Blame: a five letter word

Many of our biggest, more unpleasant emotions are just facades. We blame because we feel vulnerable.

When things go wrong, we’re wired to quickly and immediately decide why. Us humans: we’re logical creatures, and we want to understand patterns and reasons. Couple that with the inevitable disappointment and frustration we feel when plans change and you’ve hit upon our dirty, might-as-well-be-four-letter word: blame.

When things fall apart, we seek to find someone to blame (even if it’s ourselves) because being able to blame someone for failure makes us feel more in control.

Finding a reason for why things went south gives us the sense that if we just work harder or if others just do what they’re supposed to, all will go right. All the time. If we just stay on top of it all, there will be no bad things. No pain. No loss. No disappointment.

When you hear it like that, it seems pretty ridiculous, right?

When messes get made, many of us see a consistent pattern emerge of either deep self-recrimination (“I messed up! This is my fault!”) or deep anger at someone else (“I can’t believe this happened! This is all his fault!”)

Here’s the thing: when things turn out differently than we planned, we inevitably feel upset about it. Rather than deal with those upset feelings by blaming ourselves or others, we can choose to attend to our own disappointment and pain. It’s much scarier to sit with sadness and loss than it is to turn that sadness and loss into an action: anger, blame, frustration—leveled at ourselves or our loved ones—but being present to the underlying feelings of pain is what we actually need. When we’re upset that things are messed up, we need to pause and take a moment (or many moments) to offer compassion to ourselves.

Pause. Breathe. Offer compassion to yourself.

Because the truth is that when things go wrong, most often no one is really at fault. Accidents or mistakes happen or unforeseeable problems occur and there’s nothing you or anyone else could do to prevent those things. There’s no amount of control that will keep us safe. (And maybe that’s because there’s no true “safe,” but that’s another post.)

Even when there are causal relationships to unpack, blame is different from accountability. One is a discharge of unpleasant emotion. The other is a mindful, logical, calm exploration of how to solve future problems.

Many of our biggest, more unpleasant emotions are just facades. We blame because we feel vulnerable.

We get to choose, though, what to do when we feel upset. We can take the ugly emotions and throw them at ourselves or someone else. Or we can get quiet. Close our eyes. Breathe. And offer ourselves deep compassion and love for the pain and disappointment that we feel.

Have 15 minutes? Do some yoga!

Neck and Shoulder Release Sequence

  • Standing or sitting, begin by lifting and lowering your arms, bringing your hands together above your head. Inhale as you lift and exhale as you lower, moving with your breath. Repeat this 5-10 times.
  • Next, stretch your arms out in a T position, palms facing forward, thumbs facing up. Reach toward your back-body space, until you feel some engagement in the space between your shoulder blades. Either hold here and breathe, or gently pulse, as if you’re “flapping your wings.” Explore for 10-20 breaths.
  • Release your arms and shrug and roll your shoulders. Let these movements be spontaneous, and follow what feels best for you for about 10-20 breaths.
  • Come to a seat, in a chair or on a bolster or blanket on the floor. Your legs may be stretched out or crossed.
  • Reach your left arm behind your back. Either rest the back of your hand on the small or your back or reach your hand over to your right hip crease. Drop your left shoulder and then tip your head to the right. From here, you can take your right hand and gently pull your head down and to the right. You might need to tuck your chin or lift your chin a little to get the best stretch. Hold for 10-20 breaths.
  • Repeat the previous instructions on the right side.
  • Next, drop your chin toward your chest. Either hold there or, if it’s safe for you, bring your hands to the back of your head, allowing the weight of your arms to help the back of your neck open more. Stay here or slightly move your chin side-to-side. Explore for 10-20 breaths.
  • Finally, take your hands to your chest just below your sternum and press in and pull down. Keep this hold and lift your chin to the sky. You can stay here or start to turn your head slowly side to side. You can even jut out your bottom jaw to intensify the stretch. Explore for 10-20 breaths
  • Finish by returning to shrugging and rolling your shoulders or doing gentle rolls of your head, if that’s safe for your neck.
  • Rest in savasana or seated meditation for the remaining minutes of your practice.


Want more yoga goodness?

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Read and subscribe to Yoga for Aging Athletes! I posted this week on the best way to come to standing from a forward fold:

A common cue you may hear in a yoga class is to “roll up to standing” as you move from a forward-folded position back to standing. But for those of us with athletic builds or aging bodies, there are better and safer ways to return to a standing position. Read more…