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My Fault

Years ago when I started training in martial arts, I adopted a simple philosophy about injuries.  If during a match, either of us got hurt, it was my fault.  In life most of us spend far too much time trying to assign blame to others when bad things happen. This is not only a waste of time and energy, it is also usually a lie.

If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month.

Theodore Roosevelt

For martial arts, my reasoning goes like this: if I got hurt it was my fault for not being fast enough or good enough to prevent it, and if the person I was working out with got hurt it was my fault because I inflicted the injury.  I'm not talking about minor bruises, that's just part of the sport; however, our goal was not to injure our opponents, only to develop and/or demonstrate superior abilities, so if my opponent was injured by something I did like a punch or a kick, even if a mistake on their part created the situation, it was still a failure of my skills as I did not react quickly enough to prevent it.

In our personal lives, there are many things which are at least partly our fault, but we like to pretend that if someone else or even random chance played any role, then we aren't really to blame.  This viewpoint is roughly equivalent to leaving a loaded gun lying around and claiming it wasn't our fault if a child picks it up and accidentally kills someone with it.  No matter how you partition the blame, the fact remains that if we hadn't left a loaded gun out, the person would not be dead.  When we deny responsibility, how can we learn from the mistake?  After all, if it wasn't our fault, then we have no reason to change our behavior, so we continue to make similar if not the same mistakes.

The examples below were chosen specifically because they represent not only some of the biggest mistakes people make in life, but also ones people are least likely to accept as being their fault.  These mistakes are made worse because society likes to tell us it isn't really our fault.  It is this kind of mistake which is hardest to face, accept responsibility for, and learn from:

  • Defaulting on a loan and losing your house - if you can't afford to pay cash, you should always get the smallest, cheapest house you can find, borrow the least amount of money possible, make sure you fully understand the terms of the loan before borrowing, and pay it off as quickly as possible.  If you don't understand the terms, or don't have any contingency plans in the event you lose your job, you are not ready to buy.  This is not a popular viewpoint; however, it was a far more common approach to buying houses many decades ago.
  • Spousal abuse - leave the abuser immediately when it starts, choose a different kind of person to be with in the future or choose to be alone.  Learn to not engage in behaviors which provoke abuse.  Abuse victims have a tremendous ability to pick out those who are most likely to abuse them, and are often drawn to that type of person.  In some cases they also engage in behavior designed to provoke attacks.  Now before some of you decide to become verbally abusive in the comment form for my daring to suggest these women are in any way at fault:
    1. Note that I started this with the term "spousal abuse", slightly more than 50% of all abuse victims in the USA are in fact men, it is simply less likely to be reported because due to differences in physical size and strength, women are far more likely to be seriously injured than men.  Men who are abused are also far more likely to be arrested as the abuser after being attacked (because it is assumed they must be at fault) and receive derision or disbelief rather than sympathy, so they are less likely to seek help.
    2. I am well aware that there are cultural environments in the world in which a woman who is abused has little choice or recourse, but that is not the case in most places where this article is likely to be read.
    3. If you believe there is nothing the victim could do which would justify a violent response, you are quite simply out of your mind.  In some cases the "victim" actually initiates the physical violence but loses the fight; in others they engage in more subtle attacks on a regular basis until the abuser blows up.  If you kicked a dog as you walked past each day on your way to work and the dog one day took off your leg, why would you be surprised by the reaction?  When a jury is given the full facts do you think they would take your side or the dog's?
    4. You have missed the point: regardless of any one else's fault, the victim has a choice, and as such could have at the very least prevented all attacks after the first one.  If they would accept this level of responsibility, they can stop the abuse at any time.
  • Cheating partner - at the very least there was a failure on your part to recognize what kind of person your partner is, though in many cases the person who is cheated on contributes to the problem.  Were you emotionally distant?  How about unconcerned about their sexual needs?  As others have pointed out, sexual release on a regular basis is a physiological requirement of male biology (I am not certain about female requirements).  Would you ask your partner to stop eating for the next few weeks because you weren't hungry?  In many cases the "cheaters" are just looking for someone they can talk to and enjoy simple pleasures with in an environment devoid of harsh judgments and ulterior motives.
  • Mugging - were you paying any attention to what was going on around you? Were you aware of the type of neighborhood you were in, and if so, could you reasonably have avoided the neighborhood or situation?  If you weren't aware of the type of neighborhood, did you make any attempt to assess it as you entered?

We often get what we deserve when we refuse to take responsibility for our mistakes, particularly when we don't try to correct them as soon as possible.  If we assume from the start that we were at least partially responsible in some way, it eliminates all the rubbish about whose fault something is, so now you can actually do something about preventing future problems.  Only when we can admit to our responsibility for what happens can we actually learn from it, grow, and (hopefully) prevent future problems which are similar to the ones in our past.

Consider what kind of world it might be if we all accepted more than our share of the responsibility rather than less.  We will all learn more, make fewer mistakes and be on the alert to prevent problems before they occur.  One result would be that the world becomes a much better place.  Of course not everyone is going to do this; however, if we at least choose to take full responsibility for our mistakes and perhaps a little extra, the world still becomes a better place.

