It’s easy to feel victimized, to fall into shaming yourself (“I’m not good enough,”) or blaming others (“How could they do this to me?”). Hard feelings are natural, but getting caught up in shame or blame can sabotage you, making you see yourself as a victim. Shaming leads to learned helplessness (Peterson, Maier, & Seligman, 1993) and blaming leads to an external locus of control, both of which disempower us, undermine our momentum, keep us from achieving our goals, and can even lead to depression (Burger, 1984; Twenge, Zhang, & Im, 2004).
No matter what happens, we always have a choice. As Viktor Frankl discovered, even in the horror of the Nazi concentration camps there was one thing the direst circumstances could not take away: his choice of how to respond (Frankl, 1946/1984). He survived, wrote his book, Man's Search for Meaning, and developed Logotherapy to help people realize the importance of choice in their lives.
Shakespeare’s plays dramatize the importance of choice or proairesis. When faced with adversity, his tragic heroes all too often surrender to shame, blaming themselves like Hamlet. Or they blame externals, surrendering to fate like Romeo or too hastily blame others, often the wrong people, as with Othello. These choices inevitably lead to tragedy. But Shakespeare’s comic heroes demonstrate greater presence of mind. Rosalind in As You Like It and Viola in Twelfth Night are creative and resourceful, exploring new options to bring greater harmony to their worlds. They demonstrate what psychologist Albert Bandura (1997) calls “self-efficacy”-- the belief that our choices make a difference.
So the next time you face disappointment, don’t get caught up in shaming and blaming. Ask “What do I want?” then look for ways to move forward. You cannot control what just happened, but you can control your response. You always have a choice.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman & Company.
Burger, J. M (1984). Desire for control, locus of control, and proneness to depression. Journal of Personality, 52, 71-88.
Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, (Originally published 1946).
Peterson, C., Maier, S.F., & Seligman, M. E.P. (1993). Learned helplessness: A theory for the age of personal control. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Twenge, J. M., Zhang, L., & Im, C. (2004). It’s beyond my control: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of increasing externality in locus of control, 1960-2002. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 308-319.