When something bad happens to us (e.g., car wreck, robbery, fight with our spouse), we're often tempted to blame someone else for our misfortune. It's only human nature, after all, something that social psychologists have a name for: the self-serving bias. While blaming others for our failures or misfortunes might protect our self-esteem, Cheryl Hunter argues that this same tendency to blame others and not accept responsibility for what happens to us can leave us in a place of stagnation.
In her book Use It: Turn Setbacks Into Success, Hunter gives an example of a client, Thomas, who was a 9/11 first responder. Thomas witnessed horrific things and likely, based on the symptoms Hunter described, has PTSD, but he sought out help from Hunter because he was having numerous difficulties transitioning from his career as firefighter to one providing personal security. Hunter hypothesized that because Thomas wore his "9/11 first responder" identity as a badge of honor and was frequently asked to speak about his experiences, he was unable to move on with his life. While Hunter didn't ask Thomas to take the blame for what happened on 9/11, she did ask him to take responsibility for why he couldn't seem to make a successful transition in his career. She encouraged him to give up his identity as a 9/11 first responder so that he could claim a new identity as personal security chief; he was unwilling to do this as he didn't want to give up his "hero status" and still suffers from the same issues he sought her help for several years ago.
While Thomas' story is tragic, Hunter uses it to highlight the fact that using the self-serving bias can sometimes handicap us from achieving all we want out of life. Like Thomas, for many of us, this can be a hard pill to swallow. Who wants to accept blame for something tragic? Who wants to admit they were at fault in a bad situation? No one, yet Hunter has a point. If we truly want to move past our struggles, at some point, we must take ownership for them.
Hunter offers a five-part strategy for doing this, one she leads readers through in Use It:
1) Your thoughts are not your friends -- this is the basic idea that your thoughts create your reality. But thoughts aren't real themselves --they are products of our imagination and can keep us stuck if we let them.
2) You are designed to survive, not thrive -- this is the idea that we are programmed to maintain the status quo. So if living the life of a drama queen is your current reality, it's going to be very tough to change that -- it is doable, but you have to change your thoughts to change your reality. (see #1)
3) You are responsible for everything that happens in your life -- this is a tough one because it requires taking ownership for your life, the good and the bad, but is at the crux of Hunter's five-part system. Without this step, you can't move on; you'll remain in stasis. (see #2)
4) You will never be happy or fulfilled until you are the architect for your life -- once you've taken responsibility for what has happened in your past (#3), it's time to take responsibility for creating your future. You have the power to change your life, but you have to get out of your own way first
5) You only get to keep what you give away -- this is the basic law of attraction. If you want love, give love; if you want money, give money -- like attracts like, and you can't expect the Universe to deliver if you're not willing to fork over what it is you want in the first place. It all starts with you.
Reading Hunter's book left me with several "aha" moments that weren't altogether pleasant but that probably needed to happen for me to move on with my life. It made me realize that I too have been self-handicapping and not accepting blame for some of my recent struggles. This is tough to own up to, but if I can remember to use her system in the midst of a negative event, it should also let me move forward with my life gracefully and with ease.