A blog by Matt Shepheard.
“In this way I am better than you. In this way I can rest in my innocence. In this way I am soothed, safe and blameless.”
The comfort of blaming others for where we find ourselves is very alluring. We get to define ourselves as “not the problem”, as “the sane one”, as “the one that knows”, as “the one who would have done things differently”, if only we’d had the chance.
“Therapeutic sympathy often has us wanting to exonerate our clients, to minimise their guilt. That can be comforting but it isn’t always strengthening. We need to create a safe enough atmosphere for people to agree to their part in sufferings without fearing that a tsunami from the moral world will tumble them over.” Judith Hemming
Having sat in the chair of both therapist and client I am a huge advocate of counselling and psychotherapy. However, one of the pitfalls for a client is falling for the allure of resting in innocent victimhood. Having our pain seen and recognised by a therapist can bring soothing and comfort. The problem is if we stay in this place, it can be soporific or reinforcing of a particular position, rather than supporting strength and movement.
Rather than finding our own responsibility, our own capacity to act, to hurt, to get it wrong, we sit on the receiving end of all that was done to us, of all that is wrong with the world. We point the finger, blame and judge. Here we are safe in the knowledge that we are innocent, relieved that the injustices we have suffered are seen. We stand vindicated in the knowledge that our problems were caused by other people (Mum and Dad? Politicians?).
It’s important to state that refraining from judging isn’t the same as exonerating. Victims are not responsible for the actions of those that cause harm, and perpetrators must, of course, bear the consequences of their actions.
And we all need to do the work to find our individual places of responsibility and release, to be with complexity and not flinch.
We judge and blame our parents, but at some point, we have to take responsibility for our own fate and discover where we are the actor, the perpetrator, the creator. Can we look to our parents and say, “you gave me life, that is more than enough”?
Lovingly facing our own part in the sorrows of the world rather than knowing all the ways we can ascribe it to others is surprisingly strengthening. The movement is towards responsibility and inclusion, rather than judgement and exclusion.
When we reside as the victim then the parts of us that impact the world, the enacting parts of us with agency are not allowed to breathe, and then show up in other unhelpful ways, asking to be integrated.
The same is true at a family level. Family members, people or events can be excluded, disowned or marginalised. Maybe they (or what they represented) were too painful to face, or they were judged not OK, not acceptable, not fitting with the image associated with belonging to the family.
At a systemic level, the marginalised or excluded will manifest as symptoms in later generations. Those that come later unconsciously act out the earlier exclusion or disallowed behaviour. This is a way of the system trying to signpost its incompleteness and move to wholeness.
One of the most potent healing positions to practice is to look at the people we blame or judge and say, “in your shoes I may have done no differently”. “Stood in the place you stand in time, born from the context in which you were born, surrounded by the context that acts on and through you, I may have done no different.” This can unfreeze us and the systems we belong to, restoring connection and allowing the possibility for movement.
Constellations work helps human systems face what needs to be faced. Through bearing, seeing, including, and lifting judgements, moving beyond polarities and leaning into the wider context love and strength can flow.
Matt has been supporting people in their personal and professional growth and development for the last 12 years as a therapist, systemic coach, facilitator and Programme Director of the Psychosynthesis Trust.
Matt’s work is based on the underlying dynamics that shape human systems, rooted in the theory and practice of systemic constellations, transpersonal psychotherapy, and his experience of working as a leader in organisations.
He has recently published a chapter in the 2nd edition of the Handbook of Coaching Psychology on the systemic constellations approach to coaching.