Some spoilers for the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season three finale are contained within.
Everything you do is your fault. You did it. But the trick is to understand that it isn’t your fault that it’s your fault. That’s where it gets complicated.
Let me explain what I mean through pop culture.
Last week I wrote about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for my Patreon subscribers (love you guys! If you didn’t know, I have a Patreon, it’s right here), but there is a song at the end of season three that really resonated with me in a pretty huge way. Over the course of the show Rebecca Bunch has behaved terribly, selfishly and increasingly crazily. In season three it all came to a head with a suicide attempt (the show is a musical comedy, I swear) which led to Rebecca finally getting help – and a diagnosis. She has borderline personality disorder.
As season three came to a close shit got crazy, and she ended up pushing someone off a roof (I’m trying to stay spoiler free). She wasn’t necessarily wrong, per se, but she got arrested for attempted murder. Her friend/ex/co-worker Nathaniel became her lawyer and explained how she was going to get off – by pleading insanity, because nothing that happened was her fault. They sang this great song:
You gotta love a musical number where they sing “It wasn’t technically Hitler’s fault.”
When you get into therapy or recovery or therapy and recovery it can become really easy to go down this path. Maybe not as far as Nathaniel and Rebecca go – blaming the Big Bang – but when you start excavating your shit you begin to see all the conditioning and trauma that went into making you who you are. And when you see that conditioning and trauma it becomes easy to blame EVERYTHING on that conditioning and trauma.
“I did that because my mother never showed me love!” you cry.
“I did that because my father was physically abusive!” you insist.
“I did that because the kids at school beat me mercilessly!” you pronounce.
All of those statements boil down to “It’s not MY fault I did those things!” And that statement is utterly, totally false.
Everything you do is your fault, unless you’re a mind-controlled supersoldier or you’re under the influence of a possessing spirit or something. But barring those out-there circumstances, you’re responsible for all the actions you’ve taken. Even, as in my case, the ones you don’t remember taking. So when the time comes to plead in court, Rebecca realizes she needs to accept responsibility for her actions and experience consequences – she refuses to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
What’s great about the way this story plays out on the show is that we have lots of seasons contextualizing all the things that led Rebecca to that rooftop and that choice. We know the ways she has been failed and been hurt and been traumatized, and we understand the mental illness with which she struggles. So we know how she got there, and the conditioning and experiences that led her to that choice – what is not her fault – but we also understand the choice she made – what IS her fault.
Nobody is born wanting to harm other people*. We learn to hurt other people, and we learn it by being hurt and trying to survive. It’s a rare person who hurts someone else for pleasure, and even in those cases the reason they find pleasure in hurting others is a lifetime of conditioning. We have to understand that context.
But at the same time no amount of conditioning excuses you for the choices you make. You did the thing, not your neglectful mother, and you need to face the consequences. So what’s the point of even making this distinction?
It’s important to learn how to accept responsibility without also creating narratives about how we are bad, or worthless, or terrible people. Believing that narrative traps us in a cycle of being harmful – if we accept that we’re bad, why not keep being bad? Or why not harm ourselves?
We have to understand that while we are responsible for the things we have done that hurt others, those things don’t mean we are bad people. It’s our fault we did it, but we did it based on bad input and terrible lessons that we got from a lifetime of being hurt ourselves. We’re not evil, we’re confused.
And that means we can become unconfused. When we explore the reasons behind our hurtful actions we can become aware of the conditioning and trauma that led us to make those decisions. When we understand WHY we were making hurtful decisions (and I don’t just mean “I really wanted that burrito,” I mean, understanding why you thought it was okay to steal) we can address that conditioning and change it. That allows us to avoid repeating that harmful behavior, and stops us before we engage in brand new harmful behavior.
So it’s your fault. The bad thing you did? You did it. There are no excuses. But you didn’t do it because you’re a bad person, you did it because you had a lifetime of experiences that put you in a position where you thought a terrible choice was the right choice. So it’s your fault… but it’s not your fault that it’s your fault. And that means you can take responsibility and make the changes in yourself that will keep you from ever doing it again.
*almost nobody. There seem to be people born with significantly miswired brains, but they are the exceptions. Most psychopaths, for instance, go through their lives without offending.