‘Now you’ve done it!’ She yelled at him triumphantly over the rooftop of the car, or what was left of it. ‘Do you see it now? You can’t go on like this! You have to get some help!’
Her accusations battered at his already-shocked state. His neck bulged in frustration as blood rushed to his face. How dare she blame him? She had started it. She always started it. It was her fault!
‘None of this would have happened,’ he hissed back at her, ‘if you had kept your mouth shut when you knew I didn’t want to talk. You made me angry. It’s your fault that our car is wrecked now.’
‘But you were driving that car,’ she chewed on the words with a too-familiar sneer. ‘You should have been able to listen and keep driving like a sane person. You lost control!’
Was it just his imagination or did she look a bit satisfied with the situation? Did she enjoy seeing his failures?
He couldn’t look at her any longer. Instead he moved forward to inspect the damage. The front of his once-trusty blue Mazda was gently wrapped around a tree. The radiator was clearly bust and it wouldn’t be driving anywhere. Maybe never again. The image of finality touched some eerie place within his body and dissipated his anger. His body suddenly sagged with relief.
They were both still alive to yell at each other. A lucky accident indeed.
‘You were talking about my work,’ he turned back to her, now calm in his argument. ‘You know I don’t like when you talk about it. You know it winds me up.’
‘So when will you talk about it?’ She replied quietly, but there was still that infuriating air of righteousness around her. ‘I can’t stand it when you refuse to talk about your problems.’
‘And I can’t stand it when you do.’ He stated this as a matter-of-fact, holding a tight lid on his feelings.
’But you –‘
‘No, stop!’ He almost lost it again, but turned and fumbled for his phone. She should understand that he has to deal with the car. Why doesn’t she just shut up and let him deal? Clearly, he had lost his temper while driving, but all had been as much her fault as his. He’s also the victim here. The thoughts stoked up his anger again and he silently cursed his wife for doing this to him.
‘Bloody hell,’ he muttered as he searched for a car service number. Then, finding one, he looked back at her. She was standing so innocently at the side of the road, blissfully unaware of her own culpability. ‘Think about what you’ve done while I call the service,’ he said with ice in his voice. ‘You owe me for half the damages at least.’
But as he waited for the service to pick up, his pained eyes ran over the crumpled front of the car and the vexed woman standing next to it. He felt his shoulders slump. It is my fault, his thoughts whispered in bitter acknowledgment.
My decisions, my failures, my shame. This is all my fault.
Whose fault was it?
When I think about the act of blaming someone, I get this image of dark clumps of foul-smelling substance being thrown around like soft mud-cakes that splatter on impact, landing where they may and making everyone look a little bit dirty. The stones that we cast are heavy in our hands.
Still we can’t help but choose it. Blaming another often seems better than the alternative of drowning in our own guilt, feeling lost among the broken pieces of our own soul.
Someone (else) has to be responsible for all the bad stuff that happens. Someone (else) has to pay with their life or their money or suffering. Because we are all such precious special snowflakes, trying our best to be good and loving, that someone can’t possibly be us.
How bad does it feel?
A friend of mine recently said, ‘I always feel guilty, no matter what I do. It’s a constant. I’m never good enough.’
I got curious about her statement. Personally I didn’t think I always feel guilty. I mean… maybe I do, but I try not to think about it, if that makes sense.
So I experimented. I sat in a quiet place and summoned the feeling of guilt.
My jaw muscles tense and my lips purse up. I clench my throat shut, removing any chance of expressing myself. My upper body slouches, and there’s a hollow space in my chest area as if something had shut off the light of my heart. It feels as if I have less permission to exist. I shouldn’t be alive or not as alive as I would like to be. And worse, I’ve been so bad that I feel like I deserve all the bad and worse in return. Death doesn’t seem too bad.
Yikes. That felt like being trapped in slow hell. Intensely uncomfortable, but hard to get out of. No wonder people do almost anything to avoid this state of feeling. Instant self-forgiveness for all my coping mechanisms.
I switched gears. If feeling guilty feels that bad, blaming another should make me feel better, right? How would I feel when I grab an imaginary fistful of the blame-sludge and hurl it at someone?
Tightness in my chest, as if I first need to squeeze my heart shut before striking out. Relief that I feel my heart, even if it’s tight and tiny. Around this central tightness, my body shrinks down. I feel small and insignificant. I don’t matter as much. The person I’m blaming has the power to decide how I should feel, how I have felt. Anger wells up inside me. They must be punished for their insolence. For the power I have given them.
Interesting. No matter which side I was on, I lost power and aliveness. Feeling guilt and blaming another were both a trip to the underside of things. Towards feeling trapped, small and powerless.
I wasn’t done. There was one more feeling to explore. Remember my friend with her perpetual sinfulness?
