One of the greatest, most unproductive and destructive mind traps many of us face is self-blame. It’s as if the brain doesn’t know what to do with the uncomfortable feeling that’s there and it projects it inward. I’ve never seen a single example where self-blame is constructive. We all make mistakes in life, some greater than others. But there is a simple truth in life that is worth understanding, we all do the best we can with what we know in any given time.
It could never be any other way.
There’s a simple thing to practice that can bring us back to our senses with a bit more self-compassion. This inevitably will lead to greater ease, understanding and refocus us on a more constructive path of health and well-being sooner.
Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.
No matter what you’ve done, it doesn’t serve you or anyone else to stew in self-blame. What would serve yourself and others more is moving into a place of understanding and making peace with yourself. From this space you are better able to more constructively serve yourself and others.
In Uncovering Happiness I share a very personal story where in my twenties I was incredibly destructive to my mind and body. I would be constantly caught in a web of blaming myself for the things I would do – only to do them again.
This kept me stuck in a shame cycle.
As the years progressed, I’ve come to understand that even though I thought I knew better at the time, with the experience I had and in the place I was in, I was doing the best I could, it could never have been any other way.
I learned along the way what I needed to do in order to get unstuck, in order to love myself, in order to give myself a chance to be in this world the way I wanted to be. I began to become clearer on my values and took steps to begin walking alongside them. In doing this I experienced how self-compassion and purpose are natural anti-depressants, natural sources of resiliency and confidence in life.
After becoming a psychologist and in more recent years, I was thrilled to see how the neuroscience backed this up.
Consider what you might be blaming yourself for. What does the voice inside your head tell you you’re not good enough at? Is it around your parenting, work, relationships, exercise, diet, sexuality or in life in general? Or maybe your mind doubles up and says you’re not good enough at dealing with your stress, anxiety, depression, trauma or addictive behaviors?
Or maybe it says you’re not trying hard enough in mindfulness or compassion?
The fact is, forgiveness is the quickest shortcut to beginning again and refocusing on what matters. This doesn’t mean we let ourselves off the hook, we learn from it and release the burden so we can begin to be of service to ourselves and others.
So take an inventory, what is it you blame yourself for? Can you understand that at all times you are doing the best you can with what you know? Instead of blaming yourself for your history, learn from it, take the lessons and bring them into this present moment to begin again.
This learning mindset is the central thread to uncovering happiness.