blame, shame and forgiveness


These three areas fascinate me. How do I resist moving into blame and shame when something goes a bit pear-shaped?

What’s wrong with the shape of pears anyway?

How do I notice when I’m tempted to blame somebody, something or even myself, ‘How dare he/she/they/I???’ and turn the question into something more useful like ‘Hmm, what precisely is needed in this sticky situation?’ Pears get a bit sticky when you eat them. They are like that.

How can I see any moment as an opportunity to shift away from blame and shame and to move towards forgiveness which can motivate a very different activity.

Brené Brown asks us to consider that everyone is doing the best they can given their circumstances, advice she received from her own therapist. Even those people who are behaving in ways that we just cannot understand and who seem to be motivated by values very different from our own, are generally human beings with congested souls like ours getting a bit or even extremely stuck in their soul congestion. I can’t find a tasty bite-sized link to Brené’s work on that topic right now but she talks about it in her book Rising Strong.

When we are in a bit of a crisis, we tend to get stuck in our reactive habits—you know, the old ones from the past that we know really well. Our default modes. We’ve known them sometimes for lifetimes. They usually kick in when things go pear-shaped and they are so familiar that we don’t even realise we are feeling them or thinking them, or acting them out.

We just shift into ‘She’s a bully!’  rather than ‘She’s feeling a lot of fear right now.’ Or ‘He’s a narcissist!’ instead of ‘Hmm, he’s trying desperately to protect himself from all the pain of his soul congestion right there.’ They, those difficult, horrible human beings, have the same potential as we do to be radically loving beings but they just can’t see that right now. And we don’t see that either, instead very often we whir into trying to solve the problem, to get over the crisis in reactive ways that tend to perpetuate our old patterns. We blame them.

When we ‘otherise’ like this through blame, then we get stuck, we can’t explore the deeper picture. We let ourselves off the hook. After all, it’s their fault.

Otto Scharmer suggests that blaming them is one of four distractions to being present. He asks us to consider that the antidote to letting ‘them’ distract us from being deeply present to what’s going on right now is deeper listening.

What? Do you mean we have to listen to their story? Yes, but maybe not immediately. As first aid, we need to notice our own feelings, listen deeply to them so we can suspend them. Clear our own soul congestion, see where our stream of feeling has got caught on some old stuff. Then when we’ve done that we can open our hearts to the other person, either with them personally or in other ways, even imaginatively.

We can listen deeply first to our own story, clear our own judgments, fears and cynicism, then we can listen deeply to them. And we can listen to them even if they won’t currently speak to us and we have to do that imaginatively, but of course we can also listen to their story, to their feelings, to their deeper emotions face to face, even on twitter or fb messenger, if we practice a bit and we’ve attended to our own reactivity first. I know, it’s tough. Yes, it is, and I’m going to admit right here and now, that I haven’t always been up for it, not at all. And even now, when I know how well it works, I can miss out on the signals and find myself in blame.

But when I have had the courage to try listening, it’s been a bit magical. Things shift and move. I see the person in a whole new light. The pear-shapedness of the situation doesn’t bother me so much. I can see the potential in the whole thing that my blame was obscuring from me. We can solve the problem very differently perhaps from the way I had imagined it. I can even set the other person free of the story in which I had imprisoned them.

It happened most potently for me with a friend I love. Things went very pear-shaped with us for a while.  It was only when I moved through my own raft of congested feelings, gave up blame, and started imagining something different that our friendship was reconciled.

But we can’t do that kind of thing effectively until we’ve noticed whether or not we’re stuck in old patterns and a bit of congested feeling ourselves. And attended to that. First. Preferably while eating a pear. If they’re in season. Another piece of fruit will do if they’re not.

So, I haven’t got onto shame or forgiveness but that’s enough really for now. Get back to pears. And appreciating them. Especially their shape.

Image credit



7 thoughts on “blame, shame and forgiveness”

  1. Thank Clare, lovely writing as usual. I really like the Work of Byron Katie in this area. Its all really a form of judgement and as she says ‘not accepting reality’. And it is, I think, a life long process, possibly ‘the’ lifelong process?

  2. Thanks, Kate, yes she’s right isn’t she and reality is always much more difficult to contemplate than our own story. And yes, I’m absolutely sure it’s a lifelong project…

  3. Hello Clare – thank you for this. I like the term ‘soul congestion’. And while we’re on terminology (I confess my busy-tired brain is not reading deeply at this moment), I’ve been questioning the term ‘pear-shaped’ for some time. Pears are a beautiful shape! I say ‘pineapple-shaped’. Tho it’s a mouthful. (bad pun not intended).

  4. Thanks, Sally, I like pineapple shaped! According to the OED pear-shaped is a British or Australian colloquialism deriving from RAF slang, and other sources suggest it’s about trying to make air loops that go a bit funny…

  5. Thank you Clare! I find pears so very beautiful, and pear trees too. And the slowing down and opening up of moments of true being with. So much to gain from that .

  6. Such inspiration as usual Clare. I like the fact this comes from air loops – which are a bit like moving on a mobelius strip – one has to step off the movement to get perspective or it just goes on forever.

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