Imagine that you just made yourself the perfect cup of double bergamot earl grey tea. Ahhhh, fragrant and hot, in your favorite china mug– bliss. But as you reach to grab the organic whole milk, somehow it catches on your sleeve and crashes to the floor. Shatter! Mess! Disaster!!!
Is your first response:
a) Fucking stupid tea!!! Why don’t they make those mugs with better balance?!?!?! Nothing is made with quality any more!!! And I bet that counter is too slippery! Who let that happen?
b) I’m such a fucking stupid idiot!!! I’m so clumsy, I can’t ever do anything right! I’m the worst. I should just give up on all my dreams and go get a job counting toothpicks…but I bet I’m under-qualified.
Perhaps you, dear reader, think neither of those things. Perhaps you simply wipe up the tea with calm serenity and send the essence of bergamot into the ether with a breath of blessing. In that case, dearheart, you have already reached enlightenment and I’ve got nothing more to teach you.
But if, like most of us, it can be a total shitshow inside your own head sometimes, read on.
If you’ve been around for a while, you know that I believe that most of us are WAY more powerful than we know. The power of coaching oftem lies in helping people to accept ownership of their own choices. When we acknowledge that we have immense power over the decisions we make, we become incredibly powerful.
It’s a radical truth that we always can choose our next step, even in the most difficult of circumstances. It’s one that Nelson Mandela and Gandhi and Michelle Obama have modeled powerfully for the world.
But it’s tricky.
I realized that for some of my clients, there was immense relief in realizing that the world wasn’t out to get them– that they had, in fact, helped create the reality that they were currently pissed at. They had set poor boundaries, or never once ASKED for that raise they deserved, or tolerated poor behavior and trained the people around them to be assholes. Their mouths hung open. It was amazing!!! Freedom!!! Once they had that epiphany, they set merrily about making different choices that got them more pleasant results. It worked! Coaching triumph!!!
But for other clients, the opposite thing happened.
Some of my clients had no trouble believing that they had helped shape their own reality. In fact, they were 100% convinced that everything in their own lives was definitely their own fault, because they were so wretched and horrible and the truth was that EVERYthing was actually their fault, including global warming.
Traditional coaching conversations didn’t seem to be helping; in fact, they just made these women feel worse.
They had no problem dissolving their own beliefs; they were pretty sure that everything they thought was probably wrong, anyway. They meekly accepted responsibility for everything, even things that had happened before they were born.
I realized that much of the coaching philosophy I’d learned was designed to help clients who were “blamers,” who blamed the people and circumstances of their lives for how they felt. When those frustrated souls stopped blaming everything and everyone around them, and started taking responsibility for themselves, they felt immense relief and started to turn their lives around almost instantly.
But the same useful tools (taking responsibility, questioning their own conclusions) were AWFUL for the shamers. They were already attacking themselves all the time already, and it was like I was just handing them bigger sticks with which to flagellate themselves.
Their boss was an asshole? Oh no, it must be THEM who was the asshole! They didn’t like the way their husband spoke to them? It was because they weren’t enlightened enough; if they did their own work enough, surely things like that wouldn’t bother them!
Shamers have an amazing ability to use ANYthing against themselves, even noble truths and helpful self-help techniques. They can turn almost anything into proof that they are terrible horrible humans who hardly deserve to live.
(And I should know…I used to be a CHAMPION shamer myself. In fact, most of my favorite people are shamers. They also tend to be sensitive, insightful, intuitive, and compassionate. Even my beloved @epicdanger recently confessed to feeling guilty sometimes when someone ELSE spills their OWN damn tea. So there’s no shame in being a shamer. Haha, see what I did there?)
This single insight led me to approach coaching differently, with more humility and curiosity than I’d had in the beginning. It made me a better coach. Therapy is about diving into the history of WHY someone might be a shamer, which is useful and helpful work. But coaching is about moving forward from where you are right now. So here’s how you can apply this to yourself right now.
I bet you knew immediately which camp you’re in. If you’re a blamer, you will find enormous relief in asking how you might be contributing to the things that make you crazy.
But if you’re a shamer, your first step is to STOP taking responsibility for everything. Notice that you are actually responsible for very little in the world– just your own actions, mostly– and see if that doesn’t start to give you a sense of relief.
As you start to untangle yourself from everyone else, you’ll find that life can get a lot quieter and sweeter.
But make no mistake, this won’t happen right away. Your brain has had a lot of practice defaulting to the conclusion that everything in the world is your fault. It will take some deliberate mental lifting to build new neurological muscle.
So next time you feel like a terrible horrible no good worm, just whisper this gently to yourself.
“Wait! Remember that this MIGHT not all be your fault– you might just be blaming yourself because you’ve had a lot of practice being a shamer!” I promise, it’s a simple little lever, but you will be amazed at what you can shift with it.
Now then, dear blamers and shamers and jugglers and lovers all, I wish you a wonderful weekend. May the sun shine bright on your barbecues, may all your apples be crisp and worm-free, and may your cups of tea never spill. (But when they do, may you be so very, very kind to yourself.)
P.P.S. Do you know someone who needs this missive? Please share this link: https://declaredominion.com/2016/09/02/are-you-a-blamer-or-a-shamer/ wherever your people hang out online!