Welcome to the 2nd part of this two part blog series, in which we focus on feelings of fault – more specifically, feeling like everything is your fault. It can big fault or little fault, it can be fault that is not actually yours to bear, but you feel it, you internalize it, you feel guilty nonetheless.
Blech, who needs that?
Part 1 – I Believe Everything is My Fault: Here’s 3 Reasons Why – came out last week. The purpose of it was to give you some context about my personal experience with fault and involved me doing a deep-dive into why I believe this and project this belief onto myself. My reasons why may have resonated with your reasons why, and if they do – amazing. This week’s post is where I give you solutions to halt the belief that everything is your fault, as well as counter feelings of excessive fault and guilt. These are solutions which I continue to use and put into practice, when I find unnecessary fault arising within me.
Solution 1. Recognize that you are not your thoughts
Alternative Title: Confront your reality
One of my biggest concerns when it comes to excessive feelings of fault/guilt, as well as overthinking, is that once I experience feelings of fault, they make a nice little home for themselves in my mind and stay put. Once they’ve taken up residence, I have a really hard time:
- a.) Letting the thought go (and when I try to let it go, it usually stays put even more);
- b.) Not viewing the thought as true (I think them, therefore they must be valid/my reality/accurate), but most importantly within the context of Solution 1;
- c.) Not viewing the thought as an extension of me (I think them, therefore they are a part of me/they are me).
Sure, you think these thoughts, there’s no denying they came from your noggin’ (unless this is some alternate reality with a government who’s implanted micro-chips into the brains of it’s citizens which enforces mind control dear god I am spiraling down some deep dark rabbit hole of conspiracy theories asdfmlgh send help).
Sure, they pertain to your lived experiences… but they can also attack your lived experiences, they can become negative and self-harming, they can lead you to act out on impulses and feelings which may not be in your best interest. They can influence you to believe something which is not true (a la Lindsay is a garbage human being who can’t get anything right and everything is her fault). They can cramp your style and make you feel like shit about yourself.
But just because your mind sways you to believe such things…. Are they your reality? Are they truly you? I would wager the answer to those questions is no. Asking yourself such questions can really help you to recognize that you are not your thoughts and assist in unwinding your brain from whichever twisted path it’s found itself on.
Does it feel like you are truly at fault for everything? Yes.
In reality, are you truly at fault for everything? No.
Does it feel like you are a horrible human being who’s screwing up constantly? Yes. In reality, are you actually a human being like everybody else on this planet, who occasionally is at fault and makes mistakes but are able to learn from them and become a better human as a result? Yes.
Key Take Away:
The reality of you, the “lived you”, is so much more heartfelt, kick-ass, hardworking, authentic and gentle than your mind’s perception of you. Frankly, it’s about time you sent your mind for a time-out in the quiet corner because it hasn’t been doing you any favors.
If you are having trouble inwards, seek council outwards through family and friends when you are waging war against your inner thoughts. Your loved ones might be shocked you think such things of yourself at first, but my guess is they will proceed to calm you down and give you a boost like those stars you can run into for invincibility in Mario Kart.
Solution 2. Practice Mindful Visualization Techniques
Alternative Title: Watch Your Thoughts Fall Off a Cliff
One evening, I found my mind veering into it’s all your fault territory – primarily over concerns about an upcoming interview and it going badly (more so a fear of failure and a lack of belief in myself), as well as feeling guilty for taking a mental health/sick day. Despite waking up feeling physically and mentally crappy, my mind turned on me and said “you are letting your office/colleagues down, you should feel bad about it“. I’d also had a great track record of no sick days the entirety of my employment, and had up until that point wore that as some sort of badge of honor. So I also felt guilty over breaking that streak in some weird, twisted way.
Rather than lie awake, staring at the ceiling, dwelling on the supposed horrible human I was, I decided to mentally visualize my negative thoughts coming and going.
Mindfulness can be a fantastic tool to practice remaining in the present moment throughout the comings and goings of our often busy lives. We can use it to build up the mental strength to recognize negative thoughts or thoughts which do not serve us well that are present in our mind, to acknowledge and accept these thoughts, but not give them the attention they crave or seek. However, when we add in a visual element mentally, it can especially help to elevate the practice of mindfulness in that we can picture the thoughts as exiting or being dispelled from the mind.
A common example is imagining your thoughts are clouds in the sky drifting by. You see them, you acknowledge them, but no need to fixate or focus on them, they’ll just float by. The physical action of a cloud floating by and out of our view, can assist in ridding ourselves of negative thoughts. Another example could be visualizing your thoughts falling off of a cliff. If you’ve ever watched the Roadrunner cartoons, envision your thoughts as a cartoon Wil.E. Coyote hovering over then falling off a cliff, where he usually finds himself amidst his pursuit of the Roadrunner.
In my instance, I visualized myself standing on a subway platform. My thoughts are the subway cars that have pulled into the station. I can choose to get on the subway and ride along with those thoughts and be carried away. Or, I can stay on the platform, watch the doors close and the subway cars pull away down the track and disappear into the tunnel.
Key Take Away
When we add in visualization techniques, we allow ourselves further room in our minds to visualize unwanted or unhelpful thoughts and feelings, coming and going. Visualizing can also provide a physical end result in our mind’s eye, which allows us to dispel the negative thought even further.
Solution 3. Work to Care Less and Recognize What You Can Control
Alternative Title: Becoming a Human Who Feels Less Fault May Involve You Giving Less of a Shit.
