I have a bad habit of thinking everything is my fault. It’s remarkable, actually. No matter what happens and no matter what other people do, it always feels like I made it happen. This is a personal inclination of mine, psychologically, I suspect, but it’s also impacted by depression. If you feel like everything is your fault, read on as to why that might be and what to do about it.

Why Might a Person Think Everything Is Their Fault?

There are lots of reasons people think everything is their fault. Upbringing is a big one. Children tend to believe that everything is their fault because they don’t understand the bigger factors at play. Children are the centers of their own universes ― they haven’t learned differently yet ― which is why they think things like their parent’s divorce are their fault. And, of course, some parents reinforce this belief by blaming children for things that are completely out of the child’s control. If this was you, carrying that feeling into adulthood makes sense.

But I think there’s a bigger reason why many people think everything is their fault, and that is the illusion of control. If you believe that everything is your fault, then you believe that everything is within your control. If you believe you control everything, then you can prevent bad things from happening. This idea brings people comfort and has spawned self-help nonsense like the idea that you attract everything that happens to you (like attract like, The Secret, etc.). People buy into this illusion because they want to believe they can prevent bad things from happening and make good things happen. This is despite the fact that most of the things that happen to us are decidedly outside of our control. (Just ask a starving child.)

I Feel Like Everything Is My Fault Because of Depression

While I believe I have psychological reasons for believing that everything is my fault, I also believe that depression has drastically enhanced that proclivity. “Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt” is an actual symptom of depression recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. We know that people with depression feel this way because of the illness itself.

The Effect of Thinking Everything Is My Fault

It is devastating because believing that everything is your fault just makes you hate yourself more when bad things happen. If someone rejects you? It’s your fault. If you lose a job? It’s your fault. If you had a kitchen fire? It’s your fault. Why wouldn’t you hate yourself if you believed you made all those things happen? Why wouldn’t you feel worthless? Self-blame and feelings of worthlessness go hand in hand.

The overwhelming feelings of self-blame drown out all the additional precipitating factors. Of course, we all impact our lives, and this affects what happens to us. We have a significant part to play in our lives. But many things are outside of our control, too. Someone may reject you because of their own psychological peccadilloes. You might lose a job because the company made cutbacks. These things just aren’t your fault.

The Difference Between Personal Responsibility and Thinking Everything Is My Fault

I’ve previously harped on about personal responsibility. We need to take responsibility for our own mental illness and our own wellness. And I believe that. I think it’s important that we not use bipolar disorder as an excuse for bad behavior. That said, there’s a line between taking responsibility and believing everything is your fault. You can take responsibility for taking your medication as prescribed ― that’s important for wellness ― but it’s not your fault if you become depressed despite your best efforts. You can only do what you can do, and you are not to blame for the bipolar disorder itself.

Fighting the Thought That Everything Is Your Fault

As I said, our choices impact our lives dramatically, but it’s important to assess what we do and don’t control. You may contribute to a relationship dissolving, but that doesn’t mean you made it happen. There’s a whole other person there that you have no control over.

So, when I start to think that everything is my fault, I try to stop and asses the reality of that thought. Can I really be at fault here? Am I reading the situation correctly? Are there other contributing factors? What part of the situation do I have no control over? And how can I maintain my self-worth no matter what part I may have had to play?

Answering these questions might sound easy, but it can be very hard for a person experiencing severe depression. Sometimes, I need help. It’s great to bounce these answers off a friend. And, of course, a therapist can be of great help as well.

The important thing for me to remember, though, is that depression makes me lean too far in the self-blame direction. I need to remember that just because I think it and feel it, that doesn’t make it true. I have to remember that depression is a liar. Not only does depression lie to me, but depression makes me lie to myself. Fighting the idea that everything is my fault isn’t just about assessing the reality of the situation, but it’s actually about fighting depression itself.

And finally, I need to remember that while making a mistake and rightly blaming myself may affect my self-perception, it shouldn’t affect my self-worth. Worth is intrinsic. Everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t devalue them as people. I need to remember that it’s the depression that says I’m worthless, not me, and not the world.

In short, everything is not your fault, but even when something is, you’re still okay.


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