In the legendary book, The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck identified two fundamental maladaptive responses to stress, pressure and failure to meet the ongoing demands of life. Both of these responses lead directly to increased stress, anxiety and the myriad of physical health symptoms that follow, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, burn out, adrenal stress and fatigue, low immune system and even larger lifestyle and disease-related concerns that manifest over the course of a lifetime.
Dr. Peck affirmed that when things in life go wrong, we tend to (1) blame others or (2) blame ourselves. In modern psychology and psychiatry these two patterns are known as symptoms of classic character disorders and neurosis, respectively. When we look at these core patterns, as well as an alternative to them, we can shine light on one of the primary causes of stress related illness in modern life and propose an ongoing, long-term solution.
Blaming Others (Classic Character Disorder)
We all know the type. The other-blamer can’t seem to get it through his head that others are not really responsible for his mistakes and for how difficult life can be. What we don’t often realize (due to our annoyance, perhaps) is that this other people blamer, in order to justify his distorted perspective, must be emotionally invested in the assignment of blame.
The other-blamer is viscerally affected by his blaming. He is actually angry, frustrated, annoyed and generally stressed out by others who so consistently sabotage his success and ruin his chances for peace. If the other-blamer were not so emotionally invested, he wouldn’t even believe it all himself. This is the high stress lifestyle of blaming others – it is an emotional gambit. And it causes the same high stress that leads to chronic stress-related disease.
Blaming Self (Classic Neurosis)
Self-blamers take on too much personal responsibility. Always apologizing and wondering what is wrong with themselves, neurotics suffer their way through life’s challenges. They spend time wondering how to improve themselves so that they can operate on an even playing field with the rest of us. Self-blamers suffer from similar distortions in perspective as other-blamers, only they turn their blaming ways inward and pile on themselves.
Aside from being non-productive, the burden of all that responsibility for everything that can go wrong in life is also a source of chronic stress that tends to fester day and night. Again, the blame manifests viscerally as anxiety, depression, confusion, discouragement, fear and a host of other emotional investments in the belief that self is to blame. The outcome for physical health is no better for the self-blamer than for the other-blamer.
Both the self-blamer and the other blamer are missing something important: a genuine sense where responsibility lies. Ironically, both types are engaged in avoiding personal responsibility, even the self-blamers. By piling on themselves, self-blamers burden themselves so heavily that they become ill-equipped to do much about problems. This evasion of responsibility manifests when you propose simple solutions to them, which they tend to write off in one way or another, leaving themselves with no other option than to suffer.
What to do? This all depends on your tendencies toward self and others. Here are a few things to consider:
1. If you tend to blame others, recognize this and open yourself to the reality that you may be much more responsible. You may find this new perspective empowering. If you are more responsible, then you are more in charge of the outcomes in your life.
2. If you tend to blame yourself, step back and realize that other people do have responsibilities. They can let you down, make mistakes and simply fail you. This doesn’t mean they are bad people, but merely human, just like you. You may find it a relief that you are not responsible for everything that goes wrong in life. Others deserve some of that credit, too.
3. Consult others. Through all of the smoke and mirrors of your psyche, mixed with that of others, it can be tough to determine a healthy level of personal responsibility. Good news: You don’t need to be precise. Consult with others. Be honest about your tendency. Share your questions and concerns. Find a balanced perspective and, most importantly, move forward in a new and different way.
In other words, flip it! Flip the responsibility away from your core pattern, reversing its stressful effects on your body and freeing yourself from the chains of self and other blame. Your stress level will plummet and you will wonder where the other side of life has been. Most importantly, a clear and productive path ahead will become much more obvious.
Blame-induced stress, whether self-blame or other-blame, delivers a heavy physical burden of stress that takes a steep toll on our health. Getting clear on your particular lean toward neurosis or character disorder, is a first step toward finding relief.