VICTIM BLAMING & SELF-SHAMING
You’ll hear me often say that our thoughts create our suffering.
A lot of people’s brains translate this as:
- If my THOUGHTS are what’s creating my suffering, then I only have myself to blame for my suffering
- It’s my fault that I’m struggling
- I should just think better thoughts and then I’d feel better
They think, essentially, that I am blaming people for their pain.
Then, they either think I am “victim-blaming,” or they internalize this messaging and blame themselves for their pain. Sometimes both.
I’m here to tell you that both of these reactions misunderstand what I’m teaching – and add unnecessary suffering themselves.
There are two false assumptions at play here.
The first is the assumption that there is something wrong or bad about a person’s experience of suffering or even trauma.
You may be scratching your head at that.
Trauma = bad, suffering = negative seems SO TRUE.
But let’s take the case study of trauma since that is such a high-profile and issue these days.
The idea of trauma – how we define it, how we categorize it, how we diagnose it – is all a collection of human thoughts.
Trauma itself isn’t inherently one thing or another.
Trauma responses exist because the brain developed them.
And now, we get to choose what to think about them.
Some people believe their trauma ruined their lives. Some people are indifferent to their trauma. Others use traumatic experiences to facilitate growth and transform their lives. (This is so common that there’s actually a psychological term for it: Post-Traumatic Growth.)
We can choose to think trauma is horrible and should never happen.
We can think that it’s a brilliant evolutionary adaptation that allows people to survive shocking physical or emotional experiences.
We can think it’s neither bad or good, it’s just a thing that exists.
We can think a thousand other things about trauma, based on whether these beliefs are helpful for us.
Whatever you choose, get VERY curious about your reasons for your beliefs.
Because it may seem helpful to think trauma is terrible and shouldn’t happen. But since trauma DOES happen, usually the result of this thought is that we resist reality and add to our suffering.
That doesn’t mean we don’t want to do work in the world to make traumatic experiences less common – that’s political resistance. But emotionally resisting it by believing it should never happen – that just creates suffering. (See UFYB 31: What About Sexism on political v. emotional resistance for more on this distinction).
So long as trauma and suffering exist, we have to decide on purpose how to think about them.
It may seem delusional to think trauma is a brilliant response to a shocking event, but if it helps you accept your trauma response with compassion and get help with your PTSD? Well, then that’s a pretty damn helpful thought for you.
I’m not saying you should choose any particular belief over another – just that you will benefit from consciously CHOOSING how you want to think about trauma (or any suffering), based on what is helpful to you.
Which brings me to the second false assumption that people make when they learn my teachings about suffering: they assume that if we don’t “fix” the thoughts that are creating suffering or a trauma response, it’s our fault and we’re doing something “wrong.”
They think: Kara is blaming victims for harming themselves with a response they can’t control! Unconscionable!
And sure, if that were true, I would agree with you.
But here’s the thing: I ALSO teach that emotions are never bad or wrong.
They simply are.
Really sit with how radical that idea is.
Nothing you are feeling or could ever feel in this world – sadness, rage, shame, jealousy, fear – is bad or wrong.
Negative thoughts and emotions are a part of life. For EVERYONE, whether they’re in response to a traumatic event or not.
There’s no reason to feel shame for experiencing the full range of human emotions.
Suffering is a part of the human condition.
Blaming someone for suffering is like blaming the ocean for having tides.
It implies that the thoughts and feelings creating the suffering are bad or wrong.
But emotions simply are.
And the purpose of this work isn’t to help you JUDGE your experience of the world – it’s simply meant to help you UNDERSTAND it.
To explore what you are creating in life, and why.
Think of it like a math problem. The numbers in an equation don’t have moral value. We don’t judge the value of X for being what it is. We simply observe them and get curious about them, and think about them like a puzzle.
Your results, your experience, your feelings – these are like values in a math equation. They aren’t good or bad. They simply exist.
You get to decide what to make them mean.
You don’t have to shame yourself for them or blame anyone else for them – whether they stem from trauma or past experiences or the biology of your brain or anything else.
You can simply accept them.
You can simply accept YOURSELF, whatever you are feeling, whatever you do or do not change, however you change or don’t change.
And that, my friends, will set you free.