Why blaming everyone else for your crappy life is killing you

Blaming everyone and everything but yourself for the crappy things in your life is is typically referred to as “playing the victim.”  It’s a popular way to respond when things don’t shake out as they should because it feels good, it’s easy, and everyone else does it.  And, if you want to live a truly crappy life, this is the best place to start.

I should know.

I’ve been married for almost 15 years now.  My wife, like every human on the planet, has habits, personality quirks, and character flaws that make my life difficult.  It feels unfair to me that I should be forced to live with them.

For our first 10 years together I decided that it would be best for her to change.  What I soon learned is that the worst things about her are not easily changed.  Many of them are well-rooted, and, like everyone else’s junk, the result of something painful she experienced long before we met.

Imagine my shock when I also learned that I bring some not-so-savory things to the marriage table.  Unorganized, irresponsible, angry, overly sensitive, smelly, snorey (full list provided upon request).  It’s just as downright unfair to her, and she’s spent just as much time as I have trying to change me with similar affect.

So we’ve both spent a fair bit of our marriage playing the victim, believing something akin to “I can never be happy here” and being completely miserable.

I know people that hop from job to job with the same spirit – “So and so is hard to deal with,” “I need to leave,” “I can’t be happy until I have the right job.”

I have a friend who frequently says that the wrong job is one of the best things you can experience.  Learning to be un-miserable in a bad work situation is key to learning how to live an un-miserable life.

We play the victim in our relationships, with our kids, even our hobbies.  Every time a bad situation pops up, it’s tempting to view ourselves as the hapless pawn, completely unable to find happiness until things change.  The reality is that there will always be something crappy in our lap – something that will be hard to deal with – completely out of our control.

I came to an understanding recently in our marriage that I brought some very difficult things into our relationship that were there before I met my wife, that these things were within my control to change, and that I have a better chance of changing myself than changing anyone else.

I’ve also discovered that compassion, forgiveness, patience and growing in my ability to love Elaine without condition are very powerful tools, all of which I can wield at my whim.  They’re heavy, but not impossible.

The more I do this, the more my eyes are opened to her true beauty, as well as the power and majesty that is my own life. I’m not as distracted by crappyness as I used to be, and far less miserable.

Our best life is waiting for us, just inches beyond our greatest challenges.

Playing the victim, on the other hand, leaves us miserable because a) things usually don’t change and b) we’re so busy trying to change things we can’t change that we miss out on the good stuff flying around within arm’s reach.

A good life requires strength, the kind of strength that can only be gained by facing the hard things of life head-on, doing our best to get through (getting a mentor if we don’t know what that looks like), and not giving up until the storm has subsided.

Got a bad relationship?  A bad job? A bad marriage?  The best way to live un-crappily is to stick it out – work out your “deal with it” muscles, stretch yourself and be less affected the next time something bad comes up.

What we’ll find in the end is that these bad situations aren’t what make our lives miserable, it’s the miserable way we deal with them, and our failure to find the good life that lies just ahead.

Tip #3 Marginalize, Marginalize, Marginalize



You don’t just wake up one morning feeling shame, someone has to give it to you

This is one of my favorites.  You can do it in the privacy of your own mind and it will very quickly destroy your ability to be happy.  Marginalizing happens when we consider someone, or a group of someones, to be lower than us – ie, we diminish their value as people, and it feels wonderful.

How to Marginalize People

To do this, you’ll need three things in your toolbox that most people have readily available.  First, you’ll need to question your own value.  this is the hallmark of depression – feeling like you never measure up, like you have to always be doing more – one tiny slip and the world will know how crappy you are.  Most people deal with this by finding some arena where they might perform – work, physical appearance, money, things, influential friends – as long as these things are in play, self-value is seldom questioned.  Take these away and a very shaky self-image emerges.  I have a friend who always tells me about how much he appreciates himself, but spends a ton of time ripping a certain group of people.  What he loves is that he’s a very responsible person – what he hates is people who are irresponsible.  He’s a young guy and will live like this for awhile, but it will require a ton of emotional energy.  Most guys wear out around mid-life, try like hell to find the self that was lost (usually with a Harley and a grip – ton of alcohol), then give up and get depressed.

Second, you’ll need to hold something close to your heart that you consider to be disgusting, deplorable, unjust, gross, unsightly, etc – a behavior, a “look,” a philosophy, a cause, an orientation – something that, when you see someone else doing it, makes you cringe, and something you don’t do, at least not in public.  What I’ve found is that this thing that we hate usually reminds us of ourselves.  My friend with the responsibility issues was raised with a lot of shame surrounding responsibility – there’s a mountain of unresolved hurt in that guy’s heart and it’s led him to believe that the only people with true value are the ones who are truly responsible – and that he’s a piece of junk every time he drops a ball.

Third, you’ll need to have been marginalized at some point in your past.  Most of us have been there – this is a popular thing to do to people, especially to kids.  We want our kids to a) not be completely insane and b) have great lives – so we push them, frequently using shame which a) is one of the best motivators ever and b) sends the very clear message “you’re only valuable if  you ______.”

  • do your homework
  • get good grades
  • stay in shape
  • make lots of money
  • lead something
  • behave
  • look good
  • make me look good

Most of us are raised believing that we’re only valuable under certain conditions.  If those conditions are broken, we’ll feel shame which, regardless of what you believe about human origin, is something humanity was never designed to deal with.  Shame drives all sorts of miserable behavior – addiction, destruction, bad grades, bad relationships, bad attitudes – but you don’t just wake up one morning feeling shame, someone has to give it to you.

How you look at people can make you miserable

I’m going to throw out something that you may have never heard before.  It will sound strange at first, it did to me, but I want to invite you to let this sink in for a bit before you do anything with it.

How you view people determines your ability to be happy

If you look at humanity in general and see something amazing, you have a better chance at happiness than you do if you ascribe value to people under more conditional terms.  If the only people who are valuable to you are the people who add value to your life, or the people you look up to, or the people who perform well, your happiness will be just as conditional.  If you’re reading this and (understandably) thinking to yourself “baloney,” I’ll bet you’re struggling, unless you’re really young and still have the energy to live under so many conditions.

When we were kids, most of us thought this way – that all people are essentially good, and we were happy. As we grew up we were taught to place conditions on the value of others – to find joy in looking down on people – which somehow resulted in our placing conditions on our own value.  It seems that the older we get, the harder it is to be at peace.

Give it a shot – spend a day or two looking past the blemishes to see the real beauty of people (and leave some comments – I’d love to hear your stories).  When the impulse comes upon you to judge someone, strip someone of their value, marginalize someone, resist – understand that the impulse comes from something inside you that has nothing to do with the other person.  Go have a drink or two, watch a movie, meet with a friend.  I promise it won’t kill you, but it will make it harder for you to live a miserable life.