Blame is easy, especially when it comes to your porn problem. Why?
Because we don’t have to face the mirror. Facing ourselves as we really are is painful, messy work. To really see the ugliness inside threatens our entire network of excuses and forces us to see: I have a slice of responsibility here.
Every time I counsel someone, eventually I hear it.
“If it wasn’t for this city—this church—this relationship—my family—my job—my friends—then I wouldn’t be stuck in this addiction—this cycle—this problem.”
And that could very well be true. There are a lot of things outside our control.
Watch this video before you read on:
But when it comes to your porn problem, I want to discuss situations where we are engaged in destructive habits and behaviors, such as addiction or disengagement. I won’t speak to situations where others have legitimately hurt you outside your control, because no one can blame you for these things.
Here are three ways to stop blaming others and finally own our part of the problem.
1) Make a preemptive strike against blame: name it out loud and clear the air.
In the above video, author and research professor Brené Brown says, “The first thing you want to know is whose fault it is … Because it gives us some semblance of control.”
Our instant defense mechanism when something goes wrong is to say, “Tag, you’re it.” Our egos are constantly trying to protect us from feeling wrong, because we associate this with being unloved or unaccepted. All this makes a logical sort of sense, but it’s dangerous, because our initial instinct is to drag others down with us. This in turn only justifies and reinforces our cycle of destruction.
We’ve been down this road. “My boss is after me and I hate my job and my girlfriend clicked ‘like’ on some other guy’s picture, so I need to release stress—” which then gives us a mental permission slip to bow to our porn problem. We feed our bad habits with blame. This loop can go on forever.
Yet if we struck down this Hydra of Blame like a whack-a-mole before it got to others or ourselves, the inner monologue might change to: “My boss seems to be after me, but maybe I can ask him what’s really going on. I hate my job, but maybe I can find a better way to love my work or look for a better job. I feel a little silly about being upset at my girlfriend over a picture, but maybe I can talk openly with her about what that’s doing to me.”
Thinking this way, as Brené Brown implies, suddenly lets go of control and creates a scary uncertainty. But it also exposes our blame-game for what it is: an excuse to use, stay mad, or stay withdrawn. When blame is named, it shrivels up and loses power.
The way to cut off the first sprout of blame is to free ourselves and others from the immediate conspiracy theories that pop up in our heads, and to offer openness instead.
2) Specific accountability revokes the urge to spread the blame.
Brené Brown states a fascinating find from her research:
“Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability … People who blame a lot seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable, themselves included, because we spend all our time and energy raging for fifteen seconds and figuring out who’s fault something is.”
The more we blame, the less accountable we are. The inverse is true: the more accountable we are, the less we blame. This is huge when it comes to addressing our porn problem.
We’ve each had that weird moment in the shower when we remember the time we did something hurtful or embarrassing or just plain destructive. And we twitch. Or yell. Or clench a fist. Or we make up an angry justification about why it had to happen.
Our brains are always trying to restore the dissonance between “I ought to” and “I didn’t.” Somehow, we have to off-load this discomfort and pain of falling short in our lives. It might come out later at dinner in an argument, or at work on a co-worker, or alone with a computer.
This blame tactic is a shotgun spray. Imagine the mess you’d make if you filled a big bucket and swung it around in a huge circle. This is the “raging for fifteen seconds.” We do this all the time.
Instead, holding ourselves accountable as specifically as possible will dislocate our urge to spread the blame. It has to be specific and surgical. If our urge to shotgun the blame is like splashing that bucket on the walls, then our need to be accountable will have to be like a scalpel on a tumor. That means owning a piece of the responsibility pie.
This also means: Stopping blame means ending our demonization of the vague. No more “they” and “them” and “those people.” No more generalizations like, “I’m stupid” or “They’re bad.” Accountability is thoughtful, nuanced, and splits atoms down to real reasons. That’s how we repair the soul and find a better road away from our porn problem: by close examination of what’s happening and why.
3) Be gentle and generous with yourself.
The video has a remarkable point that goes by quickly:
“I’d rather it be my fault than no one’s fault.”
The implication here is: If I can’t blame others, I will blame myself.
In Brené Brown’s other research (especially in her book Daring Greatly), she shows that our capacity for compassion is directly related to how much compassion we have for ourselves.
So saying “It’s their fault” is a result of avoiding, “It’s my fault,” which means the blame game started with blaming myself. We blame others only as much as first blamed ourselves. This means: Completely killing blame can only be accomplished by a self-given generosity.
Most addicts I know are constantly sliding down a spiral of self-punishment and resignation. “I already messed up, so I might as well keep going.” They might blame others for a while, but underneath this off-loading is self-loathing. Blame says, “This is who they’re always going to be” and “This is who I’m always going to be.” It’s why we stay stuck in addiction and midnight arguments and resentful outbursts. If someone thinks they’re unloved, they’ll keep doing the things that keep them “unlovable.”
The best way out of your porn problem is to find the right balance between love and truth. It’s to have a gracious, gentle accountability, with a generous understanding of why we do what we do, without making excuses for it. Instead of pointing fingers, we point a way forward. “I did something wrong, but I can make this right.” This requires a mentor who is compassionate but convicting. It requires a friend who won’t let you off the hook but will receive you with open arms, always.
To stop blaming others, we must uproot the burden of blame we place on ourselves.
Someone has to be willing to stand up to you (and that might be you).
But someone has to be willing to offer grace, too (and that might also be you).
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