In terms of emotional, psychological and spiritual health, blame and shame seem to be acts of self–destruction. They are related in that we must buy into the moral systems that birthed them for their negativity to infect us. Blame and shame, whether projected onto others or oneself, are not objective or universal observations—rather narrow and particular perspectives emerging from specific ideologies. For blame or shame to have any power over us we must agree with their ideas and subject ourselves to them.
For example, when teachers are blamed for a student’s failure, the blame only has an impact if teachers buy into the ideas that they have full control over their student’s learning outcomes and that students’ success or failure is their responsibility. Otherwise failure (or success) is the result of a more complex intersection of forces. Likewise with parents, many fathers and mothers are ashamed of the decisions or life choices of their children because they buy into their own visions of how their children’s lives should be. Holding onto visions of how things should be and castigating ourselves (or others) when those visions do not manifest is harmful because we cast ourselves in an ugly light and stagnate in self-pity rather than practicing acceptance of conditions we don’t have the power to change. This is not to exculpate parents, teachers or any of the rest of us who do not responsibly exercise our duties—which is another topic.
Blame and shame diverge a bit in the way they creep into my consciousness. Blame seems to be less subtle and more external, at times an instinctive and immediate reaction to not getting what I want. I don’t usually have trouble expressing it publicly. I cast passionate judgments of government, educational systems, environmental policies, religions, neighbors, family members, partners, and co-workers emphasizing how their failings have undermined my visions of paradise. This type of external blaming is hypocritical since my own actions do not hold up to the judgmental scrutiny I project on the world. The other type of blaming—self-blaming—shows me wallowing in self-pity. Even when I HAVE acted irresponsibly, there is rarely a healthy reason to dwell on the error morbidly. Taking action to make amends and moving forward compassionately brings flow to what was the stagnation of blame-based self-loathing.
Shame, on the other hand, settles in slowly or appears phantom-like when my thoughts associate my present situation with a particular standard or expectation that I perceive as unrealized. I compare myself to what is expected and see myself as “less than” or “not measuring up”. Shame is usually the feeling that follows this thought process. Noticing when shame shows up is always tricky for me because my mind is always comparing and contrasting—it’s what minds do. When I witness the negative emotions, I trace them back to the unrealized expectation. Then I look at the expectation itself—is it programming from a materialist world, an old belief system, education systems, family ideologies or a hierarchical society? Seeing the origin of the emotion tends to dissolve its heaviness. This process also uncovers unhealthy attachments to outcomes whether genuine or programmed.
In general, dwelling on unrealized dreams and projecting negativity onto myself or others for not conforming to arbitrary ideas takes me out of the creative moment and keeps me from moving closer to the world I am in the process of dreaming into existence.