Do I Blame Myself or Everyone Else?: Finding the Third Option

“Amy, I just can’t. My heart is broken into a million pieces, my life is in shambles, and nothing is working for me.” Val’s body was shaking as she sobbed in a corner of the couch. In the past two months her life had changed drastically. Her partner of twenty years revealed she’d been having an affair, her father fell and broke his hip, and her adult son moved back into the house.

“I feel like I’m drowning. I try to tread water but the next wave comes and I’m tossed about like a piece of seaweed. How can I get the waves to stop?” Val has never experienced this level of pain before. Until recently she had a loving marriage, her parents were healthy and happy, and her kids were out and about doing well in the world.

Challenging life experiences and suffering often result in two consistent reactions. Some people begin to blame the world around them, focusing on everyone else and getting stuck in anger or, in extreme situations, revenge. With this reaction Val might spend months of her life screaming about the incompetent family around her and how they should hurt “as much as her.” Other people focus inwardly and blame themselves. From this perspective, if only Val had seen the signs she could have sought out counseling with her partner, gotten her father into an assisted living facility, and worked with her son on budgeting skills. This reaction can result in depression, guilt, and shame.

Val experienced both of these reactions in the past, which is why she came in to see me. She was hoping there was a third option that might help her get through in a different way. Val and I worked on making time and space for her feelings (which were a rollercoaster these days), while still accomplishing her (now extra) life responsibilities. We talked about how to prioritize in the midst of crises, and discussed how to access her support system more effectively. Part of being human is going through difficult times. We can’t avoid challenges, but we can come out the other side with a little bit of grace.