It’s often said that we’re our worst enemy, and in this case, when we find fault, blame and accuse ourselves, this is certainly true. When Baha’u’llah told us to:
Bring thyself to account each day . . . (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 31)
He wasn’t asking us to only look at our negative qualities. It took me years to understand that accountants (“account”ants) look at both the debits (negatives) and credits (positives), and both are needed to balance the books. Baha’u’llah tells us to be moderate in all things . . . :
In all circumstances they should conduct themselves with moderation. (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 294)
. . . and when we just look at our negatives, we are not being moderate. He also tells us
Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 216)
So if we are overly critical of ourselves, we aren’t being moderate and nothing good can come of it.
Instead of always looking at our shortcomings, Shoghi Effendi suggests we add up our accomplishments:
He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 457)
There are two main types of self-blame:
1. Undeserved blame based on actions. Those who experience this kind of self-blame feel that they should have done something differently and therefore feel at fault.
We might have thoughts such as:
- Remember what you did 20 years ago?
- Why did you do that?
- What were you thinking?
- Nothing will ever be right again because of that bad decision you made
- I’ve made so many mistakes that can’t be undone
- I’ve wasted my life
When life doesn’t go the way we want, we convince ourselves that God is still punishing us, even for sins we’ve already repented for and turned away from. We still feel guilty and continue to condemn ourselves. We can’t let go, trusting that we don’t have to ask forgiveness over and over again. It’s just another way to continue abasement. God forgave us the first time we asked His forgiveness.
2. Undeserved blame based on character. Victims who experience this kind of self-blame feel there is something inherently wrong with them which caused them to deserve to be assaulted.
We might have thoughts such as:
- I don’t belong
- Nobody likes me
- It’s all my fault
- I’m such a sinner
- I’m no good
- I can’t do anything right
- I’m not worthy to be a Baha’i
- I’m stupid
- I don’t fit in
- I don’t look good enough
- I have nothing to offer
- There’s no reason for me to participate in Baha’i community life
- I might as well be dead
- I’ll never have anything
- I’ll never be somebody
Victims of abuse(some studies suggest that this includes ¼ of the earth’s population), for example, often feel responsible for causing negative feelings in the abuser towards them and then get trapped in a self-imageof victimization which includes a pervasive sense of helplessness, passivity, loss of control, pessimism, negative thinking, strong feelings of guilt, shame, remorse, self-blame and depression. This way of thinking can lead to hopelessness and despair. [i]
Counselling helpful in reducing self-blame includes support and education including cognitive restructuring(learning to take the facts and form a logical conclusion from them that is less influenced by shame or guilt. [ii] Reading the Bahá’í Writings is the best way to educate ourselves about what is true, and helps us reframe our experiences and beliefs.
We often experience self-condemnation when we don’t know how God sees us. God created us in His image:
God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 79)
And because He loved us:
I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 3)
He created us with a lower nature:
Innate in man there is love of self; in him there is jealousy, and so on with all the other imperfections and thus, in a word, all the imperfections found in the animal are to be found in man. For instance, in the animal there is ferocity; there is also ferocity in man. In the animal there is what is called hypocrisy or slyness, like unto that in the fox; and in the animal there is greed — and there is ignorance. So there are all these in man. In the animal there are injustice and tyranny; so likewise are they in man. The reality of man, therefore, is clad, you might say, in its outer form in the garment of the animal, in the garment of the world of nature, of the world of darkness; that is the world of imperfection, that is the world of infinite baseness. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 296-297)
Now that we know how we were created, there’s no need to judge ourselves too harshly when we find ourselves slipping into our lower nature.
When we immerse ourselves in the Ocean of the Baha’i Writings and strive to implement them, we will achieve our true purpose in life (which is to know and worship God). We will be able to overcome our lower nature and be able to:
Rise then unto that for which thou wast created. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words Arabic 22).