Who can I blame for my burnout? Am I to blame myself because my mental health is my own responsibility? Am I to blame stress and work pressure for making my life a living hell? Maybe my superior for normalizing working overtime? Or can I blame Western society’s occupational standards with its increasing performance pressure?
A burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, a feeling of low personal accomplishment and depersonalization. It is often a consequence of work-related stress and can stem from a lack of empathy which individuals hold toward themselves. If you have experienced burnout, you may be familiar with a particular sense of guilt and shame. You may feel ashamed that you let it come so far, that you didn’t listen to the signals your body was sending you. It is easy to self-criticize and find the fault in oneself, as this highly judgmental voice in our head constantly reverberates through our consciousness. However, is it really an individual problem if it is experienced by so many individuals in an organization?
Whose Fault Is It?
The question ‘Whose fault is it?’ cannot be easily answered, let alone generalized. Every person affected by a burnout, or burnout symptoms, has unique circumstances and predispositions that eventually lead up to such a situation. Nevertheless, the successful burnout researcher Maslach (1999) identified the following main work factors that commonly contribute to a burnout:
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of autonomy
- Insufficient rewards
- Unfairness and injustice
- Lack of community and social support
- Value conflicts between the individual and the employer
Personality factors can also play a role in the development of a burnout however they play only a minor role. Now, reading through these work stressors, can you connect any of those with personal levels of resilience and feelings of compassion? If you do not think these factors relate to how you treat and view yourself, can you blame yourself for the burnout?
The Toxicity of Self-Blame
Due to feeling ashamed and guilty to have let this burn out come so far, many individuals tend to blame themselves. But does that do any good if the burnout symptoms are making life a living hell already? Research has not only identified self-blame as a predictor of burnout, but also found a positive link between self-blame and the level of emotional exhaustion in the respective individuals. So here we are, trapped in a vicious cycle of self-blame, emotional exhaustion, shame, burnout and unable to accept that we let this happen to ourselves.
What Can I Do to Stop Blaming Myself?
If you ask yourself this question, have a look at the following tips on how to stop blaming yourself for a burnout:
- Acceptance: Accept it. The more accepting you are, the less you will listen to your judgmental voice. Self-blame cannot survive without the fuel of self-judgement.
- Observation and Self-Reflection: Take a look at your work environment. Do you feel supported and well-treated? Or do you feel pressured and neglected? Is it really only you or are there other factors potentially causing or contributing to your burnout? How do the conditions at work impact other areas of your life?
- Communication: Talk about it. Talk to colleagues, to family and friends. Are there others with a similar experience? How do they deal with self-blame? If you feel like you need professional help, reach out to a therapist.
Overall, working in an unideal environment can make people feel emotionally drained and exhausted, makes them question their skills and abilities, and leaves them feeling detached from work. Burnout often comes with unstoppable and constant feelings of guilt, shame and self-blame. However, especially in ‘occupational’ burnout, the work environment plays a key role in contributing to the development of a burnout.
Find out if you are at risk for a burnout: https://app.mentalhappy.com/#/burnout/quiz.
If you think a professional can help you manage burnout, book an appointment here.
Ronja Sina is an intern at Willingness. She graduated with her MSc in Work, Organizational and Personnel Psychology from the University of Groningen.
Del Pozo, E. (2019). Burnout is not your fault. Thrive Global. Retrieved
July 24th, 2021, from https://thriveglobal.com/stories/burnout-is-not-your-fault/
Maslach, C., & M.P., Leiter (1999). Six areas of worklife: A model of the organizational context of burnout. Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 21(4):472-89
Spataro, B. M., Tilstra, S. A., Rubio, D. M., and McNeil, M. A. (2016). The Toxicity of Self-Blame: Sex Differences in Burnout and Coping in Internal Medicine Trainees. Journal of Women’s Health. 25(11). 1147-1152.