I’ve been working on understanding the concept of the shame to blame cycle for a while. It’s one thing to hear someone teach it, but it’s another to internalize it, and yet another to implement it. After many opportunities to do both, I think I’m starting to get it!
All of us have been stuck in it at some point, in “the shame game”. For most of us, when we feel like something has gone wrong, the go-to emotion is shame.
“This is my fault”.
“If I had made a different choice, this wouldn’t have happened”.
“No, wait a minute…”
(We don’t like feeling shame, so we jump to blame.)
“This is your fault”.
“If you hadn’t…
Then I wouldn’t… and this would have never happened”.
You know how it goes. Ricocheting back and forth from shame to blame. We get stuck in the loop, and it’s hard to get out of it. This gives rise to anger, resentment, frustration, and disconnection. And after it all, we still wonder why our relationship(s) feel so strained; we just can’t put our finger on it.
It’s a Trap!
This trap is deceivingly disguised as a solution, bouncing back and forth from shame to blame. But in reality, it only makes us feel miserable, which we don’t want!
We want to feel peace, joy, happiness, and all those higher-energy emotions that feel good! But we can’t when we are stuck in shame and blame. It just doesn’t work. Sometimes the loop goes on and on for days, months, or even years. The shame game is one no one can win.
I want to show you how to break free from the loop and invite connection back into your relationships. First let’s break down the cycle –
The Dynamic of the Shame to Blame Cycle
1. We step into shame
Something goes wrong. “Oh no, it’s my fault. I’m so stupid; why didn’t I see this coming? How could I be so foolish? I’m so embarrassed. I hope nobody sees this mistake I made. I don’t want anyone to know. I never get it right. Why do I always mess up? This always happens to me! Why can’t I figure this out?” Misery ensues. You are stuck in it.
2. The shame turns into blame
Thoughts rush in like, “No, wait, this isn’t my fault. Blame feels better than shame, so let’s go there. It wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t do this… They didn’t plan ahead or think things through. They weren’t paying attention. If they were, I would’ve never been put in this situation. It’s not my fault, it’s their fault.”
3. We build our case and seek support
“You see what happened… if they had done this or that, then this would never have happened. See, it’s totally their fault. They are to blame. They are the ones who should be punished. Right! I mean, really, don’t you see how I’m right and they are wrong?”
Gathering and presenting evidence to gain support from others feels very empowering. It feels good for a time. You feel powerful and justified. Yes, I am right and you are so very wrong. It’s not my fault, you are to blame.
Here’s the truth: when we build our case and evidence for blame, we really just become a victim. A victim is powerless.
We feel powerful in blame, but it’s only a short-term solution.
You’re probably wondering, “How do I get out of it?”
How to Get Out Of The Shame Game
It starts with looking at the situation with curiosity – from different perspectives and applying compassion and grace to yourself and the others involved.
Drop judgment and the need to be perfect or to do things a certain way. Don’t get too attached to the outcome. Allow for human nature and imperfections.
Here’s a story:
It was dark, I didn’t have a light. I was floating down the Salt River on a paddleboard for the first time. We had been on the water for 2 hours, and it was taking much longer than we anticipated. I was feeling anxious, not knowing how much longer until we would reach the parking lot. It was difficult to see and understand the terrain. I was worried that I wouldn’t recognize the spot where we needed to get out. Everything looked the same. The trees and foliage were thick at the edges of the river and it was challenging to see landmarks.
The river was flowing at a calm and steady pace, and I was at ease on my board. In front of me, I had a small dry case with two sets of car keys and my brand new iPhone. A few minutes before I had taken my iPhone out to check GPS to see our location. We were making progress, but we still had a few miles to go.
Then we were hit by a storm
Earlier that day, while planning for the trip, we estimated it would take about 1 hour to float from one parking area to the other. It didn’t take long after being on the water to realize we were very wrong! After being overcome by a thunderstorm, I was feeling a little rattled and ready to get out of the water.
The trip started out magical. There was a storm behind us, but my husband was convinced we’d be done before it hit. However, within thirty minutes, we were in the middle of the thunderstorm. Luckily, the rain and the wind were not overwhelming, but the lightning and thunder were scary.
I looked ahead to where my husband was on a paddleboard in front of me. A fork in the river was coming up quickly, and I followed his lead into a narrowing passageway. The current picked up speed and pulled me to the left side, even though I wasn’t ready. From my seated position, I grabbed my paddle and started frantically paddling away from the trees, but the current was too strong. I laid down hoping to go under the trees, but they were too low, and my paddleboard hit a branch and launched me into the fast-flowing current.
In front of me, just outside my reach, was the dry box, floating down the river. I frantically tried to catch it, but it bobbed out of sight. It was dark and I couldn’t see much. I yelled to Anthony, “The box, the box, I lost the box! See if you can catch it!” He yelled back, “What? I can’t hear you!” The rushing water was too loud.
