It’s not about you I promise! Let’s quit the self-blame game.
Years ago I was working for WorkCover NSW as the Media and Public Affairs person and, as such, had the organisation’s ‘media phone’ with me constantly fielding calls from journalists and media outlets day-in-day-out.
One particular day, I was sitting in an Organisational Communication workshop at the office and during the session I could feel the media phone vibrating in my pocket: a journalist was trying to contact me for information or a media statement.
I didn’t want to interrupt the workshop facilitator so I sat there waiting for a small break in her talk so I could leave and go take the call or phone the journalist back.
The facilitator kept talking and talking so finally I raised my hand to interrupt her and told her about the phone vibrating in my pocket and that I needed to go outside to take the call.
And then she said something I have never forgotten…
She said, ‘Melissa I noticed that you were distracted and not listening to me. I thought that maybe my presentation was not hitting the mark and boring for you. I made the assumption that your distraction was about me and my presentation, not knowing that you had the media phone vibrating in your pocket distracting you.
‘People, you never know what’s going on for someone else!’
It was like a light bulb moment for me. I thought of all the moments in my life when I had ‘critiqued’ someone’s else’s behaviour and thought it had something to do with me; when I blamed myself.
Too often do we watch and judge other people’s behaviour and think that it has something to do with us.
Often it doesn’t.
When you spoke to a girlfriend on the phone and she sounds distracted, maybe that had nothing to do with you. Maybe she had just had a big day at work and was tired.
When you tried to catch-up with your sister for lunch and she turned you down a few times, maybe that had nothing to do with you. Maybe she was just busy looking after her two children.
When a client didn’t return your email, maybe that had nothing to do with you. Maybe he was snowed under with his workload and hadn’t had a chance to read it yet.
Really that other person has something going on in their life that we don’t know about, but we choose to create a story in our heads that their behaviour has something to do with us – we play the self-blame game.
And girls, we are particularly good at blaming ourselves and thinking that other people’s behaviour has something to do with ourselves.
Case in point…
My sister, moved house just around the corner from me at the beginning of the year. Like all moves into a new home, my sister slowly got to know the people living around her. However, she had trouble warming to one of her neighbours – a man who lived on his own and very much kept to himself. She thought he might have been grumpy and worried that her kids annoyed him with their raucous laughter and playtime in the back yard.
Then a couple of weeks ago she walked out her house and saw him in his front yard – crying.
My sister went over to him and he turned and hugged her. When she asked what was wrong, he told her that his wife has been in a nursing home for the last couple of years slowly deteriorating with dementia…and she had just died.
He was devastated – the love of his life had finally passed away.
And all this time, my sister thought that her neighbour was a single man and he kept to himself because he didn’t like her or her children.
Nothing could be further from the actual truth.
You never know what is going on for someone else – so all we can do is be kind and hold our judgement of others. By doing that, we are also stopping the self-blame game and being kinder to ourselves.
Photographer, philanthropist, adventurer, blogger, avid permitter and social changer, Melissa Histon is a woman on a mission to make a real difference to the lives of women globally. Melissa spent 10 years working in the corporate world before leaving to establish a successful photography business. After experiencing a number of life-altering events, Melissa created The Sista Code in May 2014 with a dream to see women empowered, happy and connected. Whether it's building a house for the homeless in Nepal, interviewing inspiring women from around the globe, or creating events and campaigns to support sistas escaping domestic violence, Melissa knows that true change can only happen when we all stand together and boost each other.