“It’s not my fault.” We learn this phrase early and use it often throughout life. It seems like a safe harbor from blame, but it can be crippling. We say it’s not our fault because many of us (maybe all of us) have a reflexive wish to escape blame if we think it’s being assigned, or might be assigned, to us. Since defensiveness is a normal human reaction to a perceived threat to our sense of self, it’s understandable, but it can be limiting.
Sometimes we make mistakes. We choose partners foolishly and wind up in disastrous entanglements. We take the wrong job and maybe don’t excel in it as much as we might. We oversleep and miss an important meeting or arrive late when someone is counting on us. And then we think, “it’s not my fault.”
Long ago I got into one of those disastrous entanglements. I had enough awareness to know that I was doing something unhealthy but instead of thinking about how to fix it, all I could think about was defending my choice. Partly because I wanted to prove myself and partly because I was both immature and human, I became so keenly focused on how I wasn’t to blame for my circumstances, that I almost missed something much more important.
It wasn’t about blame.
No one was accusing me of anything (well, there were, but they weren’t worth responding to). It wasn’t my fault because fault implied that I had done something wrong. Thinking in terms of fault set up a defensive response. That said, It wasn’t my fault, but it WAS my responsibility. I was responsible for myself and my life. My life was a mess. I was responsible for fixing the mess.
Fault and responsibility. They’re just two little words, but it’s amazing how much things changed for me once I exchanged one for the other. Once I shifted away from thinking “it’s not my fault” and started thinking about responsibility, I went from being defensive to being powerful. When I no longer felt as if I had to hide from criticism I was able to apply that energy that had gone into defensiveness and use it to start working on the problem. Suddenly I had the power to set the course of my own life – to evaluate it and make changes if I wanted it to be different.
It wasn’t magic – it still took me a few months, and some hard knocks to get out completely, but I started directing my own life that day and really, I have never stopped.
Even when it’s something simpler like oversleeping – you can get defensive and say “it’s not my fault,” or you can decide that you’re the only person who can direct the course of your life in all the big and small ways, and then you can get a louder alarm clock.