Self-Blame is Toxic and Unhelpful…But It’s Fixable!

Self-Blame is ToxicWe all experience “self-blaming” at times. But because self-blame is toxic, it means we are devaluing ourselves and denying the humanness in us all. I am well versed in this subject because even though I am a trained and licensed psychotherapist, I will still do this from time to time.

When I experience self-blame, I know this is coming from the little girl inside that didn’t know any better in growing up. I never understood that we are all human and infallible. We all make mistakes along the way in life.

Here is how easily we pick up this damaging habit:

How and Why I Self-blamed for Many Years and Still Do at Times

As a little girl, I was alone much of the time when I wasn’t at school. My older brother was always with his friends. My mother had insomnia and would sleep during the daytime on most days, and my father worked six days a week. This is important to mention because this was most of the cause of my self-blame.

As a little girl, I grew up thinking I “should somehow know better” about most everything in life. I thought everyone else already knew how to navigate in life and that somehow I was supposed to know the “how-to” of this already.

So, coming into adulthood was the same struggle for me. I didn’t question what I knew and continued to blame myself for small and silly mistakes along the way. It never occurred to me that if I had questioned some of my experiences and checked it out with an adult or even my friends, I may not have been so hard on myself. I would have realized we all make mistakes, and that is the humanness in us.

If I had known what I know now, I would have known and understood that self-blame is toxic.

Why Self-Blame is So Toxic and Doesn’t Work

Self-blaming is toxic because it’s about shame and the expectation that we all “should know better” and not make mistakes in life. It often comes from the little girl or boy inside us still, who could not understand how “life” really works. And most often, those limited ways of thinking stay with us, and we don’t know to question that thinking.

But, unfortunately, as a child, you often feel it’s your fault, not your parents’. Please realize that we don’t fully develop until about 23 years of age in males and 21 years of age in women. (sorry, guys, those are the statistics). So don’t be too hard on yourself, or your parents for that matter as well.

But as an adult, we can take ahold of this dynamic and make a positive change in our life, once and for all.

Examples of Self-Blame

  • Expecting yourself to “know better” and not make mistakes.
  • Believing you are the only one to do “dumb” things.
  • Feeling embarrassed that you exposed your “wants” and hopes to someone who didn’t share those same things.
  • Not getting hired for a job you had really counted on getting.
  • Being “overlooked” at work in terms of promotions.
  • Misunderstanding someone and thinking we “should” have known better.
  • Doing something nice for someone who didn’t appreciate our effort.
  • Missing out on financially beneficial options.
  • Continuing to blame yourself even after making a positive change

These are just some examples of common experiences where people will blame themselves for not doing better in a given situation, which are good examples of self-blame being toxic.

Breaking a Self-Destructive Habit

Breaking a bad habit that doesn’t work for you involves multiple behaviors over time:

  • Recognizing when something is not having positive results for you
  • Identifying what is not working.
  • Understanding why something is not working
  • Seeking assistance if you need help with this move.
  • Practicing the new habit or behavior/decision-making that will work better for you.
  • Being willing to give yourself time to develop a new habit
  • Recognizing those times when you revert to the old way that didn’t work for you and figuring out why you did that without self-blame.

This may look like a huge task. But it isn’t if you allow yourself to learn along the way and without judging yourself. When you fall back on past unhealthy behaviors, redo the current behavior positively and more effectively.

This works even when a particular act or behavior is already done. The main point is to forgive yourself and re-state the healthier behavior you are practicing along the way.

Creating a New and Effective Habit to Move Forward

For example, you allow someone to bully you, or they get you to do something you are uncomfortable doing. Here’s what to do to move forward:

You can recognize that an old habit surfaced again. This will help you to be aware of it in the future. You are human, and all people need to practice a new behavior before it becomes a more permanent practice.
Next, think about what a healthier response would be for you with this situation in the future.

You may want to talk to the person and tell him how you feel and what works better for you. You may not make a difference in the outcome, but you will be honoring yourself and practicing standing up for yourself for the future.

Also, you will be aware of unhealthy behaviors in others that don’t work for you.

Making Peace and Forgiving Yourself for Your Mistakes

For most people, this may be the most difficult part: forgiveness of Self and seeing the humanness in yourself (and others). Most people are not brought up with these experiences and teachings. Remember, this is not taught in school, so how do people know and learn these skills?

I’m sure you can look back on how hard you’ve judged yourself for something you regretted doing. To me, we all learn along the way in life.  I most value that I learn along the way – not that I “should” have always known better.

Therefore, as you can forgive yourself and lose the “judging,” you will find that you can move forward. It’s amazing to realize how strong “self-blame” can be. Often, it comes from early childhood experiences where the little girl or boy could not understand that parents don’t know everything, so it’s human for them to make mistakes.

Final Thoughts

Making peace with challenging times allows you to move forward towards what nourishes and fulfills you. Remember, self-blame is toxic, hurtful, and unproductive in life.

Most important: To move forward, you need to leave the “emotional garbage” behind. This means forgiving yourself and others and seeing the “humanness” in us. It doesn’t mean that what you or others did is “okay.” It will likely never mean that. However, you can’t move forward without letting some negative experiences go.

Be well.

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Dating, Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on YourTango.com and on MSN.com.

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