Self Blame and Control

The concept of "free will" that is so discussed in philosophical circles naturally involves one thing: choice. If we have a free will, then we can choose. Every choice, however, has its consequences, both good and bad. There is quite a difference, though, in ponying up to the results of your actions and blaming yourself for the outcome.

It might come as a shock to some of you that I'm not the shy retiring type. I typically don't find myself wallowing in blame and self-pity when something goes wrong. The one exception is regarding projects at work and school. I also know people who are like that 24/7, their little Atlas shoulders holding up the world.

I got thinking (always a dangerous pastime for me) about why, exactly, someone would find themselves trapped in a pattern of always blaming themselves for everything. Though I do understand that there are childhood links to behavior, I also think the issue of self-blame goes far deeper. It's not about blame, it's about control. If I feel I am responsible for something- even if it's my fault if it goes wrong- I have a sense of control over the issue.

I'm a backseat driver. It takes every fiber of my being to keep my bloody mouth shut when someone else is driving. Sometimes, it is that my friends are frightfully incompetent behind the wheel of a car. Mostly, though, it's that my annoying comments and suggestions are a way for me to feel more in control of where the vehicle is headed, short of seizing the steering wheel from the driver. That's why terrorism is so scary: there's not a whole lot you can do. Emergency preparedness is as much about allaying fear as it is about actually preparing.

So, if it's your fault that your father died of cancer, then you can have the feeling that you could have done something about it, that you could have had some control. Most New Year's resolutions are centered around control: get more organized, quit smoking, lose weight. Controlling your life better.

I could deliver a long lecture about the futility of self-hatred and blame, but that's not what I'm getting at. This isn't to say that you shouldn't take responsibility for your actions- far from it. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that humans naturally want a feeling of control in their lives, an ability to chose and deliberately effect their lives. And blaming yourself does give you that feeling, in a roundabout sort of way.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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