Are you someone who (too) easily takes the blame for things happening around you when in fact they are not always because of you?

Do you often carry the weight of mistakes and failures of others on your shoulders and make it personal?

If you identify yourself in the questions above, you might be engaging in a cognitive distortion stealing your joy and happiness called personalization and blame.

When engaging in this cognitive distortion, you will often relate everything that is happening around you to yourself, especially negative events that you take the blame for, even when it is not your fault. You may relate a situation to some deficiency or inadequacy in yourself, and you hold yourself responsible for an event that may not be totally under your control. For example: ‘My kids are struggling to make friends at school, and it is my fault.’ Or ‘The picnic we arranged needs to be canceled due to the rain forecast. Everyone is going to be angry and upset. I feel so guilty. It is my fault!’ Things often happen due to a chain of events and not just your input.

Cognitive distortions come in many forms, but they all have some things in common: They are tendencies or patterns of thinking and believing that are false/inaccurate/irrational. They can cause distress and psychological damage. Research indicated that cognitive distortions often lead to depression, anxiety, and relationship difficulties.

Remember that you simply cannot control everything. Remember that you are not to blame for everything that goes wrong. Just because you care, doesn’t mean you are to blame. You do not have control over others’ thoughts and reactions! What you can manage is YOUR thoughts, YOUR reactions, and YOUR emotions.  If you take responsibility for others’ behaviours/choices/reactions/thoughts, it will most likely lead to feelings such as stress, anxiety, guilt, blame, and unhappiness because you will be carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.

If you notice yourself getting stuck in this thinking style and feeling sad or low, reflect on your responsibility and your control.

Answer these questions:

1. What happened?  

Take an observational approach to see things from a broader perspective as this often helps us to see things from a clearer and more holistic view.

2. Did you have control over all the factors that lead to the outcome you are blaming yourself for?

Chances are good that you did not have control over all the factors and thus your blame is misplaced (the amount you put on your shoulders).

3. What role did I play/ not play in what happened?

When you place blame on yourself for how you assume someone else is feeling eg. ‘I am responsible for how they think and feel’, you carry what is not yours, unless you purposefully did something to engender a reaction, you cannot take responsibility of others’ thoughts and feelings.

4. Did any of my behaviours, feelings or thoughts have an impact on what happened?

If not, I choose to let it go as I cannot control anything else other than my thoughts, behaviours, and feelings.

Use these questions to help you get out of the blaming and personalization trap. Cognitive distortions can so often steal your happiness, but with some practice, you can start to challenge your thought and rewire your thinking so that the weight of the world does not sit on your shoulders anymore.

written by Megan Stapelberg, Counseling Psychologist