August 17, 2011

False Beliefs - Part 1 - It's My Fault!

Today, as we explore some of the false beliefs or stories that result from trauma, bad experiences or abuse, we need to pay particular attention to two of the most common stories that often show up. These particular false beliefs provided, in the moment, protection and helped us survive the experience, but like in-laws who stay for too long in the guest room, they have outlived their welcome. In order to break out of meaning making, you must address and challenge these false beliefs. Let's start with a real biggie...

It’s My Fault

Of all of the false beliefs, this one seems to take root early on and cause the most damage. The reason we blame ourselves seems to be out of a need to achieve a couple of things. First, if we blame others for the harm they cause, then we have to acknowledge that someone we love, someone who is very close to us, is capable of doing things that are very bad, cruel, and mean. The image we hold of our parent, caregiver, relative, partner, or neighbor is completely threatened. It is much easier to stomach being at fault than having to face the reality that those who we trusted could cause us such great harm. Especially if the bad experience occurred while you were a child, it is extremely hard for the mind of a child to reconcile that the same person who tucks you in at night is also harming you. In an effort to protect our relationship with the person and the world, we blame ourselves.

Secondly, if we blame ourselves, then we can hold onto the idea that there must have been something we did to cause the experience. Therefore, there will be a way that we can protect ourselves in the future. We say to ourselves, “If it’s my fault, then I can just not do the things anymore that caused that to happen, and I won’t get hurt again.” Bottom line, it’s about control. Part of the challenge of giving up the story of, “It’s my fault,” is it requires we acknowledge that even the people who we are closest to can harm us and that we can’t always control what happens to us.

One of my clients believed that it was her fault she was raped, because she drank too much and went into the room with the man. She’d decided that if she no longer drank, she would be safe. This gave her a sense of control and power, and, for awhile, that was really important to feel. However, eventually, the burden and effects of blaming herself took their toll, and she was also able to face up to the fact that not drinking was providing a false sense of security. We were ready to challenge this false belief. My client first needed to understand that she didn’t enter a room with a big sign above the door that said, “Rape This Way.” I suppose, had she seen that sign and then walked through the door anyway, well, then we’d have to have a different conversation. This wasn’t the case though! Yes, she’s responsible for drinking. She is not responsible for the choice the man made to rape her. Most importantly, one does not cause the other.

All of us have found ourselves in situations where we are hurt, traumatized, or maybe even abused. There was no warning. There was no sign. There was no choice. The last time I checked, being at fault for something involves having a complete understanding of the situation and making choices. Those that harmed us did not give us any choice in the matter.

Beyond giving up blaming ourselves for the experience and thus placing the blame where it belongs – with the person who caused us harm – there’s even more at stake. All of our stories impact the way we show up in the world. Just imagine it like you’re walking down the street with a big sign over your head that says, “It’s my fault world!” When someone bumps into you on the street – you immediately apologize (after all, it’s your fault). When your husband loses his job, you apologize (after all, it’s your fault that you didn’t support him). When you can’t make it to a friend’s dinner, you feel disproportionately guilty (after all, it’s your fault that you don’t have time for your friends.) The point I’m making here is that you begin to behave as if everything is your fault and life becomes unbalanced.

Moreover, the more often you show up as the one who will take the blame for everything, the more the people around you will come to expect this of you and reinforce your false beliefs by playing the game with you! They will not feel compelled to examine their roles and behaviors, because, after all, you’ll just let them off the hook by believing it’s all your fault!

Bringing into balance your ability to both acknowledge your role in things but also hold others accountable is extremely important if you’re going to live a healthy, powerful life.

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