From This Point On: Now It Will Be Your Fault

Print

It is good for man

to judge himself occasionally.

He is alone in being able to do so.

- Albert Camus


’m very curious about you, Reader. Are you a new visitor to this website and is this topic one of your first selections? If so, is it because you are so full of self-blame you cannot imagine clicking first on "It’s Not Your Fault?" Maybe you are interested in this article because you’re hoping to learn how to fix blame on an annoying someone in your life who seems incapable of or disinterested in taking responsibility for his behavior toward you. Perhaps you are an engaged and uneasy parent trying to figure out when to hold your teenage daughter accountable. Or have you worked your way through all the offerings on the website with this being the last article unread?

If you have not read through the website at least a little, this article may seem unutterably unfathomable. I worry that if you read it now you will be left feeling seriously annoyed or, worse, shamed.

If, on the other hand, you have read, accepted and practiced the self-construction model presented on this website, you should be primed to put this most crucial of psychological end caps in place – the need to be vigilant in speaking to yourself with some degree of sternness.

And I am curious, Reader, if you are wondering how I – a psychologist – can so blatantly lay the burden of fault on you. Let me walk you through my thinking.

All of us have to grow where we’re planted. But, for most of us, if we want to bloom, we have to amend the soil to a greater or lesser extent depending on how lucky we were in the parent-selection drawing. This website is designed to direct the soil-amendment process by adding to your existing life-skills repertoire crucial components, components without which we cannot blossom. Some, as you may have already explored, are as basic as how to apologize thoroughly and without hedge. Some cover more complicated – we might say more philosophical – understandings of how to live a coherent life. All are designed using existential, feminist thinking to provide you with nutrients to sustain a robust life.

Well-amended psychological soil creates an internal environment that reflects a consistent willingness to proceed through your day relying on the guidance provided by internalized voices of both challenge and support. The first article on the website hopefully started you down the road toward establishing the voice of support within yourself. Along the way, we picked up the ingredients of challenge. This article is designed to provide you with the bookend to the first article by stressing that you are now ready to consistently hold yourself accountable. Nietzsche called this last step “self-overcoming” and it creates the state within which all serenity occurs. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

Back to the question of how I can make such a demand of you: I can simply because of the word “now” in the phrase “now it is your fault.” The word “now” is a fundamental word in the world of existential, feminist mental health. When you are truly capable of understanding that you alone administer your every “now,” you have put the last truth in place for yourself. And that truth is this: when we know what we know now, our foundation has been completed and we are terrifyingly ready to build our lives intentionally upon it. The existential buck stops here.

A basic premise of this website is – whether you were raised in a micro-culture that was too strict or too permissive – you were not likely taught how to have a calm, sensible relationship with holding yourself accountable. And that's not your fault. Once you understand the concept of existential intelligence, your accountability kicks in because you are well along in the process of reconciling with existential time. To be reconciled with existential time is to be able to hold yourself shrewdly responsible. Your past continues to be honestly and accurately digested, integrated and appreciated as the data that brought you to this place – and this place is good. The present becomes – more and more – that temporal location wherein you stop, think, and then create an up-to-date essence. The future beguiles you with an ever-more-clearly visualized will to power – a way of living that you deeply want. The twin brothers of fate, Death and Dread, are well incorporated into your thinking. Death urges you to keep up the pace as you write your ongoing personal narrative. Dread is handled by reminding yourself that any harm fate inflicts on you can be used to move your narrative forward in truly noble ways. Vis-à-vis fate, then, your goal is to act so that the strength of your existential character is not subordinate to the effects of either death and dread. And finally, your energy levels inform you of the status of your attachment to the world around you. You understand that low energy creates existential writer’s block and is most often the result of not being connected to anything that matters to you. As Nietzsche suggested, without a why, few of us can manage to generate a meaningful what – which leaves us with, of course, so what?

