There is an on-going battle within many of us on personal responsibility. When do we take responsibility for our actions, when are we shouldering the blame for others', taking on their responsibility as our own.
In the world of intimate partner violence, this "blame game" is a common control mechanism. Questioning your own actions and decisions and feeling as if you are somehow faulty, causing others frustration and pain takes its toll on self-esteem, hope, and belief in your power and control. Conversely, we have to take responsibility for our own actions and NOT give up our power and control in order to heal and to achieve what we want in life. It is a difficult balance.
In my experience, "blame" isn't something that people do purposefully. Blaming others is a defense mechanism, like many others. Who wants to feel bad? Who wants to hurt? No one so if we can shift the blame to someone else, make our decisions belong to someone else, we can (temporarily) feel better.
Repeatedly, people are encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions, regain control but fostering too much personal responsibility is just as dangerous. A person who takes on too much personal responsibility is shouldering the weight of the world and taking blame for decisions that others make. This "blame game" can be the result of of another placing the blame on you, as in the case of intimate partner violence, but also can be more insidious. It can be from the anxiety one carries into relationships, it can be guilt at the possibility of hurting another person, it can be fear....the underlying emotion differs. Consider the following story, a compilation of a number of stories
"We generally have a great relationship, we really don't fight often, have a lot of fun together. They're pretty unflappable really, pretty much calm and "roll with it" kind of thing. But once in awhile, they get really angry. Pissed off when something happens that seems like not too much of a big deal. Like hanging out with my family. For the most part, they're fine with it but once in awhile if I get caught up- helping with something or in a conversation or just losing track of time...or TRYING to get out of a conversation but not being able to break away, that anger comes up. Like I said, not often. And its not like they SAY its my fault per say but they will make comments like, "you said we were going" or "I'm pissed that you took off and stayed with [this person] so long- you said you were coming right back". I used to feel guilty beyond belief that I had committed some unforgivable sin. In the uncomfortable silence that follows, for hours or a day or more, I used to sit wracked with guilt, blaming myself for not following through, for not being a good partner, for being thoughtless....selfish...rude. And it always felt kind of....weird....unreal. When I started my own therapy, I realized that I have to trust that instinct that says something is unreal or weird because it means something is not right. When I started to pay attention to that, I was able to look past the angry stuff. I started to realize that there were things that they could have done but they choose not too. Sure they can say its because they think its rude to interrupt or they weren't comfortable because they didn't know anyone but how are those things my responsibility? In a couple, don't you do things together? Make decisions together? Even if it is something like when to go somewhere and when to leave somewhere. I realized that they could have come to me and said, "hey we were going to do this or that" or "can I talk to you for a minute?". As I thought more, I also started to think about the times I was sort of trapped by that family member who goes on and on and you can't seem to find a way out. Back in the day, when I was with my girlfriends and a guy did that, they rallied around. We'd go "rescue" each other you know? If I wanted to talk to the guy, they were ok with leaving us alone but when I wanted to get away, it was such a relief to link arms with my girlfriends and head off! And I don't remember it being a big deal either. Them doing it for me or me doing it for them. Isn't that kind of connection something to have a relationship too?
I have to be careful when I do think that way because when I started to do it, I got all angry and started to shift blame back again to them, doing the same thing as they did to me, just opposite. I think that's why I am glad I am still in therapy for myself because it helps me figure out that balance. I can't control what they do with it but now I kind of just stay calm and sit it out without agonizing about "could of"s and "should of"s. I don't replay the event in my head over and over, heaping blame on myself for my "selfishness". To be honest, it still doesn't feel great. Obviously I don't want my partner to be upset but its good to know where my responsibility ends. I feel better about myself."
The above story illustrates a fairly health relationship that faces a challenge at times. There are times and situations in which the conflict and blame is too great and tips into abuse, passive aggressive behavior, manipulation, or simply wears too much on the other person. Often though, in these situations, it is about giving your partner space. Let them figure out what they need to and stay strong in your own decisions and values. Stay true and aware to your own needs and the impact of your relationship dynamics on your well-being. Above all, do not sacrifice your power and control nor transfer your pain to others. A difficult balancing act as stated before but much of our lives is finding balance between the mosaic of pieces that make up our lives.
Wishing you wisdom, patience, joy, and balance today~
Kintsugi is a Japanese tradition in which broken pieces of pottery, bowls, etc. are repaired by using gold, silver, or other precious elements. Legend states that the kintsugi tradition started when a member of the Japanese royal family broke a favorite cup and wanted the cup repaired. At the time, repair work was done with less precious materials, whatever sticky resin type material was around. This was for royalty though! The craftspeople decided to use precious metals to repair the cup and so the tradition was born.
The philosophy is built on the idea that nothing is ever truly broken. I have always loved this idea. Nothing is truly broken. The seams and lines that we classify as "broken" or aging are the unique marks of our lives. When someone says they are "broken", it can be an expression of the amount of pain they feel. To say, "you're not broken" can be invalidating...somehow diminishing their pain or discounting it, often with the result that the person feels or acts "more broken" in an attempt to be noticed, to be understood. Don't we all want to be understood? Don't we want to feel connected? Appreciation is not always for the things we do well but also to appreciate that we have gone through something very difficult, and maybe we DO feel broken, and that is okay.
