In this lovely animated short, Brené Brown, gives us a simple hack based on her research to enhance relationships, become a better listener and grow your empathy muscle: stop blaming. Sounds easy enough, and to some extent, it is.
How many of you go to that place—when something bad happens, the first thing you want to know is whose fault is it? I’d rather it be my fault than no one’s fault. Because why? Why? Because it gives us some semblance of control. […] But here’s what we know from the research: blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process. It means me calling you and saying, “hey, my feeling were really hurt about this,” and talking; not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger. People who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expend all of our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. And blaming’s very corrosive in relationships. And it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy. Because when something happens and we’re hearing the story, we’re not really listening, we’re in the place where I was, making the connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. – Brené Brown
One of the findings from Positive Psychology that struck me the most was the notion that venting negative feelings is actually completely counterproductive. In Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman highlights various studies disproving our culture’s view that airing grievances is cathartic:
Dwelling on trespass and the expression of anger produces more cardiac diseases and more anger. Anger is another domain in which the concept of emotional hydraulics was critically examined. America, in contrast to the venerable Eastern cultures, is a ventilationist society. We deem it honest, just, and even healthy to express our anger. So we shout, we protest, and we litigate. “Go ahead, make my day,” warns Dirty Harry. Part of the reason we allow ourselves this luxury is that we believe the psychodynamic theory of anger. If we don’t express our rage, it will come out elsewhere—even more destructively, as in cardiac disease. But this theory turns out to be false; in fact, the reverse is true. (69)
The overt expression of hostility turns out to be the real culprit in the Type A-heart attack link. Time urgency, competitiveness, and the suppression of anger do not seem to play a role in Type A people getting more heart disease. In one study, 255 medical students took a personality test that measured overt hostility. As physicians twenty-five years later, the angriest had roughly five times as much heart disease as the least angry ones. In another study, men who had the highest risk of later heart attacks were just the ones with more explosive voices, more irritation when forced to wait, and more outwardly directed anger. In experimental studies, when male students bottle up their anger, blood pressure goes down, and it goes up if they decide to express their feelings. Anger expression raises lower blood pressure for women as well. In contrasts, friendliness in reaction to trespass lowers it. (70)
Since learning about this, I have made it a point to be more aware of the emotions I express and focus on. It’s not that I suppress or ignore negative emotions–I still get angry, frustrated, sad or whiny–but I try to be aware of what I’m feeling and when I notice one of these emotions, I ask myself what I can do about it; what I can learn from the experience that triggered the emotion? Then I fix what I can, make a mental note to avoid repeating any identified mistakes and I move on. If I’m having a really bad day or difficult time with something, I make myself move– either at the gym or I go for a long walk, which I’ve found really helpful in getting rid of the way negative emotions feel in one’s body. I also try not to complain to others. Whereas before I might have sought out a close friend to vent to after encountering some setback or upsetting situation–“can you believe this?!”–I now avoid such conversations; and, it turns out, I don’t miss them (and neither do my friends, it would seem).
I have noticed feeling markedly more serene overall and I’ve been surprised by how much easier it was to choose not to dwell or express my negative emotions than I had anticipated. Now, I’ll add blame to my list of negative emotions to let go of.
Try it for yourself and let me know how it works out for you …*