Is blaming yourself for everything making life hard?

Girl in green padded jacket looking angrily at camera

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

If you’re always blaming yourself for everything, take note. It’s not always your fault! You don’t possess super powers. You can’t predict everything bad or that will ever go wrong. So why are you taking responsibility for everything and everyone?

For instance, consider the following range of situations. Would you blame yourself for them happening? Do you think you’re responsible for making everyone happy, or fixing what’s gone wrong?

Imagine the following scenarios:

1 Everyone getting drenched at a summer picnic you organised.

2 You missing a family wedding due to illness.

3 Your adult son spending his money unwisely.

4 A friend being dumped after dating yet another awful partner.

5 Your husband’s car not starting because it wasn’t serviced.

6 A relative being rude at a family gathering at your house.

Is it your job to fix everything?

Where does your responsibility start and end in these situations?

You may feel it’s your duty to ensure everything is OK. This may be especially true if you:

are highly conscientious

worry a lot about what others think

believe it’s your job to make others happy

fear others will blame you if things go wrong.

If you ticked any of the above, you may be blaming yourself for everything. You shoulder the burden for smoothing over problems when things go wrong.

And things will always go wrong.

Life happens

It’s a fact of life that nothing ever goes quite the way you planned. That’s just the way it is. No matter how much you try to control things, something will happen. Either nature or chance events will butt in at some stage.

So work out if you’re agonising over things out of your control. Often they have nothing to do with you.

Stop blaming yourself for everything

As you read this article, jot down similar situations to the ones above that may be happening in your life. Are you unfairly blaming yourself for everything?

Or do you need to allow others to take responsibility for themselves?

Be realistic

It’s important to be realistic about what you can control. In general, there are three classes of events.

Three classes of events

1 You can’t control some things at all

You can’t possibly be blamed for things that you have no control over. There is nothing you can do to change them. Examples would be natural disasters, world-wide financial trends, or wholly inherited personal traits.

2 You have partial control over some things

In contrast, there are some things you can control to some extent.

For example, your health, intelligence and weight are partially under your control. However they are affected by genetic factors as well.

In addition, you may sometimes partially influence what someone believes or does. But this is only because they’ve made a choice to change. You can’t control whether they decide to let you influence them.

3 You have total control over a few things

Finally, you do have total control over a few things.

You can control how you think, and what you feel, although this may feel difficult at times. You have total control over how you use your time in any spare time you have. If you start a small business, you have total control over how you treat customers. Or even at work or home, you can choose how you react to others. 

But it’s probably true that in reality, we have total control over very few things.

Be clear about what you can control

It’s important to distinguish between these three groups. Otherwise you’ll waste time and energy worrying about things you can’t influence. 

So are you unfairly blaming yourself for everything? Let’s go back to the situations described above.

1 Summer rains drench your picnic

So are you to blame if it rains on your picnic?

Everyone understands the weather is unpredictable. But if it does rain, does it really ruin the day?

Can’t people still have fun anyway, just by being together? Are you really responsible if others choose to get upset? They could just as well choose to make it an adventure.

So understand you don’t have control over the weather. And you also can’t control how other adults react. If they choose to get angry or upset, that’s their decision.

And don’t keep blaming yourself for everything, especially things you can’t control. It’s not appropriate to feel responsible for “ruining” the picnic.

2 Missing a wedding due to illness

Can you stop yourself from getting sick?

This is an area in which you have partial control. You can certainly take effective steps to guard your health. For example, by eating healthily, exercising, and having screening tests for various conditions.

But you may still catch a disease like COVID-19 through sheer bad luck. Even health care workers using strong precautions have caught it.

So should you blame yourself for falling ill and missing that wedding? 

Obviously not. You can only do your best to keep healthy. After that, it’s a matter of chance and your genetics.

It’s unfortunate, but that’s life.

Let the couple know how disappointed you are. Apologise for upsetting catering arrangements. If you’re able, you can see them soon after you recover.

But don’t feel guilty for ever and a day for missing the wedding. There are worse things in life. And if family choose to be offended or outraged, that’s their choice. You don’t have to take their anger or blame on board.

3 Your adult son’s decisions

What about “making” your adult son spend wisely? Can you control what he does at all? And is it really your responsibility now he’s an adult?

