How Taking Responsibility Can Transform Your Life And Your Relationships
Updated: Jan 12
Helping people to understand about the power of taking responsibility is the heart of my work as a therapist. Unsurprisingly, my own understanding of the importance of 'taking responsibility' in the right way didn't come from years of studying, but from meeting hundreds of parents as a paediatric speech therapist, alongside my own personal struggle with this in the earlier part of my adult life. For most people, understanding the true nature of 'responsibility' requires a dramatic shift in perspective. I have met many people whilst working as a therapist who have struggled with the concept of what 'taking responsibility' really means. Many people come to me wanting something to change in their lives and wanting things to be different, but usually they do not want to dramatically alter anything about themselves to achieve this change. In general people prefer someone else to change - a partner, children, mother, father etc. Whilst this is a fairly typical response, it encourages and perpetuates the notion of 'being a victim'.
As a recovering ‘victim’ myself, the value of taking ‘personal responsibility’ in my own life is something I have become well acquainted with. Over the years I have transitioned from a position of never taking responsibility for my own life (whilst simultaneously taking full responsibility for others’) to a position of freedom. I was that person who always looked to others for validation, reassurance and ‘the answer’ on what to do, how to think and what I wanted, only to turn round and assign blame to anyone or anything but myself when the ‘thing’ didn’t work out as I’d hoped… Sometimes I didn’t even know what I was hoping for, because I didn’t trust myself or know myself well enough.
Having someone or something else to blame kept me safe… if it wasn’t my idea then I couldn’t get anything ‘wrong’. I didn’t want to face the reality of having let myself down, perceiving others’ disappointment in me or even, deep down, the realisation that perhaps I didn’t even know what I wanted or how to work that out. In short, I was terrified of being, or being perceived as being, a failure - something which is currently an epidemic in western societies. I am yet to meet any individual - children included - that does not experience this fear on some level.
In my own life, at the same time as abstaining from taking responsibility for myself, I simultaneously micro-managed the details of the lives of those closest to me. Even if I didn’t always relay my opinions to the person in question (although I often did that too!), internally I would be questioning and judging their every move; asking myself why they were behaving a certain way, why they weren’t being more considerate of what I wanted, how they could be a ‘better’ person or live a more fulfilled life, how much better that would be for them and me, etc. etc. I would deliver my advice and judgement on how things could be ‘better’ or different “if only they would …”
In reality, I was using others to keep myself distracted from my own reality: creating a control dynamic in which I assumed no responsibility over my own life, but assigned full responsibility of my happiness (along with equal amounts of expectation and pressure) right under the feet of all those closest to me.
"Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world...Today I am wise, so I am changing myself" - Rumi
As children, many of us are taught or learn about the value of taking responsibility. Actually, taking responsibility is not only a valuable, but an essential part of life. Yet so often, the message of what it means to ‘take responsibility’ is confused and misinterpreted. Operating, from a position of fear, we become experts at signing away our own happiness to others and simultaneously taking responsibility for their happiness. We give away so much power in our relationships, taunting ourselves with the notion that “he made me feel….” or “she made me do…” But we are lying to ourselves. This is a lie that we tell ourselves to keep ourselves trapped in ‘hell’ on Earth; a lie in which we do not trust a Higher Power to support us, and in which we do not trust ourselves to be able to cope with life and the situations that we are part of.
In believing this lie we give away our power and create a dynamic of expectation with other people …an expectation based on the idea that there is something that they could be or should be doing that would “make us” feel better.
When this happens, no-one wins. It is in this very moment, driven by fear, when we place our happiness, peace and sanity in the hands of someone else, that we create a pressure so great, that the trust, love and connection between both parties is damaged under the weight of expectation. The moment we place such an expectation or judgement on another, we take away their freedom to be themselves and to experience their own life in a way that is right for them. And we take away our own opportunity to express ourselves honestly to the world.
The truth, should we choose to accept it, is that no-one ever ‘makes’ us do, feel or think anything. We are always responsible for everything we feel and think. And believe it or not, no-one ever does anything they don't want to do - it is fundamentally impossible for anyone to do something they don't want to.
Conversely, we are never responsible for how anyone else, feels, thinks or behaves. Taking responsibility for others, either inwardly or outwardly, in all the ways we do this, is to deny them of living their own life in their own way. It is simply an attempt to control, driven by our own fears and our own lack of responsibility to ourselves. In fact, it is incredibly ego-centric to assume that somehow we know what is better for someone else in their life than they do! Often we dress this up under the guise of ‘being helpful’ as we tell, instruct and advise without even being asked. This includes when we do this to children! In fact, it is especially when we do this to children!