What does it mean to be at fault within the self-construct model? It means that – once your soul is no longer riddled with psychological holes caused by an error-filled upbringing – you can now expect yourself to, more often than not, implement a life for yourself that you wouldn’t mind living over and over again. You also can expect your percentage of unforced errors to be in continual decline since you have worked hard to learn how to correct the misperceptions you have had that have caused you to misstep unnecessarily. Because you now know what you know now, you are in a position to meet life’s challenges with a sophisticated and nimble game plan. It is no longer easy for you to recline into comfortable fantasies that offer sophomoric strategies for redressing life’s provocations. In other words, you see now that attempts to sidestep reality move you into cul-de-sacs lined with highly romanticized constructions, and these mental cul-de-sacs take you absolutely nowhere.

Now it is your fault. You have taken over the reins of your life and, as the CEO of your life project, you are responsible for what you create from now on.

 

Beyond Good and Evil

- Friedrich Nietzsche

Five Days Left: A Novel

- Julie Lawson Timmer

 

Remind me what I know now

Your overarching psychological understanding now comes from two interlocking systems that support you as you face choice after choice after choice in your daily life: the existential stance and the parental attitude. Let me quickly recap these two systems.

Existential stance: Human beings naturally explore their world from a metaphysical perspective. (It turns out that little kids actually want answers to their relentless repetitions of “Why?”) Given either good enough parenting or a corrective process of self-parenting, we arrive at adulthood with some understanding of the big “whys” of life. We have the ability to visualize how our particular past has created our unique self which allows us to recognize how the choices we make today will either help or hinder the pursuit of our individual life project in the future. With added input from the self-construct model, we can also realize that we have to incorporate a relationship with fate/death and attachment/energy into our immediate choice-making endeavors. When we can stand fully in the present connected to the other four dimensions of time (past, future, death and energy), we have a very great chance of making courageous and skillful decisions about what to do next.

The parental attitude: Again, due to some combination of an adequate childhood and a self-help undertaking, you should now be able to hold the five elements of a sound parental attitude in mind when you think about how to guide yourself through the life design process. These five commitments are: take the job of being yourself seriously; hold yourself accountable for the choices you make; find yourself, your ideas and your goals delightful; eagerly pursue novelty and challenge with respect to your life project; and patiently, persistently fill your life with genuine attachments to people, places and things.

Your challenge is to practice each aspect of this combination of existential stance and self-parenting sufficiently and consistently enough to be able to maintain mindful balance while progressing through your day. And, when you do this, you are enacting self-creation wherein you forge your personhood out of the mindless chaos of everyday life.

(Note: A word here about the concept of mindfulness. Too often people become enthralled with the idea of mindfulness, but only as a meditative state. But mindfulness is not being mindful about being mindful. One must take the next, much, much harder step into being mindful about implementing the values you hold. The overarching value that existential, feminist thinkers want you to attend to is the degree of autonomy you are using to design your life in the face of near-crippling cultural pressure to conform. This self-determination does not happen with a kumbaya flick of the wrist. It is a willingness to stare, unblinking, into the mirror of self-reflection. Terrifying, absolutely terrifying. I believe authentic, existential mindfulness is one of the hardest things we can ask of ourselves.)

The old college try

A good therapist will warn couples who enter therapy together that, from this moment on, the stakes go way up in the relationship as they both learn where they have been inept. If they refuse to take responsibility for change subsequent to knowing what needs to be changed, then they are clearly signaling to their partner an unarguable lack of commitment.

The same is true, now, for you.

If you’ve stuck with me along this lengthy, soul-healing journey, you now know that life is difficult for everyone, why life is difficult in general and why your life is difficult in particular. Your psychological snarls have been de-shamed and laid out in front of you meaning they are now yours to untangle. You are in a position to be more in control of your nowness than ever before, and to comprehend how your now links to your past, future, death and energy.

