Blame and Forgiveness- The Tools That Therapy Can Provide

Janet Whitney, MA, MFT

Theravive Counseling


View Profile

Blame and Forgiveness- The Tools that Therapy can provide

There are cultures on this planet that do not have the words that translate into blame because in some of these more “ primitive “ cultures, they accept that challenges and mistakes are a part of life. In fact, if we look at nature the birds do not blame anyone or anything for storms and cold weather. They just deal with it to the best of their ability. Nature role models acceptance that life is not going to be perfect. Only humans expect, demand or try to establish a false hood that we as humans or that life can be perfect. This notion creates the need for an over abundance of attorneys and lawsuits, to deal with the feelings of anger, resentments, and greed. I love the first sentence in Scott Peck’s book “The Road Less Traveled” He states, “The world is not fair and you must deal with that fact”. Is fairness a God given right? If so why do children come down with terminal illnesses or why are all the babies being born in Africa with HIV or why are they living in areas without even the basic human needs, like clean water?

Is it really necessary to find someone to blame for life’s inconsistencies? Just the act of blaming someone or something else takes away the sense of personal responsibility or personal power. There is no way to work towards forgiveness if someone is stuck in the negative emotion of blame. If there is pain or boundaries being broken by another person, action does need to be taken to stop the situation and help the injured party. An animal gets hurt in nature, does it spend the rest of it’s life stalking the animal that hurt it or does it develop more skills of awareness and focus on the healing? When forest fires occur, do the trees and animals start to fight or do they look for another area to live and thrive? Why can’t we as humans look to nature to learn from our misconceptions? Who is actually winning with all these lawsuits? The attorneys get a good monetary settlement, but does money really take a way the loss of a child or the pain of what happened?

Looking at alternatives other than the feeling of blame can open up more creative and positive energy for individuals. Teaching our clients that it is their response to a situation that creates the outcome is an essential lesson to learn. If someone says something negative to us, we have 3 levels of response. One is what our thoughts are about what that person said. The other is the image we create in our minds about what that person said, along with how we feel about it. Lastly is our behavior in response to that person’s statement. An example might be: “ You are so selfish!” We have a choice here. Do we believe that person’s statement or do we think” Maybe that person is having a bad day or doesn’t see me clearly” Depending upon what we think, the effect of what we begin to imagine in our brain is directly represented by our thoughts. If we believe that we are selfish, it may have a negative effect on our self-esteem or our feelings about the person. We might start to build up a case in our minds that the person is a “bad person” and all sorts of negative images will start to be created in our minds. Our behavior might be to verbally attack or criticize that person and thereby increasing the negative energy. On the other hand, if we think,” He or she must be having a bad day and doesn’t see me clearly” The images in our mind will be quite different. We may ask the person about his or her feelings to see why they feel that way about us, which can increase our understanding of their statement. We may decide to just let it go and let that person feel their unique feelings. Jesse Ruiz in ‘The Four Agreements” teaches us to never take anything personally. This is another great lesson to learn. Who knows if this person just woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day or has something traumatic going on? This may be a person we may not want to even put energy into and by letting it go we can just go on with our lives. Jack Canfield has a great suggestion when negative statements are directed towards us. He recommends translating the negative statement into a benign statement such as “Your hair is green!”  Translating the words into that kind of statement helps create a neutral reaction or image in the mind. So the person thinks my hair is green and I know that it is not, it is OK. With a neutral thought and image our behavior can be neutral, too. Therefore we don’t have emotional upset or drama and our energy can be put to positive use.  In therapy, this technique can be practiced over and over until it becomes a learned behavior in response to negativity directed our way. Usually clients have been so programmed for drama and upset, they need to be taught new and better ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. Getting rid of blame is a first step.

Once we have taught clients how to deal with blame and how to accept responsibility for our responses, we can move into forgiveness. Forgiveness as with blame hurts the person who is unable to forgive. It does not necessarily affect the person we are not forgiving. Again, it is negative energy that can be eliminated and thus allowing positive energy for creativity and fulfilling thoughts and behaviors. As humans, we are going to be hurt by others, either intentionally or unintentionally. A bruise is a bruise no matter how it gets there. Our jobs are to work towards healing. That is our professional mission. How do we help clients learn to forgive? First they need to acknowledge and agree that not forgiving others is causing them personal harm on top of the original injury. There was this joke going around about” How do you find out if your wife our your dog loves you more?” You lock both of them in the trunk of your car for a half an hour and see who is happy to see you when you open the trunk. Again, animals and nature do such a better job of letting go of resentments, not that any person or animal should be locked in a trunk. The joke has truth to it. The human body and mind want to move towards health naturally, if we just allow it to go through the natural healing process. Many people are known to be their own worst enemies by sabotaging success and happiness and holding on to negative emotions and grudges. Using guided mediation to help our clients visualize the freedom that forgiveness creates can be an effective tool. Help them to sense what their body feels as they hold on to resentment towards a person, a situation, the government, etc. After they feel those entire feelings guide them to a place in their hearts and minds where they visualize letting the pain go like a leaf being blown away in a breeze. Have them note what happens in their body as they go through this exercise. Hopefully they will feel how much better it feels to let  the thoughts go. They need to be told that it is OK to not want to interact with a certain person again, or to change a situation that is causing them pain. Taking action and taking responsibility for every part of our lives is a step towards maturity. No one makes us feel or do anything. It is our own personal decision about how we react or behave.

Yes, tough things are going to happen to all of us. The question is” Are we going to dance through the thunderstorm or are we going to run and hide or get angry at the weather?” There is such a sense of personal power when we can rise above the negative emotions that drain us of energy and paralyze us from doing all that we are capable of doing. As therapists we need to practice what we preach and clean out our own emotional closets so that we role model positive energy and creativity. A statement made by my daughter when she was still in grade school is so symbolic of what I tried to teach about the tough times in life. Someone asked her how she hurt her knee that was cut and bruised. She replied, “ I was out there really living”. This was such a great message from a young child! Life is going to be full of cuts and bruises in physical and emotional forms. Feeling pain is a part of being alive and nothing good comes from trying to hide from life. It is our job to support the feelings of our clients while helping them to learn new reactions and behaviors to lead them to success in all areas of their lives.


Visit the author at:

comments powered by Disqus