Blame and Accountability

I don’t advocate going through divorce, but, should you submit yourself to the process with your whole self, it will mature you in ways you didn’t anticipate.

How? Dealing with difficult emotions on the fly while developing insight at the same time.  I’ll let Brené Brown talk to us once again in her inimitable way.  This time, she’s going to talk about blame:

Blame and divorce go together like peanut butter and chocolate.  In fact, the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials were centered around blame.

“Hey, you got your chocolate on my peanut butter!”

“No, you got your peanut butter on my chocolate!”

So, what is blame according to Brown? Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger.  It is an in-the-moment means of vomiting out discomfort and pain onto another person.  Blame has an inverse relationship with accountability.

What does that mean?

Firstly, Brown defines the process as a vulnerable one.  That sounds unpleasant.  That sounds like a process that one might want to avoid.  I rather disdain vulnerability.  It’s much more palatable to look around and point fingers, isn’t it? “It’s your fault that this happened! It’s your fault that I feel this way! It’s your fault!”

What does accountability look like then?

“My feelings were hurt when you said/did that.  Can we talk about that?”

I know some people who would rather have their fingernails pulled out than have this conversation.  They would rather blame themselves and go down Martyr Lane manifesting an external locus of control.  Life happens to them.  It’s everyone else’s fault or, conversely, it’s all their fault.  If we, however, go along with the premise that blame is really about anger and accountability is the way to overcome blame, then what?

Let me elucidate this with a story.  I had an unpleasant therapy session this week.  It was unpleasant because I inadvertently came upon a very unpleasant emotion last week–hatred.  It happened so quickly.  I was cleaning up the kitchen when my youngest daughter sauntered into the kitchen: “Hey, can we get the bikes out? It’s warm.  I wanna ride my bike.”  I thought about it.  “Didn’t you grow out of your bike?” I asked.  “No,” she replied.

I was certain that she had grown out of her bicycle.  So, I rephrased.  “What bike will you be riding?”

“Your old one,” she said.

“I don’t have an old bike.  I only have my bike,” I said feeling confused.

“Oh, Dad gave me your bike last summer.  He said that you never rode it anyway so I could have it.”

Boom.  The explosion in my chest.  I excused myself from the kitchen and went into my bedroom.  There it was.  Like it had always been there.  One moment, I felt fine.  Content.  Peaceful.  Suddenly, I felt like an atomic bomb had gone off in my chest.

I closed the door quietly, and then I started heaving.  I could hardly get the words out, but I was saying them: “I hate him…I hate him…I hate him…I hate him…”  I cried so hard that I felt like I might vomit.  I felt undistilled hatred, and, ironically, I hated that I hated him.

Why hate him then? Because, to me in that moment, he found a way to take everything from me.  I lost a huge sense of identity in that relationship.  I lost my health.  I lost my sense of safety.  I didn’t even have space to live in my own home.  I didn’t have a bedroom.  I only had the corner of the dining room table.  My bicycle? Well, it was mine, and he even took that away from me.  I was awash in emotional intensity.  Triggered.

So, I sat in my bedroom and wept, and I let myself feel the hatred until the worst of it passed.  I didn’t think of him.  I just surrendered to the feeling, and it was terrible and painful.  My therapist likened the experience to a disgusting and painful bowel movement.  Some of our emotions are like that.  We must feel them and let them pass out of us rather than stuffing them down, constipating us.  Worse, we could jump into the sewer and start pointing fingers at all the reasons why another person made us feel like that.  That would be the corrosive element of blame.  What good would that do? I am no longer in a position to hold my ex-husband accountable for his actions, but I took the strongest stance possible.  I am divorcing him.  That act is an act of accountability.  So, I am safe now to process the spectrum of emotions that I could not prior to that decision.  Am I struck by a tsunami of vulnerability from time to time? Yes, I am.  Is it scary? Yes, it is.  Do I want to protect myself from processing those frightening emotions by falling back onto blame? Sometimes.  But, will that serve me? No.  I want to progress and heal.  Blame cannot be an option then.

I think that this process is actually how we develop empathy towards ourselves.  There is a great deal of talk in the culture now about empathy in general, but I have observed that it is very hard to offer up what you do not offer yourself.  It is hard to enter into an empathetic exchange with another person if you have never shown yourself kindness and empathy.  It is hard to develop the tenacity and grit to enter into the vulnerability of accountability if you don’t practice that with yourself.

These are the opportunities available in life’s trials.  Divorce, as with any of life’s tribulations, may not be a gift, but there are gifts to be found within the process if you look for them.


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