It's Not Your Fault... | The Psychology Company
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It’s not your fault…

It's not your fault

It’s not your fault…

It’s not your fault. It’s a bit like I love you.

These words are extremely powerful, can be used flippantly but when we really mean it they can be life changing.

Having been a therapist for over 20 years I have worked with people with a whole range of difficulties but there is one thing many people sadly have in common (and I include my former self in this) and that is a tendency to blame themselves for our struggles. This might look like a critical voice inside our heads, driven in part by human natures natural negativity bias, that says it’s my fault I am lonely or depressed or anxious. And the result of all this self blame is shame-we feel inadequate, not good enough, insecure, embarrassed and unworthy and needless to say this only exacerbates our suffering. So learning that our struggles are not our fault can free us from the shackles of shame and enable us to address our difficulties more head on (shame has an unfortunate habit of making us want to avoid) 

What do we mean by ‘It’s not your fault’


So let me explain what I mean when I say your difficulties are not your fault.

This is not some tockenistic saying or a means to let everyone off the hook from taking responsibility (more on that in a bit!) It’s acknowledging a fundamental truth that much of what happens to us in this life we didn’t choose. For example, We didn’t choose to be born, nor choose the genes that made us, nor the gender we had at birth, nor the emotions and desires that are a part of us. We didn’t choose our basic temperament, for example we know some people are born more shy than others. We didn’t choose to be brought up in the families we were-some of us lucky enough to have loving families whilst others will have had very difficult experiences and childhoods. We didn’t choose the country, town or culture that we grew up in, the school we went to or the time in history we were born. We have evolved in response to our earliest relationships, the way we were brought up and cared for as children and are a product of circumstances that we had and have no choice or control over. We also didn’t choose our mind, brain or body all of which has developed as the result of millions of years of evolution. Much of what goes on in our minds is not of our design and not our fault. We were designed to feel, want and need certain things and suffer when these needs are not met. We didn’t choose to have bodies that age and die, designed to feel pain and emotions that are uncomfortable. 


So the version we are today is only one of a trillion versions we could have been. We are a product of our biology and personal experiences, none of which we chose. As Dr Paul Gilbert, the founder of Compassion Focused Therapy, often says in his trainings…if he had been abducted by a drug gang when he was three years old he would not be the same version of Paul Gilbert as we know him to be! On a cognitive level you may know all of this but really emotionally believing and absorbing the message that the struggles you have are not your fault  can be really hard. The inner critic, that may have been internalised from others, often blames us for our difficulties and believes we are solely responsible for our struggles. This critic is fueled by social messages such as you have to pull yourself up by your boot straps and just get on with it. And it’s easy to compare ourselves to others and think everyone else is getting on with it  but the truth is that suffering is part of our common humanity. Learning that our difficulties are not our fault can help free us from the burdon of self reproach and self hatred which in turn can help us start to address our difficulties. 

Are we letting ourselves off the hook?


Some people think that believing our difficulties are not our fault is self indulgent and just a way to let ourselves off the hook and feel sorry for ourselves. But the truth is quite the opposite. This way of understanding our difficulties can actually helps us take more not less responsibility for the suffering we are experiencing. One reason for this is the more we blame ourselves for our problems the more likely we are to feel shame. Shame is a complex and tricky emotion that often leads to avoidant and/or unhelpful self soothing type behaviours such as socially withdrawing or overeating or excessive drinking.  So if we can reduce the shame that we feel then we may be able to start to address our difficulties in more helpful ways. After all it is our responsibility to find ways of skillfully working with our suffering but we are more likely to do this if we aren’t chastising and shaming ourselves.  


If you haven’t seen the film Good Will Hunting or you haven’t watched it in a while then I would really recommend you watch it. Not just because it’s a great film but because one of the most poignant scenes is when the therapist Sian Maguire (played by Robin Williams) tells Will (played by Mat Damon) that the abuse he experienced in his childhood was not his fault. It might be a bit Hollywood in it’s representation but it still captures the power of those four words.