Personalization and Blame: Reducing Guilt and Shame

Feelings of guilt and shame are common when we’re depressed. Feeling guilty is often related to the cognitive distortion Personalization and Blame. We blame ourselves and hold ourselves personally responsible for negative situations and outcomes that aren’t totally within our control. And as a result we feel guilty or ashamed of ourselves.

On the other hand, sometime we don’t give ourselves enough credit when things go well. Personalization and Blame often goes hand in hand with a type of cognitive distortion known as Minimization. With Minimization, we minimize out contributions to positive situations and outcomes and fail to give ourselves credit where credit is due.

Reduce Guilt and Shame with CBT

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

When something goes wrong in your life or things don’t work out do you tend to blame yourself or feel guilty? And when things do work out or go well do you tend to give yourself enough credit? Or do you find reasons to attribute the success to other people or things outside of your control?

If we tend to blame ourselves and feel guilt or shame when things go wrong even when it’s not entirely our faults, we’re falling into a type of cognitive distortion known as personalization and blame. And cognitive distortions are a type of negative thinking, in which we look at things from a negatively biased perspective, that leads us to perceive reality inaccurately in ways that make us feel bad. And there are lots of different types of cognitive distortions, and I have a whole video on cognitive distortions that I’ll link to in the description.

And on the other hand we can end up not giving ourselves enough credit when things work out or go well. This could be an example of the cognitive distortion, minimization, in which we minimize our contributions to successes and positive outcomes.

So in this video we’re going to learn a way to counter both of these types of cognitive distortions, and not hold ourselves so personally responsible for things that go wrong that aren’t entirely our faults, which helps us feel less guilty about them. And also how to give ourselves some credit when things work out or go well and as a result feel better about ourselves and improve our self-confidence and self-esteem.

We’re going to use a tool called a responsibility pie. Which is a type of pie chart that helps us spread the responsibility around in situations with negative outcomes or when things don’t work out. And helps us give ourselves more credit in situations where things do work out and go well.

So let’s look at a few examples starting with situations in which things don’t go so well. Maybe a project we’re working on doesn’t get finished on time and we think, it’s all my fault, I didn’t work hard enough, I was too slow, I was too lazy, I’m just not good at this job, I’m not cut out for it. And we end up blaming ourselves and feeling guilty or feeling ashamed.

But chances are we’re not completely at fault. We’re not fully responsible for how things turned out. So to help us see this we can complete a responsibility pie. So the first step is to write down any factors we can think of that contributed to how things turned out. So this could be things that we did but also things other people did as well as any things about the situation that we didn’t have control over.

And so maybe I didn’t work hard enough, and I got confused about something and that ended up taking me longer than it should have; but also my boss gave me an unreasonable amount of work, and the deadline for the project got moved up, and my co-worker didn’t do their fair share.

And then in the pie chart we assign a share of responsibility to each of these factors. And so now we see that we’re not completely responsible for this negative outcome. And although we’re partially to blame, there were many other factors that contributed, and this helps us feel less guilty about the way things turned out, and is much easier on our self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Or maybe we get angry at our kids, or argue with our spouses or partners, or get into a fight with our mothers, and we blame ourselves and feel guilty or ashamed. We vowed we were going to be more patient with our mother and try to have a closer relationship with her, but she calls one evening and we end up getting into the same argument we always have. And the conversation ends on a bad note with both of us feeling hurt and upset with each other and now we feel guilty.

I promised myself I’d be more patient with her. I knew she would push my buttons. I shouldn’t have let her get to me like that I should have just ignored those comments and not gotten so emotional. Why can’t I manage to have just one conversation with her that doesn’t end this way?

So if we’re feeling guilty about how this conversation went and blaming ourselves, we can fill out a responsibility pie. So we take responsibility for our share—we did get pretty emotional and snap at her—but she also bears some responsibility. She knows I hate when she brings those things up, and I’ve asked her not to.

And there were also some external factors in play. It was late and we were both pretty tired, and I’ve been really stressed from work lately, and there was still some work I needed to do after we finished talking, and I was a little distracted and preoccupied by that. And then we assign a share of responsibility to each of these factors.

And so we’ve spread the responsibility around. And maybe we still feel bad about how the conversation went, but at least now we’re not completely blaming ourselves, and we feel a little less guilty and disappointed with ourselves.

Now on the other end of the spectrum we can fail to give ourselves credit when something goes well for example let’s say a project we’re in charge of at work is a big success if we have the tendency to downplay our contributions we can minimize our part in achieving this good result and tell ourselves things like, the project was pretty easy, I barely did anything, anyone could have done what I did, my team did most of the work, I even had to ask my boss for some help.

So if we find ourselves minimizing our roles, we can also use a responsibility pie to help us see that we deserve more credit than we’re giving ourselves. So again we write down everything that contributed to the success of this project. The project wasn’t that difficult. And my team did a lot of work. I got help from my boss. But I worked hard and put in a lot of hours and ultimately I was in charge and it turned out really well. And then we assign a share of responsibility to each of these factors.

So we’re not trying to take all of the credit, but we’re helping ourselves realize and see that we’re at least partially responsible for this positive outcome, instead of just minimizing our contributions. And as a result we feel better about ourselves, and we gain some self-confidence and improve our self-esteem and sense of self-worth. So if you’d like to download a copy of a responsibility pi worksheet you’ll find the link in the description and on the end screen.

Now another thing that can contribute to feelings of guilt and shame is telling ourselves too many should statements—I should do this; I shouldn’t do that—and I’m going to cover this in a video I have coming up.

The Responsibility Pie is a CBT worksheet that reduces Personalization and Blame, so that feel less guilt and shame. And it helps us stop Minimizing our contributions so that we can take credit for our successes. You can download the Responsibility Pie Worksheet in PDF or Word format.

In the next post we’ll look at Should Statements, another type of cognitive distortion that can leave us feeling guilty. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.