If you try to put this genie of the knowledge of how to live authentically back into the bottle, you will signal to yourself that you just don’t matter. When this specific strain of apathy takes hold of your operating system, your life will be one designed by contingency. If your "luck" is good, you might get a sweet life. If it is "bad", you might suffer horribly. But, in neither case are you in a position to feel genuine pride of ownership of the life you are living. If you feel an inexorable pull to ignore what you know now, it is a clear indication that your self-loathing script is still deeply embedded in your sense of self, telling you that you cannot handle the truth that your life is yours to design. Please reach out to someone to help you resist the understandable yet tragic urge to give up on your self, your power and your entitlement.

The finishing touch

In order to help you put the finishing touch on your existential mental schema, I offer two skills to add to your repertoire: a commitment to standing in the will-to-power corridor and the willingness to monitor the trajectory of your life with respect to a clearly held aspirational self.

Will-to-power corridor: Isn’t that a great phrase? To me it just pulses with arterial splendor – providing our thinking with the lifeblood of human possibilities. Similar to the existential stance, the will-to-power corridor comes into existence when we remember to locate ourselves in relation to will power, will and will to power as we are facing a unit of time. If we conceptualize that next unit of time as a long corridor with a nearly infinite number of doors, we will be more likely to take a moment to appraise our options, acknowledge the sheer number of them, and perhaps take that time unit a little more seriously. The will-to-power corridor is where we choose to choose to implement the next thing that we believe has value for us. Let's take a deep breath and give that last sentence a think. At every moment we are poised to look down that long hallway and perhaps select a door that reflects such an audacious and brave choice our hearts will nearly burst. Or, of course, we may just choose the next thing that we believe will keep our sweet lives running along smoothly. So, for example, when you have a day at work in front of you, you can let the environment determine what you accomplish with that day, you can let habit run the day, or you can see the day as holding some serious existential promise. If you choose the latter, you will need to harness your intentions to activate your will power predominantly in the service of activating your will to power. Surprisingly, you may find that the best way to spend your day is to not go to work at all, but to stay home and look for another job or even another career! The question to ask yourself at every beginning of each time unit then is: “What can I do with this hour, this day, this week that will take me closest to the life I yearn to live?”

The will-to-power corridor is where you put your customized philosophy into practice in your day-to-day decisions. Remember, you are the principal investigator in an n-of-one study starring you, baby.

Monitoring trajectory: I get a kick out of considering this a mature version of being tucked into bed at night. If you are willing to accept that now it is your fault if your life goes too far off the rails, then you should be willing to check in daily to monitor the course your life is taking. Ever-present sexism aside, Camus wasn’t wrong in his call to judge quoted in the epigraph.

Specifically, what you are asking is this: Am I getting into existential trouble? There are two ways you can find yourself living an existentially troubled life: by submitting to apathy and refusing to choose to choose; or submitting to living a life designed for you by outsiders. The former occurs when we have a fractured relationship with ourselves which allows fear-based human characteristics such as petulance, procrastination and image-management to too often determine our course of action. The latter occurs when the pull for inauthenticity from our surrounding cultures throws us off track and our inadequate attachments fail to free us up to be us. To avoid either of these undesirable states of "existence," we must work to not leave our lives unexamined.

Like so many of life’s little golden rules, the concept of leading an examined life is usually given a nod-and-move-on response.

Let’s not do that. Let’s, instead, take up the challenge to live our life like a psychological engineer: Build a little, test a little. To do that, we have to evaluate our longer past and our immediate past and compare them. Ask yourself often: Am I becoming who I want to be? And am I improving in my consistency? Our near past should serve as proof that our newer narrative is more aligned with our will to power as we move closer and closer to our aspirational self.

It is extremely tempting to avoid testing yourself and here’s why: Most of us can remember the gnawing angst of studying for a midterm. At no time before a test can we rest assured that we have done enough. Because we do not know what the test will entail, to be fully prepared would be to study everything. That, of course, cannot be done. The resulting awful midterm mood of anxiety laced with our self-recrimination about our poor study habits is the stuff of life-long nightmares. So most of us have an extremely well-formed test avoidance habit. And, in the case of testing the creative integrity we are exhibiting in terms of existential authenticity, we are both the test writer and the test taker. What hangs over our heads day in and day out, then, is the need to study for a test and write a test. No wonder we bolt out of reach of anything that reminds us of this challenge.

