Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite authors and patron saints, says that there are two kinds of people: those who love to divide people into two types, and those who don’t. Gretchen does, and has some wonderful distinctions to think about, as we try and gain self-knowledge, as well as learn more about others: for instance, there are under-buyers and over-buyers, tiggers and eeyores, marathoners and sprinters. I’ve always found Gretchen’s distinctions super helpful, and on a recent walk, I thought a distinction of my own: there are people who are harder on themselves, and there are people who are harder on others.
People who are harder on themselves are likely to blame themselves for things that are either not their responsibility or those they cannot control. People who are harder on others are likely to find a scapegoat for their follies. A dangerous combination is when an other-blamer meets a self-blamer: the other-blamer is more than willing to offload his or her own-responsibility to the self-blamer, who has a tendency to take on responsibility that is not theirs to bear.
Shel Silverstein’s beautiful poem Three Stings from his collection Falling Up relates to this concept:
George got stung by a bee and said,
“I wouldn’t have got stung if I’d stayed in bed.”
Fred got stung and we heard him roar,
“What am I being punished for?”
Lew got stung and we heard him say,
“I learned somethin’ about bees today.”
What happens when you get stung by an over-blamer: do you absorb it and fear the sting so much that you hesitate to put yourself out there, like George? Do you believe that you were stung by the over-blamer because of something you did, like Fred? Or do you like Lew, learn to identify the over-blamer – the first step to protecting yourself – without absorbing the fear and the pain?
One day, may we all be Lew.
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