Emotions and blame

I am super emotional. I feel all the things all the time, whether or not those feelings are mine alone or are feelings I have absorbed from someone near me. (I have a love/hate relationship with that part.) One of the big projects or efforts in my life is to find healthy ways to deal with, process, and accept my emotions, in a way that doesn’t dismiss the legitimacy of my reactions but that also doesn’t inflict undue strain on my relationships.

One of the biggest emotional areas of struggle for me is how to deal with feelings of hurt. Specifically, how to handle issues of blame when I am hurt. When is blame appropriate? If I’m hurt or angry, what does that mean about the situation? When do I need to hold someone accountable (in my mental life or in reality)? When are my negative feelings my own and when are they the result of someone else acting hurtfully?

Probably one of the biggest, most freeing lessons of these past few months is my realization that I’m allowed to feel what I’m feeling without blaming myself or someone for those feelings. When I am hurt, I don’t need to try to find someone to blame. My hurt can be about a neutral situation where no one is really at fault. I can just accept my hurt as my hurt, and that hurt can be legitimate even if I don’t claim someone did something wrong that resulted in my hurt.

In these “blameless” cases, I think the hurt can be something real of me, a real, authentic reaction to something said or done to me. I can own the hurt as part of my way of engaging with the world (an outcome of my beliefs, views, and perspective) without judging myself for feeling that negative emotion.

In some ways, I’m looking at some of my hurts as one might look at grief at the passing of a loved one. Someone dying of natural causes is a difficult, painful thing, but no one is to blame for that death. It would be horrible and cruel to tell someone the pain of their grief is their fault or that the pain involved in their grief is the fault of the person who died. I think some of our emotions can fall into that same category, and that we too often want to find an agent of blame — not only to make sense of the hurt, but in some small way to make us feel better. Blaming is cathartic to hurt while inflammatory to anger. It turns hurt into anger sometimes, and anger can feel the better of the two. There is righteous feeling in anger, a sense of being on the right side of history that we assume the perpetrator of our hurt (and now our anger) is not on.

So maybe releasing the blaming aspect can free me up to learn from the situation, rather than focusing on reshaping the hurt into anger as a cathartic effort. I can look at the emotion simply as a way I am reacting to the world and learn to identify aspects of the situation that felt hurtful, even if no one did anything wrongfully hurtful to me. I think focusing too much on trying to find someone to blame can leave us blind to many more aspects of the situation.

Perhaps in some situations, out of a clearer view we’d still find someone to blame after all. At least then we’d have a better foundation for seeing that blame as justified rather than reactionary.

Anyway, this is a long-winded way of me thinking about how best to understand the messiness of real, broken people bumping into each other and of me trying to navigate all the weird feelings that tell us a lot about ourselves and the world, but that don’t always tell us complete things.

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