What exactly needs to be covered on this test? I would call it a “by and large” test. It’s an essay question worth a bazillion points: How was my day today spent? By and large, was at least 51% of my precious time spent in manner and thought that reflected my aspirational self? Am I a slightly better person tonight than I was when I woke up this morning? In the examined-life version of things, did I pass today? Asked without a sneer, these questions reach straight to the hub of our participation in the will-to-power corridor.

Now, it must be acknowledged that there can be great satisfaction in misbehaving. The drama of petulance, the hedonism of sloppiness, and the satisfaction of a well-turned episode of procrastination can all seduce us into wasting time. There is really no downside to these indulgences if they’re occasional. In fact, it could be successfully argued that a life without misbehavior is both unkind and too stern to sustain. But when decadence inches up to over 51% of our day, our trust in ourselves is going to seriously erode.

We need to keep an eye on our trajectory and on those days when we “flunk” (a day that reflected a downward slide away from who we are hoping to become), we need to be willing to debrief. When we recognize that we’ve squandered a day, we, as both author and narrator, need to invite our own gentle questioning of “Why?” If we know why we got sloppy, we talk with ourselves using that firm and empathic parental set of voices that can guide us back on track. If we find we have no answer, then just like a dancer who struggles with a particularly difficult combination, we go back to class. We read some more, we consult with others, we think. We work to become an even better self-constructionist.

“Now it is your fault” is only with respect to the trajectory of your life. It is not an existential indictment of your character if your life takes a potency dip. It is, however, an indictment of what you are doing to maintain your character when a potency dip goes unattended. By now you should be able to use your four major existential tools to stop the action, get into challenge/support balance, drop yourself into the will-to-power corridor and arrest the downward slide.

You are your own little “I.” Take gentle care to tuck yourself in at night with a short quiz to see how much of that day’s existence was converted to essence. To borrow Marjorie Grene’s words, how much of “the hard, resistant, senseless fact of what is” have you turned today into what might be?

When you put yourself to bed tonight, you must acknowledge that who you are right now is a result of all the choices you made or didn’t make over the course of that day. Do you like who your choices added up to create?

And if you did enact a day that was over that 51% mark, can you give yourself a psychological Fitbit buzz of congratulations on another day banked in the plus column? Both the challenge parental voice and the support parental voice should have rich vocabularies in positive feedback for a day well lived.

Corruptio optimi pessima est

If we believe that the corruption of the best in us is the worst of all, we will willingly investigate what dwells within us that confounds us with respect to living an examined life. What follows are examples of how we try to talk ourselves out of working on our life.

• I’m doing the best I can. This phrase is both true and not true. It’s true in that none of us wakes up in the morning committed to failing. But it is also true in that each of us has a much larger helping of free will than we consume in an average day. Therefore, the assessment of how close we are getting to our best selves needs to be a hard-wrought conclusion not a default state of mind. And the word “best” needs to be very uniquely defined. Is what we constituted today a strong representation of what we know ourselves to be capable of? Every day doesn’t have to be a diving catch, but neither do we want to go through day after day with alligator arms.

• With a little bit of luck. Sure, it’s always nice when fate gives us a lift. And many of us are extremely fortunate to have been dropped off within walking distance of Easy Street. But most of us spend too much time on the side of the road with our thumbs out, waiting to be shuttled further along by fortune. If you Google good fortune, you’ll find an abundance of quotes about how to have a thoughtful relationship with luck. And if you read much written by existentialists, of course, you’ll develop a whole new respect for the absurdity of wishing.

