Research supports the idea that all of us live with a lot of anxiety and fear. Much of the anxiety is just part of being alive: Our awareness of death, our fragility and vulnerability create a constant "existential" anxiety.
Within our relationships, however, most of us suffer from too much anxiety and fear primarily because our communications provoke these destructive emotions through criticism, accusation, punishment and humiliation.
Living with anxiety and fear creates unhappiness and despair in all our relationships. So reducing the anxiety and fear caused by blame is one of this book's primary goals.
The goal of living Beyond Blame
is to live without criticism and accusation.
Imagine what it would be like if all the important people in your life stopped criticizing and accusing you! Imagine that the only things they said were positive and supportive! And when conflict arose (as it must) it was handled respectfully, with hardly any anger, fear or pain.
Wouldn't that feel wonderful?
In the meantime, we need to dig a little deeper into the debilitating emotions of anxiety and fear, and how they're connected to blame.
Aaron teaches high school and shares custody of his ten-year-old son, David, who has a learning disability. Aaron's ex-wife is studying nursing and also works, so she has little time to follow David's studies. Aaron blames a lot of David's problems on his ex-wife. Aaron is constantly in the grip of all six negative emotions (anger, resentment, anxiety, pain, fear, humiliation), but his primary emotion is anxiety: he worries about his son's academic success.
Aaron teaches science and he believes his son should shine in that subject, despite his disabilities and interest in art and reading. Aaron is completely unaware of how his anxiety over David's lack of ability in math and his ongoing criticism affect his son.
During a recent shopping trip, Aaron popped a quiz about the bill. "David, the total was $17.21, and I gave the clerk twenty dollars. So how much change should he have given me back? Go on, do the math in your head."
David mumbled an answer. Aaron snapped, "It's simple! Just think! David, you've got to do something other than read books if you're going to support yourself."
Of course the boy was humiliated and anxious. Why was reading silly? He wasn't naturally good at math and it seemed that unless he was, his father wouldn't love him.
Sadly, Aaron's comment was part of a pattern of criticism that eventually created a great deal of anxiety in the boy. He felt increasingly incapable in all his studies. This anxiety made his study of math all the more problematic. In other words, he did a lot worse because of his father's criticism.
Criticism is the main source of anxiety in relationships and threatens the stability of the connection because it communicates that we're not okay, that our performance is substandard.
I'm not saying that an occasional minor criticism destroys relationships. A snappy, "Why did you do that?" will not be a problem. Nor will occasional disapproval cause harm.
The problem is the constant flow of messages with a negative emotional charge that tell you that you are not good enough. The consequence of living in such a critical environment is a tremendous amount of anxiety about the stability of the relationship.
Our sensitivity to criticism and accusation goes back to our earliest days as children with our parents. We know that their approval is essential to our happiness and all children do their best to please their parents.
Unfortunately, too many parents (even in this more enlightened era) still use generic forms of blame and criticism as a means of expressing disapproval. The intention might be to improve the child's behavior, but the criticism just makes children feel bad about themselves, anxious about their relationship and especially anxious about their self-worth.
The dynamics of pain and humiliation are similar to those of anger and fear because they typically produce anxiety.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin,
a member of Penguin Group (USA). ©2011 by Carl Alasko.
Beyond Blame: Freeing Yourself from the Most Toxic Form of Emotional Bullsh*t
by Carl Alasko, Ph.D.
For many, a rare day goes by in which the need to blame does not arise-be it to cover one's own errors or just to assign an unfortunate event some kind of name (i.e., "If only X hadn't said X, we wouldn't be in this mess.") The path to eliminating blame is not a quick or easy one but, as Carl Alasko demonstrates, it is a road that must be traveled if we hope to achieve true peace in our lives.
Carl Alasko, Ph.D. has been a practicing psychotherapist specializing in couples and families for over twenty years. For the past thirteen years he has written a weekly advice column, "On Relationships", for the Monterey County Herald, which has consistently been one of the Herald's most popular columns. He has also given numerous lectures on the topic of healthy relationships and has hosted a popular advice radio show. Visit his website at www.carlalasko.com