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Blame Digs a Deeper Hole

Saanich News January 8, 2006

Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Family Counsellor

Dear Paul,

I’m mad and upset. My husband was away for three days on business and didn’t call me once as he said he would. I feel hurt. I want to hurt back or run away. We have a good marriage but at the moment I feel quite crazy inside. Help.

Dear Carol

I got it. There are times in our intimate relationships when things, big or small, really throw us. Something happens and we feel hugely upset - vulnerable, fearful, angry. As you said, a little crazy inside. We’ve all been there.

Being in a relationship invites us to navigate our way through moments like this.

What most people do when they’re feeling this way is “react.”

It’s a mystery to me why we choose to communicate when we are in our most insecure and troubled state, when we are most upset. Yet we do.

While reacting, the tendency is to blame. After all it was the other person’s actions that “made us” feel scared and hurt.

So first, Carol, about blame.

Every marriage counsellor will tell you, no matter how much fault we may find with our partner, it will not get you free. Blame digs both people in deeper. Blame creates lots of mischief, hurt, and misunderstanding.

Furthermore, when we blame, we give up our power. There’s very little freedom or effectiveness when our attention is soley fixed on our partner and their actions.

Finding freedom when we feel really upset requires us to look within.

This “ looking within” begins with stopping, taking a deep breath, becoming quieter, reflective. We give room to our feelings, without dramatizing them or doing harm to the other. We watch ourselves and all that we’re saying to ourselves. We become curious.

Because now we’re looking at our self we can pose some questions to ourselves -- questions such as:

Why am I so upset? What do I believe to be true here? What really happened? What am I making it mean? What is this feeling that’s got me? Where else have I known this feeling?

Through this kind of inquiry we may discover a very powerful principle. That is: we are seldom upset for the reason we think.

Consider this. Much of those very strong, deep, difficult upsets are triggered reactions from our past.

We all have a “memory file” of our very young experiences, early-childhood upsets, disappointments, and wounds. As adults, any event with any kind of similarity at all can trigger these early hurts.

When triggered, the whole wealth of emotions that we had when we were young is re-experienced, creating a confusing mixture of the past with the present. That’s how the brain works.

But you have to look for yourself to see if what I’m proposing is true.

So, Carol, What really happened? You say he didn’t phone you when he was away.

What did you say to yourself? What was the fear, the thoughts, that this event precipitated?

Perhaps you thought: “Something terrible has happened” or “I can’t trust him” or “ I must not be that important. “

What did you believe to be true about his not calling? Getting at this you are getting at the source of the upset.

Often when we inquire this way, a simple incident from the past reveals itself. Seeing this, we can then understand much more about our self and our strong reaction.

With new understanding we can now communicate to our partner what’s been happening with us. This communication is more like sharing, not blaming, and our partner may be able to hear us easier. It could sound something like:

“When you didn’t call, I was really angry. I was definitely making it mean that “you didn’t care, that I wasn’t important. I felt really hurt.’”

“When I was wondering about these feelings, I suddenly recalled my eighth birthday dinner when my father called and said he couldn’t come home from work to be at my party. In that moment I remember saying to myself : I’m not important to dad. His work is more important. As an eight-year-old, this idea was totally devastating to me ! “

“I think this is all mixed up in you not calling. I can see why it makes a real difference to me that you call when you’re away. It’s a big deal for me.”

When we discover the incident from the past that fuels our upset, there is a release of sorts, a new kind of clarity. Through self-reflection and understanding our selves we’ve settled ourselves. We can respond to things that happen clearly and effectively.

Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached at the Victoria Family Institute, 721-2477 or through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com.

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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