It’s all my fault

Spilt milk

Sometimes a person will reach a point in life where they come to a devastating realisation. ‘It’s all my fault’. In any aspect of our lives we may spend a considerable amount of time feeling that we are the victim and blaming others for our bad experiences, and then suddenly we reach a certain breaking point and it hits us that we are the cause of everything we are experiencing.

It often happens after things have been piling up over a long period of time. You gradually become overwhelmed with all the choices you have made and the path you have found yourself going down.

Things my clients have told me in the first session

In the early part of working together, these are some examples of when a client has declared that everything is their fault.

It’s all my fault my marriage ended:
The 38 year old woman who realised that her marriage broke up because she had an affair. It wasn’t her husband’s lack of attention, it was her own rash, impulsive decision.

It’s all my fault I lost my job:
The 43 year old man whose job ended because he got bored and started taking risky shortcuts. He suddenly realised that it wasn’t the heartless corporate, it was his own foolishness that lost him the job.

It’s all my fault my children don’t speak to me:
The 55 year old dad, whose children aren’t speaking to him because he has been too involved in his work to take the time to listen to them for the past few years. – it wasn’t them being moody and difficult, or the influence of their mother, it was his failure to listen!

It’s all my fault that I’m obese:
The 40 year old woman who had been pretending to herself that there was something wrong with her metabolism that caused her to become very obese. Suddenly, she had realised that she had been making excuses for her eating and activity choices all this time.

Is it ALL my fault?

I would be the first person to say that you need to take responsibility for your life, so you might think that when a client says, in the first session, ‘it’s all my fault’ – that’s a good thing.

Yes it is true that in order to make changes in your life, you need to be aware that the only person we can change is yourself. You need to know that you are ‘driving the bus’. But there is a big difference between ‘fault’ and ‘responsibility’.

Nothing is ever totally within your control. You make the decisions, but the behaviour of others, the influences of others on your thinking, and simple things like luck and co-incidence have their part to play. Saying it is all your fault is ‘all or nothing thinking’. It is a habit of the mind to generalise things much more than is appropriate. So when someone says that something is their fault, I want to know how specifically? As they drill down into some of the detail, it can be good to be aware of the other factors.

It is good to be clear about what you can control, and what you can’t. An understanding of past failures can help you learn and make better choices, up to a point. Beyond that, the past cannot be changed, and you have to try to let go of it.

There are decisions and actions, from which you can only move forward if you take responsiblity. Responsibility is different from ‘fault’. When you own your actions it is easier to move forward, because you can own your future actions with greater self-awareness.

Stephen Covey coined the term ‘response able’. Whatever you have done in the past and whatever you experience now, you are able to choose your response. It isn’t always easy to make the right choice, but it is still your choice. It is only by mastering our current choices that we can make lasting change.

The concepts of fault and blame disempower you. The way forward is to focus on the present, be responsible for your choices, and take positive action from now on.

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.

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