The human brain is a funny thing. And one of its greatest quirks is that it will do anything—absolutely anything—to force a situation to make sense. People are meaning-makers. We crave understanding. And no matter what scenario we find ourselves in, we want to understand the “Why?” behind it and how it fits into our preconceived notion of how the world works.
This is why when things go wrong, we immediately start searching for a culprit. We want something or someone to blame for the problems we’re facing. Even when a situation is completely out of human control, we still rack our brains searching for ways the fault must lie with someone. Our brains simply aren’t satisfied until we can form an explanation and pin the blame somewhere.
I was recently reminded of my own susceptibility to this bias when facing an issue at my job. As I work with technology, I spend a lot of my time working out problems both small and large, and this one was a doozy. After frantically trying everything I knew to solve the problem and coming to the conclusion that it was bigger than I could handle on my own, I suddenly heard a voice. Not a heavenly voice, mind you. It was my internal voice, speaking as loudly and persistently as I’ve ever heard it before. And what it said was this:
”This is your fault.”
I’ve heard that statement from my inner voice a million times before, and every single time, I believe it. If only I’d done something differently, I wouldn’t be in this mess. If I were smarter or better at what I was doing, I wouldn’t have found myself here. If I weren’t such a failure, this wouldn’t have happened. And on and on.
It doesn’t matter if the situation is actually my fault or not. It doesn’t matter if the problem was caused by someone else or something outside my control or even pure circumstance. My brain can find a way to make anything my fault because it has to find someone to blame. Why not me?
Often, we think that we’re a lot more in control of situations than we really are. And often, we’re a lot more willing to offer grace and the benefit of the doubt to others than we are to ourselves. All this, combined with our need to understand our surroundings, can result in a vicious cycle of self-blame where we come to the conclusion that everything is our fault and tear ourselves down for it.
But, as I often have to remind myself, there’s no need for it to be this way. Because more often than not, that voice is a lie. There are so many things that happen to us that are outside of our control, and it’s pointless to blame ourselves in those situations. And even if something is our fault, it’s much more productive to focus on solutions rather than what cause the problem in the first place. Sure, we should learn from our experiences, but constantly berating ourselves teaches us nothing. It’s useless. And we don’t have to do it.
You don’t have to listen to that inner voice that tells you it’s all your fault. You don’t have to believe it when it says you aren’t good enough. You don’t have to put up with the self-berating and abuse.
What if, instead, we granted ourselves the same grace we share with others? What if we gave ourselves the benefit of the doubt? What if instead of saying, “This is your fault,” we told ourselves, “I forgive you even if you are to blame”? How much more could we accomplish? How much healthier and happier and more fulfilled could we be?
Right now, I’m working hard to learn how to show myself grace even when my inner voice says I don’t deserve it. To let myself off the hook for things that aren’t my fault and to forgive myself for the things that are. If you could use a little more of that, I’d encourage you to practice it today. You never know how far a little (self-)forgiveness can go.