Stren #37 explains the second of the eight choices available to our will power to transform information into action. I have labeled this action choice “blaming-in.”
The blaming-in response, like the blaming-out response, is among the easiest to recognize and change. Here is the formula to learn:
(a) I did what I should not have done or didn’t do what I should have done, and therefore,
(b) I deserve punishment.
Stren #36 identified the first of our eight alternative action choices, blaming-out. Nature pre-wires each of us with the universal fight or flight survival instinct. The fight portion of this innate action pathway biases us to engage in destructive confrontation. When we have an unsatisfied need, our body creates energy to incite motion. One label for this emotion is “frustration.” Harmful confrontation is a common primitive natural reaction to whomever or whatever we perceive to be the source of our frustration. We are trigger-ready to immediately satisfy our needs to relieve the frustration they create. However, survival of any tribe is unlikely if its members attack one another. As Abe Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Nurturers are required to teach individuals to control blaming-out energy when it is directed to members of their own tribe. This is why we are assigned a flag, a religion, a political ideology, and related means to identify “our team,” while preserving the harmful blaming-out energy for “not our kind.” The symbols of allegiance are often not sufficient to prevent the expression of instinct’s self-serving actions. Our nurturers have devised other powerful means to control harmful aggression that is directed to one’s own kind. Switching blaming-out energy to blaming-in punishment is a favorite. Blaming-in is simply blaming energy that is directed to our self.
Blaming-in is the champion of what we call “guilt.” Blaming-in includes various forms of self-blame, putdowns, and mentally or even physically attacking our self. In the extreme, an individual will even murder him/herself, what we call suicide. Blaming-in is a common way we create depression and make ourselves our own worst enemy. Blaming-out and blaming-in both lead to damage and harmful outcomes. By recognizing when we are “guilting” ourselves, we can switch blaming-in energy to a far more productive common sense problem-solving action pathway. Switching from blaming to a common sense problem-solving pathway consistently leads to preferred outcomes while it simultaneously prevents the harmful aggression of blaming-out and blaming-in. Common sense problem-solving is described in stren #39. We may empower ourselves to substitute common sense for the two blaming choices as we attain physical maturity and teach ourselves the skills of mental maturity.
Animals show little evidence of guilt. In our youth, before blaming-in is learned from our nurturers, humankind also directs harmful aggression to others. Since it would be impractical for our nurturers to be constantly present to punish behavior that deviates from their preferred rules and traditions, they apply a far more efficient method of control. Discipline to their rules is hardwired with emotion by the process of blaming-in. Guilt, once hardwired into our thinking, insures that their expectations become our expectations. Emotionally linked self-putdowns powerfully inhibit the impulsive self-serving aggressive behavior that instinct demands of us. Our earliest lessons include implanting the prescriptive “should” and “should not” trigger words that establish the rules of our nurturers and their culture. Creating guilt for engaging in physical aggression or even thinking about it is an important way the prohibition is enforced. Though harmful aggression within one’s own tribe is usually strictly forbidden, when “blaming-out” suites their own needs, tribes commonly encourage physical aggression towards non-members. Perfectionism occurs when blaming-in is overdone, when expectations are set beyond what is reasonable. Perfectionists are among the most miserable of all humans. No matter how highly others would evaluate their performance, the perfectionist finds the slightest blemish and turns on self-putdowns.
Here’s how blaming-in works. Imagine a child pushes his sibling; has his hand in the cookie jar; carelessly runs into the street; or wipes his nose on the curtain. He is caught in the act and is about to be punished. You can think of the many ways parents punish their children. The child would like to say “Scram! Get out of my life!” but he looks up at the giant that is about to inflict discomfort and realizes he is no match. Children quickly learn. “Aha, I can talk my way out of this. Confess. Seek mercy.” He confesses: “I did bad, I know it. I won’t do it again. I promise.” “Not good enough” says the parent. “You don’t look like you really mean it.” The parent must be convinced the child really looks and, more important, really feels guilty. The child complies. He does his best to be convincing. With many repetitions of going through the guilt motions, the child not only is able to convince the parent; he has created the real thing. Can you count the number of “should” and “should not’s” you heard through your childhood? Was “no” a favorite word in your upbringing? After hundreds of such encounters, the child becomes an expert in guilting, in blaming-in. He not only talks the talk; he has learned to walk the walk. Now, he has skillfully learned to zap himself with the customary putdown when he errs or even just thinks about the mischief he’d like to get into. Guilt and other forms of blaming-in serve to keep the immature mind obedient to the dictators who set the rules.
There is a variation of blaming-in so common that I assign it the special label, “secondary blaming.” Having a special label makes this common type of blaming-in easy to recognize and thereby effectively manage.
Secondary blaming is “blaming yourself for blaming yourself.” Once we learn that blaming-in is non-productive and to be avoided, we begin to have some success in directing our energy to common sense problem-solving instead of “guilting” and other forms of self-punishment. Invariably, we find we slip back and repeat the blaming-in pattern. Then, we are likely to say, “I put myself down again! I should have learned to stop that by now! I’m so stupid, blaming myself again.” We are prone to continue to blame ourselves when we catch ourselves blaming ourselves. We tend to have unrealistic expectations of our ability to do what we know. Getting rid of established habits is accomplished by learning from our mistakes, not by continuing to guilt ourselves for guilting ourselves. Each time you can recognize you are engaging in secondary blaming, reward yourself with a powerful emotional self-endorsement. This will provide the energy to quickly pick yourself up and engage in problem-solving instead of putdowns.
To diminish your blaming mental responses, first learn to recognize when you are “shoulding” on others or yourself. Look for the prescribing words, for example, should, have to, must, ought. Remind yourself: recognizing a blaming response is one of your most productive acts because it opens the door to learning. Enthusiastically endorse yourself for spotting that you are engaged in blaming. You are now in a position to take constructive action to improve your response. Substitute descriptive words such as could, prefer, would like. Substitute the personal responsibility word-switch, “I allow …” in place of “he/she/they/it makes me.” Apply the problem-solving mental response pattern. Periodically review earlier strens. It is vital to understand the part of this stren on secondary blaming.