The Dry Box Was Gone
Our keys, my phone, our GPS, were all gone. We had no light. No moon. I floated to the end of the narrow passageway and got out of the water safely. I tried to walk back upstream to get to my paddleboard, which had lodged itself under the trees, but the current was too strong. I got out on the bank and pushed my way upstream through thorny mesquite trees and bushes. Finally reaching my board, I pulled it free from the branches, and floated down to meet Anthony. I tried searching for the box, but it was too dark. It was impossible to see if it had been caught up in the branches after I fell from the paddleboard.
I was embarrassed! I lost the box. After I used my phone I didn’t secure the box to my board. The river was calm, I had no reason to think things would be any different downstream. I floated to Anthony and had to explain what happened. Then the questions came, “Why didn’t you secure it to the board?” Shame, pure shame washed over me… and then my thoughts of blame came flooding into my head. You said it would only take an hour, and we got caught in a thunderstorm. We could’ve been struck by lightning! Why did you only think it would take an hour?” And on and on my brain went to… blame, blame, and more blame. This is HIS fault. Not mine.
So The Shame Turned Into Blame
But the stinging fact was I was the one who didn’t secure the box to my board. It was ME, 100% me!
We continued to float. The magic was completely gone by then. We were irritated with each other and didn’t talk much. We floated on and on. After a while we could no longer tell how far we had gone, and began to wonder if we’d overshot the parking lot. The trees were too tall for us to see landmarks. We decided to go to shore and see if we could figure out where we were.
We lifted our heavy paddleboards out of the water and started walking with them. Finally a horse fence popped up on our path and we and started following along it searching for a high point. We walked for a while, though I’m not sure for how long. My hip was bruised from resting my board against me to support the weight. My sandals were wearing blisters on my feet. But still we kept walking. Finally, we saw some lights in the distance. From that point, Anthony was able to understand where we were and decided that we still had a ways to go on the river before reaching the parking lot.
The Feelings Fester
We got back in the water, more somber and quieter than before as we floated slowly down the river. The river bends towards the main highway as it approaches the dam, and we finally began to see lights on the highway after a while. Eventually, we found our way back to the parking lot. Four hours later, at 10:00 pm, we finally reached the car. The parking lot was completely empty. No lights. Luckily, Anthony’s car had a keyless entry. We had cold water in the car and his wallet. Then we started walking into town…
We were safe. We were protected. And eventually we got home safely. We returned the next day to search for the box. After spending the whole day on the river looking, we traveling home tired, irritated, and with no success. Monday was a recovery day. We decided that on Tuesday we’d make one more attempt to float down by the dam to see if we could find the box.
Monday afternoon I got a call from a Verizon store in Tempe, AZ. “We have your phone and your keys.” I was relieved beyond belief. All the drama of the past few days seemed to melt away as we reclaimed our keys and my phone.
Shame Does its Best to Linger
But the memory of the shame and blame we became trapped in lingered. Years before, I heard Jody Moore talk about the shame-blame trap. I had tried so hard to understand and implement the concepts. Sometimes I did a great job, but others… not so much! This time was different though. I still experienced the pain and suffering of the shame and the blame… but this time I was seeing it from two different perspectives. Once from my old self, and then from my new self, my true self, the one that understands when the shame-blame trap shows up.
My mind was in a tug of war, one side pulling for the shame-blame trap and the other pulling for the emotional freedom you achieve when you step out of and stay out of the loop.
I didn’t do it perfectly. But I did a much better job than I had ever done in the past. I recognized the pattern. I indulged in shame and blame for a little while, and then was able to pull myself out of it. I didn’t walk away from the experience with more resentment and anger toward my husband. I stepped into compassion, empathy and grace.
So how does the shame-blame trap show up in our life and relationships?
Remember, this is how it plays out: Something goes wrong. “Oh no, it’s my fault. No, wait, this isn’t my fault, it’s your fault. It’s totally your fault and here’s why… Yes, I am right and you are definitely wrong. I am the victim.”
There is a better way.
But You Can Get Out of the Game
My husband and I have talked about what happened several times since, and both of us agree that we have grown and have evolved into a more loving and connected relationship because of the things we have learned.
Always choose love, even if you have to fight for it… meaning, even if your brain wants to be mad or resentful or angry.
Fight for love. Be a warrior for love.
Continue to Break the Cycle
If you’d like to learn more about these concepts and deepen your understanding and emotional connection to yourself and others, click here to check out our Ever-Evolving You: Emotional Healing Collective Program.
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This post was written by Eclipse guide Laura. After spending years desperately searching for new ways to heal her mind and body, Laura was finally introduced to Emotional Release. Since then she has dedicated her life and career to helping others find the emotional and physical healing that transformed her own life. She does this through her works as a registered nurse and a health and wellness coach, and now sharing her insight as a founder of Eclipse. You can learn more about Laura here, as well as the other passionate women behind Eclipse Meditations.