• Shame on you. Feeling the humiliation of shame tends to slam the brakes on any forward progress we might be preparing to attempt. What protects us from shame when we see our lives taking a downward slide? As discussed in one of the earliest articles on this website, we needn’t be vulnerable to shame if we can embrace the role of, and our tolerance for, guilt. Shame, you’ll remember, is built on a framework of believing that you are simply a bad person, willfully doing a poor job of being you. Bluntly put, shame is a terrorist living inside your brain. Guilt, on the other hand, is the uncomfortable feeling we get when we break one of our own rules. Guilt reminds us that, in doing what I chose, in error, to do, I demonstrated that I am still a weaker version of myself than I wish to be. This is a terribly rotten feeling to have. Terribly rotten feelings are great teachers. No need for shame. Eliminate shame and cozy up to guilt.

• Self-loathing. The corollary to the belief in the necessity of eliminating shame is the belief that harsh and honest self-regard is actually the opposite of self-loathing. Huh? When we are filled with self-loathing we are convinced that nothing about us will ever change because we are incapable of creating a better version of our lives. There's no point in thinking about psychological growth because we already deeply, madly, truly believe we are simply awful people. If self-loathing remains your default setting, your brain will be unable to turn toward assessing how you are doing in your day-to-day life. It already has its answer – horribly. Absent self-loathing, we tap into wise parental voices which can, if necessary, use blame to express to ourselves faith in both our obligation and our ability to handle this challenge to relentlessly assess, critique, tweak and experiment. Harsh and honest self-regard may be gnarly things to endure, but they tell you that your level of self-loathing is minimal. (But please remember, your life doesn’t have to be fast or flashy or worthy of celebrity. It just has to be feeding your particular hungry heart.)

• Packaged meat. Our will to power resides in a meat package that demands tremendous care. To the extent we fail to provide abundant sleep, nutrition, exercise, relaxation, hydration and joy, our bodies will make it all the more difficult to maintain singular focus on becoming. That means that a large hunk of our will power will always need to be syphoned off to provide this disciplined care.

• The dog ate my homework. Perennially blaming others only works existentially when you are unaware of how your upbringing let you down. Once you understand that something was missing and what that something is, you are then on the honor system to self-construct. Now it is your fault if you haven’t been practicing these new and necessary skills but have instead been just wishing that you could accomplish such and such.

• Intentions are not sufficient. Follow through is nonnegotiable. Voilà tout!

• If wishes were horses. This is the pit into which I commonly fall. I find it very difficult to identify the dangerous, dangerous allure of a derring-do meets rom-com existence. My overly romantic side constantly seeks a storyline that I wish were true for me. Only with strict and honest self-interrogation can I break through the understandable yet silly scripts I keep writing for myself. Avast, me hearties! It is possible to break the habit of treating your life like a pitch meeting. Indeed, if you can access a true existential part of yourself, you will find greater glory meeting the private challenges of your existence than in all the big-screen fantasies you could imagine. Methinks.

• Building on spec. An examined life is one that must tolerate that most daunting human emotion – hope. There is honor in hope but there can also be agony. We take the risks, put in the effort and endure the difficult times in the hope that fate will allow us at least a modest victory. The life we are willing to live over and over, however, may never materialize despite our ongoing grit. This is where we need our peeps. If we have created an adequate social support system for ourselves, these chosen people in our life who matter can stipulate to the ongoing integrity of our efforts and help us remain resilient. Fate may never choose us, but our friends surely can.

Now, it is your fault

The premise of this website is that the blunders we make in life are due to two things: the existential truth that mistakes are an inevitable result of being a human, and the developmental truth that our upbringings leave all of us in need of additional psychological training before we can skillfully direct our adult lives.

The premise of this article is also two-fold. First, that there is nothing we can do about the existential truth about metaphysical missteps but learn from them. But, second, once we have completed the self-construct curriculum, we are obliged to avoid unforced errors.

We know now what we know now, so we must choose to choose. Every day is a fresh Scantron. Fill it out thoughtfully because you will be scoring it tonight.

© Copyright 2014 Jan Iversen. All rights reserved.