We ask, Why me? How did this happen? Who or what is to blame for my misery? We look for the root so we can understand what happened. We think that if we can understand how it all came about, we can somehow undo it.
The trouble with this mindset is that the only way to answer these questions is to find something to blame: the job, the boss, the stresses of life, the other driver, the doctors who didn’t see it coming, air pollution, fatty foods, genetics, a traumatic childhood, our spouse, or anything else we can think of. We imagine that there is one thing, one starting point, one cause. If we can find it, we can heal.
Sometimes it is useful to pinpoint the onset of pain, such as when knowing exactly how an injury or illness happened can contribute to returning to wellness. But once that is found, it is no longer helpful to continually go over the history of an injury or ailment, the mistakes, or who was responsible for what.
You might also build up resentment against yourself for not being able to get out of the fix you are in. I It wears on you and can create a negative sense of self over time. And you will undoubtedly also feel angry at the pain at times because it is so insistent and so faceless, a force that can’t be bribed, cajoled, or bargained or reasoned with.
Anger is understandable, and it can be very healthy, but keeping it around because you need someone or something to blame, including yourself, only serves to keep pain in place. Here are some antidotes to anger and blame.
Allow Your Anger, Then Use it For Fuel
- There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling angry about what happened and what you are currently suffering. In fact, for people stuck in depression and sadness, anger can be a very liberating force.
- Anger has a lot of energy in it. Rather than sitting still and feeling powerless, anger wants to move and change things, so it can be a very helpful emotion when harnessed for good. It can move people out of the doldrums and into positive action.
- However, once you have gotten in touch with anger, you don’t want to stay in it. It’s not helpful to continuously feel angry and blaming, even if there is something specific to fault. It simply isn’t conducive to healing.
- Anger that doesn’t move turns to bitterness. Use its energy to fuel your determination to recover, rather than let it eat away at you. Let it go and you are free to move on.
Leave the Past Where It Is
- If it is important to you, spend the time you need to make a clear assessment of how your illness or injury came to be, then leave it alone. If the cause is uncertain or a complete mystery, then make the choice to leave it as a mystery for the time being.
- Your energy and attention need to be on healing, not on who did or didn’t do something, or what exact circumstances were at fault. With the only exception being the times you may need to be involved in legal activities or a medical review, or if the cure lies in finding the exact cause, leave the past in the past.
- The energy of blame is always looking backward, and you need to marshal your resources in the present so you can heal and have a better future.
Let Go of Resentments
- I think of resentment as the quieter cousin of blame. Rather than accusing and pointing the finger, resentment seems to stem from a creeping and pervasive sense of unfairness.
- I noticed that I sometimes felt resentful that I was injured through my employment, but my employer was able to carry on with life as usual. I resented his freedom and normalcy, while I had to live with pain and debilitation day in and day out as a result of working for him. I felt it was somehow unfair that he carried on relatively unscathed (except for some financial ramifications).
- I resented having a doctor I had never seen before spend about thirty minutes with me and write a report that strongly influenced my disability settlement. I resented the way the workers’ compensation and disability system required me to keep re-proving my injury over and over again instead of actually supporting me to heal.
- Keeping these feelings around wasn’t going to get me anywhere positive. I had to learn to notice them when they arose and then decide to just let them go. In the interests of your own well-being, I would recommend letting go of resentments against anyone involved who has hindered your healing or given you bad advice or seems to be unsupportive. You just don’t have the energy to waste on blame and resentment. Instead, use your energy for healing yourself.
Hold Everyone and Everything Blameless
- As a second step to releasing resentments, decide to relieve everyone and everything of their burden of blame, including yourself, even if you feel blame is deserved.
- This can be challenging because many of our legal and insurance systems can be very adversarial, bent on finding out who is to blame, and we speak of pain, illness, and injury as if they are enemies to be overcome. It is easy to fall into that pattern, but it really isn’t a useful strategy for healing.
- The point isn’t whether or not you’re right and justified, which may well be the case. The point is that holding on to anger, blame, and resentment simply isn’t going to get you where you want to go.
Sarah Anne Shockley has lived with nerve pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome since 2007. She is a regular contributor to The Mighty and the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living with and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain (New World Library 2018).