The sweet taste of blame
Following a relationship-dissolution in my mid-twenties, I decided to participate in a few counselling sessions to help me deal with my grief and shame. The kind counsellor wanted to start by talking about my childhood. Together, we remembered things I’d forgotten or hadn’t considered to be that momentous. Until those sessions my childhood was just what it was. I never thought that my upbringing was anything but normal. Of course, I understand now that no one has a typical childhood. Everyone’s is different.
Listen to me read this post:
At the time, though, it was very sweet to look back on how my parents had “wronged” me and hurt me. I’m not sure the counsellor intended this, but I left each session thinking, “This situation and pain isn’t my fault! If it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be in this mess right now!” My declaration was partly true in that if it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be anywhere right now.
Back then I really enjoyed being given permission to criticize the upbringing my parents provided. I hadn’t really gone there before and I liked the ride. It was exhilarating until the blame slowly formed into a hot ball of anger that sat burning in my stomach. Then I knew I’d ingested too much delicious blame.
The rule of 35
Occasionally I hear people talk about how they were mistreated as kids by their parents. I have no doubt that their stories are true and their pain is real. I also believe this kind of thinking sprinkles salt into wounds that should be allowed to heal.
Is there a cure for some of these old hurts? The good old hard work of forgiveness is the best remedy, but it’s not quick and needs to be done repeatedly. One injection of forgiveness is often not enough. We have to keep getting booster shots to keep our hearts open.
A remedy I developed for myself is the rule of 35. Here’s how it works: If we’re 35 years old or more, we have to stop blaming our parents. We’ve had time to do the necessary repair work and we’ve had time to move on. Any dumb decisions we make at or after 35 are completely and wholly down to us.
And if you’re a parent (disclaimer: I’m not) and your kids are over 35, you can’t take responsibility for their failures or their successes. It’s been too long since you raised them and too many other factors have steered their life’s course. Your past actions and influence are pretty watered-down by now. You did your best. You’ve grown and your children have grown, too. We can remember them, but the people in those old family photos don’t exist anymore.
Uncertain and impossibly young
Speaking of old family photos, I recently saw some photos of my parents as newlyweds. That handsome couple looked impossibly young and very uncertain. Indeed, they were young in those black-and-white pictures, nineteen and twenty-one.
The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. ~ Ajahn Brahm
Seeing my parents so young and so obviously trying to please their own parents, I realized they didn’t have all the answers. Heck, they didn’t know anything. I know this because at nineteen, I didn’t know anything. How can I blame these kids for doing what they thought was best or, at worst, doing the only thing they knew how to do?
My parents brought to their marriage and child-rearing their own pasts and their own pain. It’s up to me, though, as an adult to not continue the legacy. The fault-finding ends here.
It’s my own damn fault
I love Jimmy Buffett’s 1977 hit ”Margaritaville” in which the narrator finally takes responsibility for all the decisions he’s made that have ended him up where he is now. There’s optimism in this happy-sounding but ultimately sad song.
The lyrics outline a healthy progression from apathy to self-acceptance in three steps.
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame:
- But I know it’s nobody’s fault.
- Now I think, hell, it could be my fault.
- Now I know it’s my own damn fault.
Sure, the song’s main character is still at the bottom of a well, but it seems the cover is off and he can see the light of day. I think he might just climb out yet with responsibility and acceptance forming the rope ladder.
Yes, it feels terrible to admit to ourselves that we’ve made poor decisions and behaved badly. No one enjoys it but if you’re alive, you’ve probably made a choice or two you’d like to go back and change.
I heard a Buddhist teacher on YouTube say something like this: The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. I don’t know about you, but depending on the day, I need to walk out of that cage several times between sunup and sundown.
Our freedom lies in shouldering responsibility, picking it up and saying, “Yes, this is mine. It doesn’t belong to anyone else.” The chains fall off when we accept, not dodge, the fact of our mistakes.
Our personal history only holds as much importance as we imbue it with. If we think our past hurts control our lives, then we’re stuck. If we can instead think, “Yes, that’s a part of me but it’s a small part and it doesn’t matter that much anymore,” the cage door of the past swings open and we’re free to walk out.