I’ve said it before that if there’s a reason I fixate on things, it’s because I care. This is true – I care and take pride in my work, and I care about my relationships with family, friends and romantic partners…. but sometimes too much. And caring too much has had a fun little side-effect of making me feel guilty and at fault about things I don’t need to.
So i’m working to take things a little less personally and give slightly less of a shit.
Take a look at this
notmadeupin30minutesusingMicrosoftWord entirely real, data-driven bar chart of how my levels of caring are improving – isn’t it an amazing scientific feat??
Recognizing what you can and can not control will also help you to care less too. Can you control how much you contribute to a project at work? Can you control that your kids’ lunches are made, that they make it to school on time? Can you control how to respond before reacting in heated situations with your partner, with friends, with strangers through mental progress?
Can you control people’s opinions about you? Can you control the outcome of a project? Can you control if your partner’s feelings towards you will always stay the same?
These are all just examples, but the point I want to hit home with you here, is that if you can not control an aspect of your life (for example, people’s opinions, or the outcome of a situation), why would you (also, why should you) continue to concern yourself with it, or care about it? I know first-hand that it can be really hard to not concern yourself with what people think about you, but by concerning yourself with an outcome or an aspect of your life which you have no control over, this will only bring you more stress, anxiety and worry. The outcome will be whatever the outcome will be – all you can do is try to be a good human and try to do your best throughout the process leading up to the outcome.
Of course I get it – there are many facets in your life that you cherish and you care about and by extension have or don’t have control over, but there’s a fine line between caring and caring too much. If caring too much is making you feel at fault or guilty for things that you have no reason to feel at fault or guilty for, then release thy grip on giving thy shit.
Key Take Away:
In the most respectful way I can say this – Care less and Chill out – about work, about your critical inner voice who holds you back from doing what you want to do, about people’s opinions of your very valid, very sacred hopes, dreams, decisions, opinions, choices, and especially about if you mess up (because it will continue to happen – welcome to the realm of being a flawed human, here’s your membership card).
Solution 4. Give Your Fault a Deadline, then Let It Go
Alternative Title: Leave Your Fault in the Dust
Recognizing and owning up to when you are actually at fault within a situation can be humbling, but to be able to forgive yourself for being at fault, to make peace with it and to be able to move forward, is where true empowerment lies.
Let’s say you’ve found yourself in a situation in which you are legitimately at fault – i’m not talking made up fault in your head, or something out of your control which went poorly, which you then internalize as your fault – i’m talking, you f****d up. Thereafter, you’ve addressed the person and/or the situation directly, you’ve taken the steps to right the wrongs, you’ve asked the other person how you can make amends, you’ve expressed remorse and you’ve apologized. As far as i’m concerned, all of the core components of a respectful make up process have been completed.
If you still feel at fault after the situation has been resolved, I suggest giving your feelings of fault a deadline. You can’t allow yourself to continue to live in the past if the situation has been addressed and resolved. However, this is not always an easy thing to do when you are someone who tends to feel a lot of fault, or even someone who overthinks. The deadline can be however far in the future you want – it’s ultimately up to you however long you need. So long as you take the time before your self-imposed deadline to recognize your feelings associated with the fault and to make peace with those feelings. Once the deadline has come and gone, the fault stays behind with that deadline, and you move forward, with a peaceful and clear mind and conscience.
Key Take Away:
Recognize when you are legitimately at fault, feel remorseful/bad/sorry/sad whatever other emotion you need to express and/or experience to work through the process, make amends as best you can, give yourself a deadline if needed, then move on for your sake.
Solution 5. Be Mindfully Present in Conversations
Alternative Title: Avoid ‘Boy Who Cried’ Wolf Behavior
Apologies are often (or, are) a by-product of feelings of fault.
I messed up + I am at fault = I should apologize
But as I touched upon last week, sometimes feeling of fault come about when we have no reason to feel at fault – when we haven’t messed up or done anything to warrant those feelings. Then the equation may look more like this:
I messed up + I am at fault = I should apologize
I am one of those individuals who apologizes excessively, or who apologizes for things which don’t warrant an apology.
I realized that as I became more excessive in apologizing, the less legitimate the act of apologizing and the apology itself became – it became less valuable. It’s a boy who cried wolf lesson in apologetic behavior – the more I apologized and tossed my “sorry” around, the less the apology carried true weight, and the less meaningful it felt when I apologized for something which I was legitimately at fault for.
At the beginning of 2020, I made it one of my goals to say sorry less, to gradually reduce the times I find myself apologizing for things which do not need an apology; a goal i’m glad to report I have stuck with. I became more mindful of what I was about to say before I said it, I changed my responses so sorry wasn’t my default. As I became more mindful of when I said sorry, I also found myself being more present in conversations with others. Because I no longer allowed myself to run on apology auto-pilot, I had to ensure I was attentive to what others were asking of me or were saying. Only then was I able to focus on if my apology in the moment was really warranted (no Joyce I haven’t seen the copy room stapler, I ain’t apologizing because I haven’t seen it.).
Be mindfully present in conversations – don’t zone out. Recognize there is power within an apology, but there is also power in playing a conscious role in knowing when to say it.
I hope you will find these solutions helpful – even just the act of writing them out for you has helped me so much and I thank you for reading. If you have solutions which you use in your own time to counter feelings of fault or guilt, feel free to share them in the comments below!