Looking at the art of kintsugi, we can see how the beauty of the seams of gold, or even repairing by taking pieces of two separate things to create a new whole, is a new beautiful thing. Not what it was before but with a different beauty. What might have formerly been a mass produced, carefully duplicated piece now is unique and special. Part of the old, but fresh and new, ready to be used. Kintsugi takes time, weeks or months, to carefully repair and renew. When the refreshed piece is done, it can be used again. I like to think we can apply this principle to aging too. Aging is inevitable and a known element in the lifespan and yet so difficult for many of us to accept. The wrinkles and grey hairs- sure, we can say they are the signs of a life well lived...and they are! But we still try to pluck, dye, smooth, and stretch away the signs. What if, like kintsugi, we looked at those lines as beautiful, the pieces of each adventure, good and not so good, that make up the map of our life?
There are a number of kintsugi articles out there so I encourage each of you to check it out if you are interested!
Live Breathe Love Create
In the past few days there have been two high profile suicides. As I read about the second one, I wondered if we are seeing more suicides or if we are just more transparent. Transparency often helps people feel more connected, "Oh these feelings I have aren't me being 'bad' but normal feelings that can be worked through." I did some research and sadly found this article:
Suicide rates are up 30 percent since 1999, CDC says: Only half of people who died by suicide had diagnosed mental health conditions.
by Maggie Fox
Looking further, I found this is not only a national issue but international. From the Independent:
Teenage suicides in London rise by 107% - more than four times national rate, new figures reveal: Huge increase described as 'a needless waste of young lives'
May Bulman Social Affairs Correspondent
The CDC reports that nearly 50% of people who die by suicide have not been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. This may speak to the mental health stigma which is still alive and well but may also indicate that suicide could be an entity of itself. This make sense when put in the context of those who support assisted suicide or cultures in which there is honor in suicide in the face of dishonor.
Some say suicide is 100% preventable. I would argue that it is not. No issue is black and white. No illness is that simple. As mentioned above, there are cultural, societal, and medical considerations. I worry as well about the message this sends to family and friends who are dealing with a death by suicide. Time and again I hear the guilt and pain and anger in these people. To have the stress of hearing "100% preventable" could be more than a person can bear. Some people do not want to be stopped. Horrifying for me to write. Likely horrifying and maybe angering to read. These folks may not show any signs at all. They may have decided on their path and are determined that no one will prevent them from doing what they believe they need to do.
I believe the majority of people contemplating suicide or attempting suicide do want to be helped. Suicide happens when our level of pain exceeds our capacity to manage our pain. Simply put, there is no answer at that level. Emotions do ebb and flow and "this to shall pass" but in those moments when our pain is beyond that threshold, there may seem to be only one answer. It may take someone else to reach out through the cloud of pain and chaos to take their hand and lead them to another place. A place where the pain is eased enough to start dealing with it and everything that swirls around it.
There are a number of good resources out there (here's where you can Google away!).
I was in an art class when I overheard a classmate saying their technique for inspiration was to Google a word or phrase, click on images, and see what comes up. I thought it was a very clever idea and have since used that many times myself.
When it comes to finding your passion, trusting your beliefs and desires, valuing yourself- that can't be Googled. We can take all the online quizzes and assessments we want and it won't (necessarily) tell us what we truly want.
Now I am pausing here so everyone who just opened a new tab to Google "what is my calling" can check it out. Maybe some interesting things came up. Maybe things to spark ideas and fan a flame. In the end, the ultimate choice is yours and means you have to trust yourself enough to follow that dream. That is the tricky part. Finding all the puzzle pieces that go into finding and pursuing your dreams. Trusting yourself, believing in your value and worth, figuring out what you need to do, talking to the people who can help you, having the confidence to keep going when the inevitable challenges arise. This is where the journey of therapy can help. I use the word "therapy" to encompass any relationship where you can explore issues and create a safe space. So why hippie dippy therapy (or art therapy)? What about friends or family?
You absolutely need friends and family, whether birth family, adoptive family, or the life family you gather around you. A therapist fills a different role though. In the relationship, you are connected to each other but there are important differences. The relationship will look different for each client and therapist so it is hard to say what will unfold for you. At times, the work may be practical or it may be emotional or spiritual. The direction is determined by your wants and needs.
"You have to listen because I am paying you." I have a strong personal connection with this one because it is what I believed for many years. I can give you a song and dance about it being a fear of letting anyone in or a history of betrayals and that might be part of it but I truly believed it was nearly impossible for a therapist to care about the client. It was a job, like any job. How wrong I was! My own desire to pursue this career was, in part, because of my good experience when I found the right providers. I wanted to give that opportunity to others. The other reason, unfolding throughout my training and internship, was a realization that as many times as I lived in negativity or felt hopeless, as many times as I felt hurt or betrayed by others, ultimately, I believe that we are all good worthy people who are changed by the world around us, what we learn, what we believe, and the mysterious workings of our brain. Some of you may have read the Diary of Anne Frank, the amazing words of an adolescent girl of the Jewish faith hiding in Nazi Germany. Anne says, "In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart." I believe that. I believe that we act in good faith, even if those decisions or thoughts in the moment are not the "best" choices or thoughts. It is this belief as well as my own fascination with our lives, emotions, and relationships, that drives my work. A calling, a passion, whatever you want to call it, it is not about the pay (though yes, reality of the world is we need money).
We all try to improve the world in our own way whether it is providing for our friends and family, helping our community, devoting ourselves to our spiritual beliefs, serving our country. A tall order and a guide and witness on the journey can help reflect back the things that you want to achieve or explore. Remember always that you deserve the best therapeutic relationship you can have. I, as a therapist, need to earn your trust and respect and vice versa. The diploma on my wall doesn't mean you have to trust me or respect me or even like me. Those things are earned. These things can be developed in the safe space created between you and your therapist.
So you can't Google your calling, that comes from within, but you can Google some ideas and pursue them in therapy. The journey isn't easy...but it can be worth it when we learn how to live, risk, fail, and rise again.
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