it’s because we’ve been told, over and over again, that we’re bad and we deserve to feel bad.
Unfortunately, there are a LOT of people out there who strongly buy into the idea that nothing can make us feel bad without our consent or participation.
They often conceptualize suffering as a “choice.” (They very often use the quote, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” to dramatize this idea.)
The idea being, if you’re suffering, it’s your fault.
According to this perspective, if you want to stop suffering, you simply need to choose to not suffer.
In the real world, things are simply not that straightforward.
When we’ve been programmed with the idea that we “deserve” to suffer, snapping out of it is not as easy as making a different choice.
Our patterns of thinking, feeling, and responding aren’t consciously chosen again and again and again. They are conditioned. They are on autopilot.
Often we didn’t choose them in the first place. They were chosen or modeled for us, often in childhood, and we didn’t realize that we had options.
Changing our conditioning doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. To change our automatic responses to a trigger or cue, we have to realize what’s happening; be aware of our options; push back against our automatic thoughts, feelings, and responses and CHOOSE a different option; and we have to do it again and again and again as our brain literally, physiologically changes.
All of that’s way more complicated— and exhausting— than “make a different choice.” “Choose not to suffer.”
We CAN change our response patterns. We CAN develop new habits of thinking, feeing, and behaving. But we need to get off of this idea that if we’re suffering we are somehow “choosing” to suffer— that if we struggle to change, we’re “choosing” to “stay stuck.”
We didn’t arrive at these patterns overnight. We were conditioned and programmed.
We won’t break these patterns overnight. We need to be reconditioned and reprogrammed— and we’re working against conditioning and programming that feels “right” because it’s very familiar.
Self-blame for our pain is really a dead end.
There’s a difference between taking realistic responsibility for our choices, and harshly blaming ourselves.
Self blame basically starts and ends with, “you deserve to feel this way because of your choices. After all, what did you think was going to happen?”
Taking responsibility is about realistically acknowledging the role we play in what we’re experiencing— whether that role is relatively large or relatively smaller.
The idea that we are totally responsible for our experience simply doesn’t jibe with reality.
Yes, our attitude matters. Yes, what we picture in our heads matters. There are lots of factors within us that can make certain feelings and outcomes more or less likely or consistent.
But we need to get away from this black and white way of thinking about self blame and personal responsibility.
As a rule, if you find yourself trying to make declarative, sweeping statements about whether you are or aren’t responsible for something— push pause. Back up. Take a realistic look at what you’re saying.
More often than not, successful management of feelings and behavior is found in the nuances. The shades of grey.
Easy does it. Take your time and take a breath.
We’re ALL learning this as we go.