Thought Mine #13: Self Blaming

Each Thought Mine is followed by a definition and a list of examples. Please note that the following examples are representative statements. The same sentence may represent numerous Thought Mines. I list examples mainly to give you a starting point. Often individuals blend two or three “favorite” Thought Mines together into their own type of social misreading.

 

Thought Mine #13: Self Blaming

Definition:

Feeling at fault for things that are not under your control.

Negative self-talk example:

“I’m not exciting, he won’t call me.”

Couple example:

“Why bother, no one in my family has ever gone to college. Why should I think I could.”

“He wouldn’t have to work so late if it wasn’t for me and the kids.”

“Officer, if I’d put the dinner on the table at 6 o’clock, he wouldn’t have had to get so mad that he hit me. You don’t understand, it’s all my fault.”

Teen example:

“I don’t get the math, I must be stupid.”

Work/school example:

“Sammy is having trouble in math. He must have gotten that from me, I hated math in school.”

 

The act of self-blaming gives you permission to fail, and it allows others to mistreat you, without you making them responsible for their behavior. The act of blaming tends to be a distraction from solving interpersonal conflicts.

It was three days after Christmas and a family of six sat in my office. Each family member was angry and scared about the future. The four teens looked everywhere except at their father. Mom looked at her feet and cried. Eric, the father, stared straight ahead with a stern face.

“I know I blew it. I ruined everything.” He said. “I didn’t mean to, but I did it. I take full responsibility. I’ve told you all for years that I’m an alcoholic. I was just born that way. And you all know that I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”

Eric had spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day in jail for drunk driving. No one in the family had slept much in days.

Eric spent most of the next half an hour explaining how he didn’t want anyone in the family to be hurt by his actions. The teens tried to be supportive, but were obviously embarrassed by the fact that “…everyone was going to know.” Mom added, “You could have been killed or killed someone.”

When the anger and pain had a chance to dissipate, I introduced the concept of all of us being made up by the roles we play in life.

I said, “Eric, you’re a father, a son, a business owner, a church member, and a person with a drinking problem. But, you are not your mistakes. You are all the parts of you that make you, you.”

 The family looked a little confused. So I continued, “You are not your mistakes! Everyone of us is the addition of all our parts. The accumulation of all the roles we play. Not just one role. That’s why your children are scared right now. You’re telling them that you’re a drunk. But to them you’re their dad. To your wife, you are her husband. Your family didn’t fall in love with you because you are their drunk. They fell in love with all of you. And, to tell you the truth, the drunk part of you makes loving you very scary.”

Self-blaming tends to make it easy to continue doing things that you wish you didn’t do. Once you stop wishing, and start an action, you begin to take back self-control.

In the example above, the self-blame is complicated. Eric allowed himself to drink because he was sick. He was an alcoholic, and drinking is what alcoholics do. Eric saw alcoholism as out of his control. But once we redirected his self-responsibility to a specific behavior, Eric was able to make significant changes.

In this case, Eric focused on the behavior of avoiding drinking through a few behavior changes. He wrote the following behavior contract with his family and followed it.

 

  1. No business meetings where alcohol was available.
  2. Home at 5:30 P.M. Monday through Friday. (Make dinner Tuesday and Wednesday. Help with homework on Monday and Thursday.)
  3. Movie night date with wife every Friday.
  4. Saturday and Sunday afternoon fish or golf with one or more children.
  5. Attend counseling with Dr. Phil weekly.

 

At the time of this writing, Eric chooses not to drink and freely tells people that, “… my family saved my life.”

More: Understanding Thought Mines

Thought Mines are social misreadings that get in the way of communicating clearly. They are thought stumbling blocks that allow us to misread, and often misjudge, the intention of others. By misreading others intentions, we can often get sidetracked from getting our needs met.

 

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