Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Does pointing the finger help? Fault versus responsibility

In therapy, the subject of blame often comes up. We can feel reluctant to talk about things causing us distress for fear that it seems we are blaming others, especially those close to us, those we care about. It can seem disloyal and that it's better to say nothing, to keep it all to ourselves.

Stepping stones across the waterIn psychodynamic therapy and counselling, we often look at the past and our upbringing - the influences and events as we were growing up. Are we just blaming the previous generation - stirring up bad feelings and making things worse? Perhaps we should just forget about the past and focus in the present.

However, we can still find difficult  and distressing things in the present. Do we ignore these too for fear of blaming? On the other hand, would it then be better to blame and get it out of our systems - point the finger and have done with it?....

Yet if we do point the finger, we may well feel empty and powerless - after all it's 'their' fault, nothing to do with us. It must be up to 'them' to do something about it. Therefore if we focus on blaming or not blaming others, we can go round and round in circles and feel tied up in knots - stuck. Where does that leave us?

I feel that the way out of this can be to see it from a different perspective. If we can think not about blame but rather about responsibility, then things can begin to shift. We can't take responsibility for what other people do, but we can take responsibility for how we react to them.

While we blame others, we are focusing on what we would like from them. We feel powerless. However if we instead focus on our own thoughts and feelings, this is likely to be much more useful for us. We can't take responsibility for others' actions, but we can take responsibility for how we feel in the situation. Accepting how we feel can be powerful. It gives us a starting point, something we can work with. Maybe surprisingly, taking responsibility for how we feel doesn't mean staying stuck. Quite the opposite! It seems to act as a release and allows us a focus and space to reflect from our own perspective and to make sense of things.

Putting how we feel and think into words, and using words to make sense of these thoughts and feelings, changes the emphasis.We get to know ourselves better and to have more understanding of ourselves.  We are no longer focused on everyone else and waiting for them to do something. We begin to get some sense of control and personal meaning in our lives.

Lin Travis Counselling Services