A huge problem many of us face every day is blame. We blame ourselves for things that aren’t really our fault. Blame becomes shame, and shame becomes a more ever-lasting sense of guilt. Guilt, not just for a simple mistake that you’ve made, but a feeling of guilt just for being who you are. These feelings of guilt manifest themselves over time because small acts of blame. “Why did I make that stupid mistake?”, “How could I have been so naïve?”, “What did I expect?”, and so on. A little flicker of self-doubt and blame spirals into becoming a pervasive attitude of disliking oneself and feeling guilty.
How can we prevent this? Well, there are a few techniques we can use. They aren’t necessarily easy, especially when a feeling of guilt has entrenched itself into our psyche, but over time they will help you feel more confident and happier, and improve your self-esteem. The first thing to do is just try and notice when we blame ourselves for things, and try and put that blame in a wider context. It is important to foster an understanding that blaming ourselves for things in a way that doesn’t seem malign will snowball into a pervasive feeling of guilt. This is where mindfulness comes in: by being mindful of when we have these moments of self-blaming and self-shaming, we can acknowledge them and divorce them from how we feel about ourselves in the main.
Let’s do a little demo. Think of a time you’ve made a mistake that you’ve blamed yourself for. Start with a small mistake, because a huge mistake could be a little overwhelming. Take that mistake, and then run through the overall consequence of what that mistake was. Was it somebody dying, or losing touch with someone forever? Probably not. The consequence of your mistake, in all likelihood, was not proportional to the amount of blame you placed on yourself. If a friend of yours had made the same mistake, would you have put as much blame on them as you did on yourself?
A lot of the time, we blame ourselves because we can’t handle the idea that we are good and competent people, especially if we’ve built up a self-hating attitude towards ourselves. Huge achievements go out the window, and tiny mistakes are blown up in your mind so that they become huge errors that originate only from your own stupidity or selfishness. In other words, our minds present to us something that is not actually the case: they make your mistakes seem insurmountable and your achievements seem mediocre.
If we notice ourselves engaging in these acts of self-blame, we can change our thought patterns. We can correct ourselves by replacing our mind’s irrationality with objective truth. When you suddenly blame yourself for a mistake you’ve made, let’s imagine you forgot to run an errand your partner was relying on you for, you don’t do anything to help the situation. You make yourself stressed out, you feel worse, your self-esteem goes down, but you don’t make things any better. Instead, think about the actual consequences of your mistake: your partner might be mildly annoyed, but the errand can be run some other time. Notice your mistake, acknowledge it, and forgive yourself. Over time, you will be able to stop blaming yourself disproportionally for your mistakes and start living your life with confidence and happiness.