Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Communication and Self-Blame

I do seem to be obsessed with blame these days. It's predictably reassuring to hear Jose Mourino blame everyone else but himself for Chelsea's poor form, and listening to the (also) predictable
reaction of Volkswagen top bods "It wasn't me, Gov, I didn't know anything about it" once Martin  Winterkorn fell on his sword (he also didn't know anything about it, but resigned anyway).

Humility is definitely not the order of the day.

This week, though, I want to look at self-blame and the negative impact it can have if unchecked. I was reminded of this aspect of blame when I screwed up my timings the other day and made my husband and I late for an important appointment; I who am rarely late. I was so not a happy bunny, and despite no censure from anyone else, I continued to give myself a hard time for quite a while.

What I realised once I climbed out of my pit of self-chastisement, was that blaming myself for my own misdemeanour served no purpose whatsoever.

It wasn't like taking responsibility for a mistake and then moving on; no, I dragged out my own unpleasant feelings which didn't change a thing and only made me feel worse. Far better if I had taken my own advice about accepting I had goofed and at the same time avoided guilt. What I realised is that by wallowing in self-blame I was really looking for exoneration from my husband and from the person whose appointment we were late for.

In an odd way, I was taking too much responsibility, and acting like a disapproving parent to myself, when what would have been a more appropriate and proportionate response would have been to apologise for the lateness and been done with it.

I did carry on unpicking the situation:  what would have helped me in my moment of self-reprimand? What could I have done to let go sooner?  Looking outside myself for reassurance that I wasn’t a bad person worked a little bit, but I still continued to tick myself off and ultimately seeking that from others isn’t ideal. To be looking outside for approval leads to an undermining of self-confidence and gives too much not necessarily wanted power to others.

So here’s a few things I could have done:

Assessed the situation with objectivity:  just how bad was my crime (notice the dramatic language I’m still using)?  Did the punishment I gave myself fit the crime?

Given myself a two-minute time limit to wallow and moan and then called a halt to it all.

Phoned a friend from the car to distract myself from slipping back into scolding myself.

Raised my awareness that my inner critical parent was giving me a harder time than any outside person would.

Joked to my husband that there were quite a few people who could use a little more self-blame and a lot less finger-pointing.

Used the time more constructively by catching up with stuff with my husband that we hadn’t had time to discuss.

Given myself a break!  Put my disapproving parent in a box, told it to shut up and got on with getting to my appointment.

The point is, I’d never communicate to anyone the way I communicated to myself.  It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t nice and as I said at the beginning all it served to do was make me feel worse.

In a way I’m glad it happened because it reminded me that in extemis unhelpful behaviour creeps in and if I hadn’t been so down on myself I could have found a way through much quicker.

Now if I can just find a way to make Mr Mourino behave with a little more humility, that would really be something (but not nearly as entertaining).



Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication, Conflict Management, LineManagement and Customer Service courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

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