"The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you can change everything in your life" - Hal Elrod
As souls experiencing human form, we are bestowed the gift of free-will and choice, which is God given. In truth no-one and no-thing else is responsible for what we do, how we feel and how we react. It is all on us. It is always our choice. We need to realise that doing what is right for ourselves, regardless of the perceived effect it will have on another, is never selfish. True compassion for others comes from the truth that we are not so important or powerful that our actions can control the happiness of another human being. Instead, we can trust them to look after themselves and their own feelings, just as we trust ourselves to take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
The moment that we can truly assimilate this truth into our being, not only do we free ourselves from the pain we perceive others to have caused us, thereby stepping into joy, but we also release everyone around us from the expectations and pressures we create for them. This is true freedom. And believe me when I say it is incredible and life-changing!
It is true that the way we are raised and the experiences we have as children, especially with our parents or primary caregivers, have a big effect on how we live our lives…at least subconsciously. Perhaps you were never encouraged to do what you wanted or made to do things you didn't feel connection to. Perhaps you were criticised a lot or not taught to trust yourself and your own decisions. Perhaps you were pressured to feel responsible for upsetting a parent or family member when you were a child and that responsibility has stayed with you. Perhaps you were abandoned, neglected or let down. Whatever your experiences, and however painful, our purpose as conscious, adult human beings, is to accept what has happened and how this has shaped who we are/our experiences so far, forgive ourselves and others for these experiences, be grateful for the opportunities we have been given, then move on to taking responsibility for how we feel and respond to life NOW! Accept. Forgive. Have gratitude. Take responsibility for Now. That’s all there is to it! And where fear has no place, Love can exist and grow.
Here are some ideas that may help you identify your behaviours around responsibility-talking and move from victimhood to freedom:
1. Next time you find yourself doing or feeling something unpleasant or painful as a response to the behaviour or feelings of someone else, STOP. Remind yourself that God has given you free-will to choose how you feel and respond. You are an incredible, strong person and no one is responsible for your feelings but YOU! Make a commitment to yourself today to never use the phrase “he made me” or “she made me”. Take responsibility for the wounded parts of yourself that you allow to become triggered and release that pressure on others to make you happy. Stop taking things personally. Use the opportunity to look at your own fears and emotional resilience.
2. Next time you hear yourself judging or passing comment (internally or externally) on the thoughts/feelings/behaviours/actions of another person, STOP. Ask yourself, why you feel you know better than the person in question. I have found a really helpful way of doing this is to remind ourselves that each of us is doing the very best we can at this moment. If we had more understanding and awareness we would do things differently. But since we are all doing our best, we need to appreciate our own and others' efforts. Forgiveness for ourselves and others is the key.
3. Next time you make a decision for yourself, but then start to panic or anxiously-predict how that decision will affect another person, predict negative outcomes or imagine some awful future event, STOP. Remember you are a kind, compassionate person. Trust yourself that no decision you are making is designed to intentionally hurt another person. In this case, making the right decision for you is always the same as making the right decision for the other person/people involved. Let’s take an example: imagine that you have agreed to meet a friend, but you are feeling unwell and don’t feel like going. You know that if you go you will not enjoy yourself, because you will not be fully relaxed and would rather be at home in bed, but you struggle to let your friend know this as you have anxiety around letting people down. Do you follow your instincts and go home or do you take responsibility for the other person’s feelings, without even checking in with them first and go along anyway? Recognise that that fear is only inside you. It is your perception. My guess is that your friend wants to spend time with you when you want to spend time with them…after all who likes the idea of hanging out with someone who, deep down, doesn't actually want to be there?! What is right for you is also right for them. And even if it isn’t, trust them to take responsibility for their own responses to your choice. Be honest with people about your feelings and intention. Then give others chance to respond in whatever way is right for them in that moment. Don't judge or bring in your own expectations about how they might react, whether that is you hoping for a positive response or fearing a negative one. Empower others rather than disempowering them by handing them back responsibility for their own happiness and taking responsibility for yours.
I have been blessed in my life to have had relationships with people who have both reinforced my ‘victim’ mentality, and more recently, those who have challenged it. I am immeasurably grateful to both and I dedicate this post to those people for all that they have helped me to learn.
Are you ready to step into a happy and free life: one that is based on trusting yourself and giving others the opportunity to live in the same way?
If you are interested in learning more about living a more joyful life, one which is free from victimhood, but full of self-responsibility, compassion for others and without judgement, then consider getting in touch for a session. When you fully embrace and understand the above concept, I promise you, your entire life, and every relationship in it (including your relationship with yourself) will change for the better.
- Clairey Rachel, Conscious Creative Therapies and Moon Sprite Creations
“To know that you know nothing is to know everything” - Socrates
Artist and photograph: Alexander Milov