If you found this article a little harsh or otherwise difficult to accept, I apologize; after all, I wrote it, so it must be my fault.  Smile

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Comments

Like anything else, this can be taken to an extreme.  We are mortal, we are vulnerable, we do everything we can to avoid those facts, including deciding we're at fault when things we can't control affect us.I lived on the street when young; I was consequently raped twice and abducted at knifepoint on a separate occasion.  If I had not been living on the street, these things would probably not have happened to me (I am a woman, yes, we need sex too). These events were a terrible raw spot in my psyche until I could admit (about 30 years later) that my life choices had put me in the way of them.  I understand the healing power of knowing what part I play in my problems.  I would never mistake that power for being able somehow to prevent tragedy.  Were you suggesting that?  I don't think so; still, this is what I was inspired to say to you.  thanks for your blog! M

No, this was never intended to imply that we can prevent bad things from happening.  Sometimes for no reason other than being born in the wrong place, people are presented with nothing but bad choices.  Of course, even when all choices are bad ones, some are still worse than others.  The main point is to recognize our role in what happens in our lives and learn from it so we can make better choices and/or be better prepared for the next thing life throws at us.  Too many people reject any responsibility for the consequences of their choices, learn nothing, make no behavioral changes, and then are surprised the next time something similar happens. 

I have something to say on this topic, having been into hell and back in an emotionally/mentally abusive relationship.  I hope what I say may help someone who is in an abusive relationship.  Bear in mind that my case involved no physical abuse, only emotional and mental stuff, (with someone with serious untreated mental illness who wouldn't recognize their illness and get treatment).  So some things I say may not apply to cases involving physical abuse.No matter how helpful and liberating it may feel for the abused to accept
responsibility for being in an abusive relationship, (ie. for getting into it in the first place, not getting out, or for possibly triggering abuse at times, etc. etc.), accepting blame still doesn't get you out of one, nor does it absolve the ABUSER of the responsibility for THEIR
actions.  Accept the blame for your part, yes, but don't stop there.  It is much more
productive to: focus on learning how to recognize the signs of abusive relationships, figure out a plan of action to get yourself out, and learn what healthy relationships are, than it is to get hung up on what could turn out (for some people) 
to be a pointless
and drawn out self flagellation session.  Acceptance is great, but protracting the blame game into a serious guilt complex gets you nowhere. Case in point, I had accepted the blame (mentally) for years for my part in being in one of these, but that didn't get me out until I decided I didn't deserve it and that I could figure a way out.  It took years of careful planning, and an unusual living arrangement (me not divorcing but moving out and the abusive one visiting kids and I on weekends which allowed me to be more in control of things).  You see, most hard-core abusers (physical and/or emotional ones) are difficult to get away from, and often the worst damage happens AFTER the abused person leaves (in the case of physical abuse, this sometimes means serious injury or even death).  So you have to plan carefully and have some kind of sound support system in place and you have to find your own answers, not just do what other people tell you.  The most important thing is to get away from serious abuse of any kind, and to get into a situation that will be more safe, not less, irregardless of what the relationship status is on paper..One thing is clear to me though, and that is that serious hard-core abusers can't be fixed by their partners, they have to want to change.  People shouldn't waste their time, energy and life on folks who don't see the need - or have any motivation, to change. This means moving forward, not backwards, might mean giving up on someone.  It's a fact of life.Getting everyone in the family to a safe place, can call for creative solutions and sometimes even compromises (such as waiting for full freedom/divorce til later).  I say this because unless someone has been in one of these (I am talking about emotional/mental abuse only), it is hard to understand how trapped you feel and how difficult these kinds of abusers can be to get free from without more damage, especially if minor children are involved.  The temptation is for people outside your situation to give simple one size fits all solutions, without knowing all the circumstances. In some cases, if you attempt to achieve permanent solution right away (such as divorce) these very clever and calculating abusers often resort to hurting those around you, particularly children, by the most sinister and insidious means they can (especially if mental illness is involved).  This makes getting everyone to a "safe place" that much harder.  All the abusive people I have known were diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and these folks are very paranoid about abandonment issues.  It is best to plan carefully and calmly in cases of any kind of abuse.  You want to have your ducks in a row so that things don't get worse.  If kids are involved, things are more complicated than just "getting your freedom and life back".  One complication with the non physically but still abusive spouse/partner is that they can often easily obtain visitation rights with the children, and they end up with years of unsupervised, potentially harmful weekends alone with the kids.  There are alternatives that may work, such as holding off on the permanent solutions so that you can call the shots.  You could insist on supervised visits.  For me, as I said, it was leaving the spouse and establishing a separate home elsewhere (but not divorcing) and having the spouse visit us on the weekends. I had the most control in that scenario than in any other since because I didn't go to court, where court ordered visitation surely would have been a result, and since he didn't go either, I remained in the drivers seat about where and when he would see the kids. This may not work for most people, but if anyone out there is in this kind of situation, dare to be creative and think outside the box.  Sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie for a time.  The goal is to find a safe way out that does the least amount of damage to all involved, even if that takes some time and unusual living arrangements to achieve complete freedom.  My last piece of advice is to not be in a rush to start something else.  I have known several people (mostly women) who were so anxious to rush all the way to the "permanent solution" (in these cases, divorce) so that they could be free to start something with someone else, that they made hasty decisions and usually ended up in other bad relationships, sometimes going from the frying pan to the fire.  Not good.  Take as much time to plan as you can safely afford, be calm, have a support system behind you, and put sound solutions into action.  And above all, don't rush into anything else til you have figured out what went wrong, and how to have healthy relationships.  And "healthy relationships" doesn't have to mean "romantic" relationships either, good friends from both genders can fill in much of the gap and help you heal.For a helpful page on warning signs of abusive relationships, go here:http://www.recovery-man.com/abusive/abusive_signs.htmFor an interesting page on the differences between abusive and healthy relationships, go here:http://www.recovery-man.com/abusive/healthy_abusive.htm