One thing I’ve become increasingly aware of is how I take good and useful life principles and twist them in a way that encourages being mentally brutal to myself.
One of these major life principles is accepting responsibility for everything, even when it’s not your fault and there’s not always reason behind everything that goes wrong — bad things happen to you even when you don’t originate them.
Normal and emotionally stable people interpret this as “do what you can to move forward and overcome.” And accept what they cannot change because there’s no use in trying to control what can’t be controlled, at least not within their power for the time being.
But me? I have diagnosed depression, severe anxiety, chronic fatigue, and a history of abuse (which is not taken seriously because it’s in the form of emotional rather than physical and people assume middle class kids are “doing fine and have no problems” and should never complain about anything even if something hinders their own emotional development).
I beat myself up to the point where I am not efficient or effective. I make lofty and grand goals only to have them either tossed by the wayside or severely delayed — which is the major reason why I feel guilty (and regretful) about starting officially writing online at age 25 and not 20 like those I both envy and admire.
I understand all of those things are counterproductive and this distorted thinking pattern can be classified as an addiction — but some days I am so depleted and downtrodden that I can’t help but fall into it.
Thus, I interpret “take responsibility” as “take all the blame and use it to beat myself up.”
I know this is not true, but I cannot help but sabotage myself this way.
It’s a sick and twisted way to feel like I have more power just because I have a harsh and overly pessimistic outlook that protects me — after all, I can’t be beaten any worse by the outside world as long as I am the most brutal to myself and quick to catch my own faults first, right?
It’s an outward response that shows I’ve been internalizing years of not having my emotional needs met, being neglected, and not having any of my concerns taken seriously at all.
It’s a “high-and-mighty” stance that also simultaneously lowers me to abject humiliation — taking the blame means I am at both extremes of how I view myself. It gives me an illusion of power that tells me, “I am so tough that I believe everything that isn’t in my control is in my control and I can change it if I punish and discipline myself to build my willpower hard enough.”
But what does this actually look like when applied?
Situation 1 — Getting rejected by companies you never wanted to work for but you only applied because acceptance would mean an ego boost and something to overcompensate for your insecurities.
Emotionally healthy people accept that they aren’t a good fit and move on. Or they use it to self-evaluate and see where they might need to spend extra time to make themselves more marketable. Or take extra classes. Or admit that they didn’t like the job and seek something that’s better suited for their interests and experiences. They’re taking responsibility by being proactive.
But me? I blame myself for being worthless because I was born weird, stupid, and unable to think conventionally. I blame myself for things I have failed to do years ago, even if it isn’t even relevant to the present moment. I search out every little detail about myself that makes me inferior by default and believe that nothing good will ever happen even if I try because I am not enough for the world.
Situation 2 — You don’t follow your strict six-month side hustle plan (even when you recognize that you added far more than you could handle, due to certain limitations you can’t control).
Emotionally healthy people know how to be flexible and adjust accordingly. They celebrate what they have done but also try to figure out how to do better next time.
But me? I blame myself for things I can’t control that definitely have factored into being delayed — the pandemic, my depression, my chronic fatigue syndrome, etc. I blame myself for not working enough like a perfectly able-bodied person who’s capable of doing two jobs and half a dozen side hustles within a 15-hour period, even if my physiology is not on the same footing as theirs. I blame myself for being too weak.
Situation 3 — Someone gets mad at you.
Emotionally healthy people realize that the problem is not them, it’s the person who’s angry. They understand that someone’s misdirected anger doesn’t make them any less of a person.
But me? When someone is angry at me, I immediately blame myself even when I didn’t do anything to cause it. In the instances where I did cause it, the blame increases tenfold.
I begin to spiral into a cycle of panic and worry and overanalyze all the moments that led to that particular person lashing out. Over time, I find myself taking the blame when anybody gets angry. It must be my existence that makes the whole world angry and I have to change myself to be so unrecognizable that they won’t get mad at me anymore.
Situation 4 — Someone else is ahead of you in something you want to get really good at.
Emotionally healthy people understand that someone’s success doesn’t necessarily mean they are failures. They have a growth mindset and know where to improve and how they can achieve more in a reasonable timeframe. They recognize that they will not outpace others, but they try to challenge themselves to get better because the point is to make their own lives more enriching and enlightening, not to show off how fast they get there to make others jealous.
But me? I blame myself for falling behind. Yes, it is true that I am behind, if you were to look at measures objectively, but I use that to blame myself for my unworthiness as a human being.
Taking the blame shows brokenness and an insatiable need to prove others wrong.
I realize that the harsh way I treated myself was all about proving myself.
Oh so you think I am not enough? Well I can show you that I believe I am not enough too and I will punish myself for it!
It’s defensive thinking. It’s not actually moving me forward in a proactive manner but it’s only moving me backwards and into a place of stunted growth compounded by fear, in which all I expect is harsh treatment and ridicule from anybody who finds out that I am not good enough in anything.
I do not want to think or feel or live this way. I do want to improve myself, but not in a way that emphasizes this extreme form of self-abuse.
It’s counterproductive. It’s insane. It’s not helping me build my life back together again. Instead, it’s only corroding it further.
If you struggle with this problem, you have to look at your own life and evaluate what you need to do and not give a damn about extraneous things that aren’t relevant to your life goals — blaming yourself will only keep you stuck.
Focus on the career path that you actually want to be on, not what looks good on the surface.
Focus on the people that you genuinely want to connect with, not the ones who you feel like you have to prove something to or outdo out of spite.
Focus more on what you can do within your means and not blame yourself for what is impossible to control.
Focus on a vision for your own future that balances being out of reach with being enough for you. You want to push yourself but you don’t want to do it to an unhealthy extreme that makes you want to punish yourself for not reaching the very top in a ridiculously short amount of time.
Because having less (but a little more than what you have now) than that can be more than satisfying — you don’t need to be world-class to feel happy about yourself, you just need to evolve into the best “you” that you’ve always dreamed of becoming.