You can give him information about financial issues and investing. But the reality is that you can talk to him about saving till you’re out of breath. 

Yet he may still live the high life, and buy those fast cars. You may be disappointed and predict future problems.

But you don’t have control over his choices. So stop blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong for him. 

His responsibility

Your son’s financial problems are due to his choices and actions. They’re his responsibility. You don’t have to rescue him, especially if you’re struggling financially yourself.

Quietly explain that you’d like to help, but don’t have the money. If you’re worried that he’ll get angry, tell him in a public place, or have someone with you. Don’t give him access to your credit cards or your banking passwords.

Don’t act out of guilt

However, you may feel guilty at not bailing him out. Perhaps you’re blaming yourself for everything that’s gone wrong for him financially.

But think back.

Did he ever listen when you broached the subject of finances? Or did he brush off your attempts to teach him? Your best attempts to gradually teach him self-reliance as a teenager may have fallen on deaf ears. 

He can learn new skills

Your son is now responsible for learning to manage his money. Plenty of reputable library books and online sites provide financial information. Lots of social welfare agencies also give free advice.

You may encourage your son to take advantage of this help. But you can’t make him learn these skills.

If he decides not to, that’s his choice. And he’ll have to deal with the consequences of his bad choices himself.

You have very limited influence over his decisions now. 

4 Your friend’s love life

What about your friend with the dodgy partners? Could you “make” her scrutinise potential partners more carefully?

Probably not.

You may be able to discuss your concerns about her love life with her. But do you really think she’ll appreciate your comments? That would probably depend on:

the strength of your friendship

whether or not she asked for help

how you approach the subject

your perceived motives

your expertise in relationship matters

your friend’s state of mind

her ability to accept influence.

In the end, you can’t control her choices or her behaviour. You can only hope your empathy and tactful advice will influence her positively.

She’s responsible for her own behaviour. If she doesn’t choose more wisely, you’re not to blame for her distress. And you don’t have to keep rescuing her emotionally.

You have the right to suggest (tactfully) that she goes to counselling. Because in the long run, she’s responsible for her own feelings. You only have very limited influence over her decisions.

5 Your husband’s car

What about your husband’s car not starting in the morning? 

If this only happens occasionally, you’ll probably help him out. After all, he’d do the same for you too. 

But what if his car refuses to start most mornings? Are you going to inconvenience yourself to drive him to work every day?

What incentive would he have to fix his car then?


Don’t train others to depend on you

If you do drive your husband each morning, you’re training him to rely on you. He’ll expect you to rescue him whenever his car doesn’t start. So he’s unlikely to take steps to solve the problem himself.

It’s not your fault he forgot to get his car serviced. So why should you fix the problem for him all the time? 

Be assertive

Let him know what will happen the next time his car doesn’t start. Pick a time to tell him when neither of you is stressed or busy. Explain how difficult it is for you to have to drive him to work all the time.

Let him know what you’d prefer to happen. Be calm and clear about his options. For instance, he could take a cab or public transport if his car doesn’t start.

Acknowledge that this may be inconvenient for him. But it’s his responsibility to get to work. And it’s his responsibility to get his car serviced. You’ve done enough to help. It’s over to him now.

Take control where you can

So you do have some control over this situation. You can control how you respond, and what you do. And your response may affect how your husband handles the situation.

But you don’t have total control over his decisions. He may still not take any action to fix his car. Then you’ll have to decide what your next steps will be. 

Don’t encourage unhealthy dependence

This last example shows how easy it is to take responsibility for others’ lives. You may be picking up after others at home and at work, baffled as to why others are so inconsiderate. And at the same time, you may not recognise when others are taking advantage of your conscientious nature. 

Do you often remind adult family members about their obligations? Do you often give advice about handling problems? And do you try to make others feel happy?

That may be OK occasionally. But what if you do this continually for other adults? Does this train them to be independent, or to rely on you?

Unfortunately it’s an easy trap to fall into, especially if you’re a caring person. You don’t want to see them stressed, discouraged or worried.

But for them to grow as individuals, they need to develop self-reliance, and learn to look after themselves. So it’s helpful if you can slowly step back from this habit. And make sure you’re focussing on real problems, not worries that probably will never happen. 

Encourage others to take responsibility for themselves. And stop unfairly blaming yourself for everything.

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