Change your expat life
Overcoming the Blame Game, Pt. 2
In last week’s blog post, I introduced the story of a friend I met in Zimbabwe whose new posting in Latin America had been plagued with uncertainty and unexpected challenges due to the global pandemic. You can read Part 1 here.
His story, as well as the experience of his family, are a perfect lens for exploring what we are all likely to experience when facing difficult circumstances:
- We look for someone to blame—and that someone is usually ourselves, our partners, or the organizations we’re involved with.
- We start drawing comparisons—and we start wondering why we seem to be facing such challenges when it seems like others have it easy (or, at least, easier)
In Part 1 of this blog post, I emphasized the importance of starting to recognize how you might default to one of these patterns. In this post, I’m explaining how and why these patterns only make things worse.
The London Double Decker
When it comes to playing the blame game, I like to use the analogy of the London Double Decker.
On the first floor of the bus, there is the issue you are actually facing. On the second floor, there is the blame, the self-judgment, and the comparison. What usually happens is that we spend too much time on the second floor of the bus is that we just spin there. We spend all our energy on blame and judgment, which, in turn, creates feelings of anger, guilt, shame, and anxiety.
Taking the example of my expat friend who moved with his family from Zimbabwe to Latin America, here’s what he might be thinking while he’s on the first level of the double decker bus:
- This is really tough!
- I wonder if we will be able to stay in this country for a while.
- Finding a plan B is not going to be easy.
- I have no clue what will happen next.
- I might be out of a job soon.
Once he climbs up to the second floor of the bus, though, we can imagine him having thoughts like:
- Other people around me are not in this impossible situation—why am I?
- I made the wrong decision when I accepted this position.
- I should have listened when someone told me not to come here.
- All our friends and colleagues in Zimbabwe were smart to stay—what a stupid idea it was to move!
- This organization is driving my family crazy with all the uncertainty! Why can’t they just get organized and tell us what we can expect?
On the first level of the bus, my friend might be feeling alarmed, anguished, disappointed, discouraged, and worried about the uncertainty of his circumstances.
But on the second level of the bus, his thoughts might turn to shame, guilt, anxiety, regret, fear, powerlessness, condemnation, and desperation.
As we talk about in podcast episodes 1 to 5 (Unpack Your Thoughts Before You Move and Life is 50/50), beliefs can create shame, guilt, and anxiety. It’s not the reality, but these emotions seem so real! And they can come at you fast when you escalate to the second story of the double decker bus.
We’re not alone in the spin cycle
Of course, my friend is not the only one in his family experiencing the challenges of the new post in Latin America. His family is too!
Imagine what his partner—the person who has followed him to this new post—might be thinking and feeling. On the first floor of the double decker (the level of what’s actually happening):
- I am exhausted!
- I have no desire to invest time and energy in settling down if we’re just going to be packing up soon.
- It’s all been too difficult. There’s no stability!
- I cannot believe we’ve finally arrived in this country and might have to move again soon.
On the level of what’s actually happening, they are experiencing exhaustion, disbelief, and discouragement.
On the second floor of the double decker, where they might be spinning into blame and comparison, the partner might have thoughts such as:
- I should never have agreed to this crazy plan and idea!
- This organization and lifestyle are driving me nuts.
- I am not managing to be the partner and parent I want to be.
- I am failing on all fronts.
- Others would never end up in a situation like mine.
- I am not capable of taking control of my life.
Here, we see that the partner has added an extra layer of anger, inadequacy, powerlessness, resignation, shame, and guilt—all typical emotions for the second level of the double decker bus.
Finally, let’s inhabit the mind of a teenaged third-culture kid (TCK) who might be following along in this journey with his or her family in this scenario.
On the first level of the bus, they might be thinking:
- I miss my friends so much.
- I cannot talk to them as much I want to.
- I don’t like this city or country.
- I wish we had never left.
- This transition has been awful.
Adding in the comparison and blame that enters the picture on the second level:
- My friends don’t seem to suffer as much as I do.
- I don’t matter to them!
- My parents are ruining my life.
- I will never ever do this to my children.
On the first level of the double decker the TCK experiences loneliness, disconnection, opposition, devastation, and grief. On the second floor, we see feelings such as disbelief, rebelliousness, anger, disengagement, disenchantment, powerlessness, distress, and hate.
Take back your life
If any of this sounds familiar, you are not alone! Whether you are an expat facing difficult circumstances or simply someone who is trying to regain a sense of control in your own life and experiences, it is very normal to search for something (or someone) to blame or compare your situation to.
But the truth is, playing the blame game and making comparisons only makes things harder. They take you away from making clear, empowered decisions about how you want to address the challenge ahead and what you want to do next in your life.
The good news? You don’t have to hop on the second story of that double-decker bus. You can overcome the blame game.
My coaching programs are all about helping you reclaim a strong vision for your life and stay laser focused on achieving it. No more getting derailed by comparison or blame—just clarity and momentum to face life’s challenges head on and on your own terms.
Are you ready?
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