Most of her guilt didn’t come with someone pointing fingers at her. She managed all on her own. I mean, we have access to so much information about what ‘right’ is, so we don’t have to wait for someone else to guilt-trip us. We can DIY.
What does it feel like when I blame myself while also feeling guilty?
Again, that circle of tightness around in my heart, as if it has to be a certain tiny size for the blaming to work. But the energy doesn’t go outward. I don’t feel smaller, I feel… superbly inadequate. There’s a heavy burden on my shoulders, one that I can never put down, because the guilt, it lives inside my shoulders, right next to my neck. I can feel it tickling my vocal cords as if it can control my expressions. As if I has to.
My shoulders prickle even as I write about this. Is that the reason my neck and shoulders are always in a dire need of a good massage? Not because I sit and distract myself at the computer for too long…
… but because I just feel so damned guilty for being an imperfect human.
The gift of guilt
What you resist, persists. I’d almost bet you’ve heard that saying.
If you push on the ground, it pushes back. The more you hit your head on the wall, the harder that wall will feel.
The same, I think, is with guilt. The more I try to get away from feeling guilty, the more guilty I will feel. The only sane way to approach seems to be to own it. To take responsibility of the guilt itself.
I feel guilty.
Therefore I must believe I’ve done something wrong.
I am a human being with choices and I carry responsibility for my choices.
Therefore I can do something about it.
I can do something to feel better.
Now, instead of focusing on or distracting from the feeling of guilt… Can I directly address the subject that made me feel guilty in the first place?
Can I allow myself to feel guilty and then… change my behaviour?
If I think about it like this, perhaps my guilt can become an amazing catalyst for growth.
Your life, your responsibility
Guilt is like a signal, a message that something in our actions and reactions doesn’t feel right to us. Only when we feel it, can we assume responsibility for the way we live and experience our own life. When we feel it, we can heal.
No matter how much we may dislike the thought, we are responsible for our life.
Not for all the bad stuff that happens around us. Not for the decisions that others make. Never for that. But we are responsible for the way we choose to meet the world. For the way we react and decide what to do about the state of things. The choices we make among the war and the chaos and the changes in the atmosphere.
Visualise the story of your life. You have made choices, done something or not done something and the result of some of your actions has gone against your own soul, violated something within you.
Perhaps you have said yes when you should have said no. Stayed put when you should have allowed yourself to move on. Abused your body with excess substances or not enough sleep. Or maybe you have sold pieces of yourself for money, sex or companionship. Overindulged, did something reckless and self-sabotaging. Decided you don’t deserve to be loved. Hurled your anger and loneliness at someone with the aim to hurt them. Feel free to complete the list.
Someone noticed and pointed it out. Or you read an article that pointed out the error of your ways. Now you feel guilty for your choices.
As long as you think it’s not really your fault, you will not get out of the cycle of abusing yourself or others. You can never run far enough from your own reflection or the itch in your shoulders.
As long as someone else is to blame for your actions or your feelings, you are trapped in a prison of your own making.
Trapped by the fact that since it’s not your fault, you can not fix it. You will live your life like a helpless child, waiting for someone else to step in and finally ‘do their duty’ and take care of you.
When we accept unconditional responsibility, no-one can be our puppet master ever again. No-one else can make us do or feel anything. Not our friends, not our spouses, newscasters, politicians, managers or customers. We decide how we react to the world around us, without blaming the weather or god or our neighbours.
Like a hall of mirrors, the world around us will surprise us again and again by showing us all that is truly inside us. All that reacts within us, all that lashes out or draws close.
In your life, you are your own worst enemy and your best friend. You are your jailor and your saviour. You are the one you’re most afraid of and most yearning towards.
Even if your life isn’t full of rainbows and unicorn, it’s full of you. In your personal version of human experience, there has never been anyone but you. And all you do or feel, is your choice.
You may assume all the bad stuff that happens is your fault. You may run from your feelings. You may face them. You may hurl a volley of shit-stones across the world. Or climb a tree. Take selfies. Read a book. Kiss a cat. Do ten ridiculous-looking cartwheels around the house. Or sit in the sun and watch butterflies while nibbling on a semi-ripe strawberry.
Your life. Your time. Choose wisely.
So, whose fault was it? The car crash.
All mine. I made up the story and the characters.
But imagine if the fictional man and his wife both owned up to their personal feelings, their inner struggles with fear and shame. Imagine that they chose to make this the luckiest accident of their lives.
If they took the car crash as an invitation to share intimacy and vulnerability with each other. To admit to their fears to each other. If they listened to each other, unclenching those tight blaming hearts and allowing the beauty of loving acceptance and commitment to dictate their life onwards.
I’d like to think they did.