Diane was stunned when abruptly informed that she was being fired from her high-level executive position. She had enjoyed two successful years at her job, seemed well liked by senior colleagues and her subordinates, and so could not understand why she was being let go and without clear cause.
Ed, a divorced father of two young sons and a self-proclaimed "veteran of the dating wars” was thrilled to have met Kathy through a mutual friend and was thoroughly enjoying the positive progression of their new relationship. Unexpectedly, Kathy seemed to cool to Ed's further overtures and weeks later declared her wish to end their relationship. Ed's pursuit of an explanation for this sudden change seemed to fall on deaf ears as Kathy virtually disappeared from his life.
It is very understandable for people in both Diane's and Ed's life situations to want to make sense of what occurred and to fill in the many blanks left open by the surprising actions of others. Arguably, occurrences like these are among the most difficult people face, for in addition to being shocked and bewildered, there may be nothing one can do other than cope with the event in the best possible way.
Many people become self-critical or self-blaming in the course of their efforts to understand things that make no sense to them. People with self-esteem difficulties are especially vulnerable to self-blame and may develop ways of explaining negative events that inevitably make them feel even worse. This is best typified by beliefs like "It must be me," "I must have done something wrong," or "maybe I was never adequate to begin with."
While self-blame is something to avoid, an inquiry by the injured person into what they might have done to contribute to their unfortunate circumstance might prove extremely helpful. Diane might wonder whether or not there was anything she did that resulted in her dismissal, so that she might learn something from which she could benefit in the future. It is also possible that through thoughtful inquiry, she might discover that her firing had little, if anything, to do with her. In Ed's case, similarly, rather than lick his wounds and disparage himself, he might discover something that would provide useful information for future romantic adventures. He may also come to realize that Kathy's abrupt ending of their relationship had a great deal to do with Kathy and little, if anything, to do with him.
Actual outcomes: Diane's boss felt that while her work was superior, her role in the organization needed to be filled by someone who was a more aggressive person. While no one else agreed, he was the boss and did as he pleased. Clearly, Diane was helped to discover this information following both her internal and external inquiry, and walked away with both her self-esteem and her dignity intact.
Once Ed moved away from self-blaming to a meaningful self-inquiry, he discovered the possibility that his own growing ambivalence about Kathy may have led him to behave differently in the relationship. This perhaps prompted her to find him less appealing than earlier when he was very enthused and eager to be with her. It was helpful, too, to learn by chance that she had been having a hard time with her strong positive feelings and that had made it difficult for her to continue with him.