Let it go

There is a curious phenomenon that I observe regularly, both in my professional as well as my personal experience. That is, the way we react to distress in our lives. Particularly the distress caused by others’ bad behavior.

One sort of reaction happens when one is the victim of someone else’s inability to control themselves, even at the expense of others. The victim falls into the trap of self blame. They feel guilty, dirty even, when they think of the pain inflicted on them.

The other sort of reaction is the complete opposite. This is what happens when a perpetrator of pain, a purveyor destruction, is confronted by their own deeds, and are called to task for how they hurt others. This person does the complete opposite. They lash out, often at those that have shone daylight at their deeds. And even when they have no way to explain the evidence against them, they deny, blame the victim, even to the point where they take their awful behavior and attempt to create a narrative within which they have done something righteous, and those who would have them cease that behavior are deemed evil.

I actually think that these two individuals are suffering from the same sort of distortion. The same sort of struggle. The inability to let it go.

The “it” that I refer to is omnipotence. The ability to control all around them. To be sure, they come from different places. The victim who blames themselves takes on the evil behaviors of others to impose some sort of balance on the universe. If I am the source of everything evil that happens to me, then at least there is a source. Not only that, but I know the source, I can predict the behavior of the source. Ironically, self blame is much safer, with all of its pain and destructive nature, than recognizing the chaos that exists in the world. We cannot predict the behavior of others, and that is terrifying. However, we can blame ourselves and feel secure.

The second individual is also suffering from the distortion of omnipotence. However, it comes from a much deeper, more rotten, fetid place. It comes from their own insecurity. They start with so much self doubt, conscious and unconscious, that they believe that they must be able to control everything around them in order to restore some order to the world. So they lash out. They abuse. All the while, they become more and more transparently delusional to all those who can see them (or follow their twitter feed).

Both of these individuals, in their quest to find peace from the cacophony of chaos, reach for control, one striking inward, and one lashing out. What they often do not recognize, is that it is a battle of choice. We can choose to lean in to the chaos. We do not have the ability, and therefore, not the responsibility, to control others. We can’t always be held responsible for our circumstances. We can and should, however, be held responsible for our reaction to those circumstances.

To the individual who blames their own self: It is not your fault. People behave badly, even evilly. Accept your own goodness. It is the greatest guard against evil.

To the individual who blames others: You are foolish. You do not need to be perfect. You just need to be good. On your own merits you can be loved. On your own accomplishments you can be lauded, without putting down that which others have accomplished as well.

To both of you

Let it go.

About the Author
Binyomin Yudin is a psychotherapist in private practice in Cincinnati, Ohio Born in Harrisburg, PA, and raised in Baltimore MD, he attended several yeshivos after high school eventually landing at Ner Israel in Baltimore until his marriage in 2002. He spent several years learning at kollelim in Israel, and after a stint in the rabbinate in St Louis, settled in Cincinnati, OH, with his family.