[This post is part of a series on overcoming guilt and blame for good. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
My past three posts on guilt and blame have been about beliefs and models. Now let’s look at behaviors to solidify and augment that change. Belief without behavior doesn’t change your life and no one can tell anyway. Belief consistent with behavior changes your life.
Today’s suggestion is to be curious about causes of your feelings of guilt and blame and act on it. All too many people ask “Why would they do such a thing?” rhetorically, angrily, not looking for an answer. Yet the answer, if they took a moment to search for it — and the change in perspective, which is the greater challenge — would diffuse their counterproductive emotions.
So ask and find answers to the other person’s motivations (or yours in the past). You don’t have to agree with their motivation. But find an answer. Of course they have motivations, just like you do when they blame you. And as with you, the more you understand their motivations, the less you will be able to blame them.
If you don’t understand their motivations, you cage yourself into unrewarding and painful perceptions of their behavior, in conflict with theirs. You force yourself to assume the other person intended to harm you. You disable yourself from changing their behavior because you assume they are just that way. You force yourself to be self-righteous when you assume they are bad. Who wants to interact with self-righteous people?
Acting on curiosity humbly communicates that you want to understand. Since you would have behaved differently but everyone does their best according to their perspective and abilities, they must have a different perspective and capabilities than you. You have something to learn from them, leading to quite different reactions than common reactions like counterattacking, explaining yourself, withdrawing, or the like.
More important then being different, the reaction is effective. To respond with genuine curiosity about the other person’s motivation when they messed up or behaved in a way many would consider blameworthy is disarming. It’s hard for others to escalate conflict when you’re genuinely and blamelessly asking open-ended questions. You have fewer confrontations. What conflict you have melts away with understanding.
People like working with those who understand them when they do something they wish they hadn’t. You don’t even have to forgive them when you don’t feel they did something wrong.
I’m not suggesting you accept unrewarding situations or people. Of course, try to improve the situation, but that’s looking at the present and future. Arguing over a past that can’t be changed doesn’t help.
Next time I’ll talk about actively improving the situation.
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