I wonder why? Perhaps the word “responsibility” conjures up one too many associations with parental rebukes or stiff-lipped ideologies. In fact, clicking on this article was probably a sign that its time for you to actively re-examine your feelings towards accountability. So stop now and ask yourself the following question, “How do I feel about the word ‘responsibility’?” Here, let me provide you with a blank space so you can stop and think: ___________________________________
What did you find? Maybe you associate taking “responsibility” with dogmatic Christian teachings like I do. Or maybe you link the word to bigotry or patriotism, or perhaps it just feels like a cold, dry or murky concept? If so, that’s OK. You aren’t alone.
But while the concepts of accountability or self-responsibility may seem unglamorous and dull at first, they are actually extremely vital companions on your journey of self-growth.
When we lack personal responsibility, we lack the ability to truly move forward with our lives. When we lack self-responsibility we become permanently stuck in the poisonous patterns of self-victimization and martyrdom. However, when we become accountable for our thoughts, feelings, and wellbeing, our lives are literally revolutionized.
My life was transformed when I realized that I was running away from taking personal responsibility for my health and happiness. This happened to me quite recently. I had always assumed that taking care of others was the same as taking care of myself.
By trying to take responsibility for other people and their happiness I was draining the life and vitality out of myself. No wonder I felt constantly fatigued and over-burdened… I was neglecting to take responsibility for my own welfare. I had nothing left for myself. Self-responsibility is only really another face of learning how to love yourself.
Why Do We Deny Personal Responsibility?
We deny personal responsibility for a number of reasons. These can be broken down into two different categories: conscious and unconscious self-denial. In other words, we either intentionally or unintentionally bypass responsibility for ourselves in life. But we can also overlap both categories.
The most common reasons for avoiding self-responsibility include the following:
- Lack of self-awareness resulting in feeling disconnected from our deepest needs, wants and values
- Low self-esteem and the belief that we aren’t really “that important”
- Mistaken beliefs absorbed through our religious, cultural and parental environments, e.g. “You must care for others before you care about yourself,” “You have no control over life,” “Let religious faith cure all ills,” etc.
- Habits formed as children that haven’t been surrendered in adulthood, e.g. taking care of your parents or siblings as a way of maintaining harmony
Denying personal responsibility can range from a very subtle habit to a deeply entrenched conscious belief about life. So, the question to ask now is: do you take personal responsibility for your health, happiness and wholeness? If the answer is “yes” … how? If the answer is “no” … how? I can assure you that stopping to genuinely ask this question will help you immeasurably on your inner path.
How to Be Accountable For Your Life (and Why)
As I mentioned previously, taking personal responsibility is a deep form of self-respect. Not only that, but self-responsibility is true wisdom; it is knowing that the only person you are accountable for is yourself. All other effort squandered on others is worthless and in vain. When all is said and done, the most good you can do for another comes in the form of self-responsibility.
Being accountable for yourself means that you have an unlimited repository of humor, patience, kindness, love and energy at your disposal. Who wouldn’t want that? And yet so many of us lack these qualities and wonder why. The answer could very well be that you need to take more self-responsibility.
Here are some pointers that will help you reclaim your self-responsibility or accountability:
1. Realize that the only person you are truly responsible for is yourself
Strangely enough, I always consciously understood this truth, but never absorbed it deep into my unconscious mind. This resulted in me constantly playing out old patterns of behavior without even knowing it. If you find it hard to integrate this realization, I recommend exploring visualization, mantra or self-designed rituals. These will help you let go of your need to erroneously take responsibility for others.
For example, I find it much easier to integrate this truth through the use of ritual and chanting more than visualization. If you’re serious about self-growth, be open to exploring all of these techniques (and even ones I haven’t mentioned) to see what suits you. This is such an important task and I can guarantee that you will benefit from such a practice.
2. Pinpoint the ways you are bypassing self-responsibility
You will find it useful to narrow down the places, situations and people in your life that trigger self-denial and martyrdom. You can do this through writing, introspection or even artistic expression. Personally, I like to journal and make bullet point lists which organize my thoughts and inner discoveries (it’s an invaluable part of shadow work). I encourage you to take at least 10 minutes today (preferably more) to sit with the question: “In what ways am I taking responsibility for other people’s wellbeing and not my own?”
3. Learn to let go of your need to “baby” others
Taking care of our children is our responsibility, but being a martyr isn’t. The same applies to the adults in our lives. No matter how helpless, weak or lost they may seem, the ultimate responsibility for their wellbeing comes from THEM, not you. You can do your best to help, but at the end of the day, your primary responsibility is your wellbeing.
You really do require a no-nonsense approach to self-responsibility (perhaps another reason why it’s perceived as unglamorous). Sentimentalism and mollycoddling while disguised as caring traits, are actually harbingers of self-sacrifice and objectification. I say “objectification” because we don’t truly see the person as they are — we see what we want to see. We don’t understand their true needs, only the needs that we assign to them needing. (I discovered this hard truth while trying to caretake Sol.)
So while it is important that you show care, concern and love to others, you must understand that there is a limit. You must accept that you can only do so much to help. The bulk of the work must be done by the other person, not you.
Reclaiming the Joy of Self-Responsibility
Let me tell you, it’s such a profound reprieve to finally take responsibility for yourself. Suddenly you realize that the only person you are responsible for is yourself. *Big sigh of relief.* You no longer have to drain yourself to give to the hundreds of others around you because you give to yourself first — THEN others benefit. This is not selfish: it’s realistic. Do you really think that you can change another person? Yes, you can manipulate, nag, pressure or spoon-feed another person to act. But in the end, the deepest change, the vital change, comes from deep inside the person.
Typically, reclaiming the joy of your self-responsibility can come with great pain. What will happen to others if you aren’t there to baby them you might wonder? It’s so painful to witness others self-destructing — especially if it’s someone very close to you.
I’ve been there.
As the Buddha once said, “Pain is certain, suffering is optional.” We must accept this pain, this pain of uncertainty, frustration and helplessness with others. We must accept that others have the freedom to act, as we do, or not to act, as we do. That freedom is their birthright, and in their power to utilize or not.
You might also be met with resistance if you fully reclaim your self-responsibility. All of a sudden the dynamics in your house or relationships could shift. And this can ruffle feathers, especially for those who are used to being spoon-fed by us. But know this: true relationships will reveal themselves by the level of support they offer us. The more resistant a person is to your inner changes, the more unhealthy your relationship was with them in the first place. This is a cause for celebration: your life will be stripped down to its pure basics. Only those who support your growth will remain close by your side.
So now, you might like to share with me your thoughts about personal responsibility. Are you lacking it? Or perhaps you’re in the process of retrieving it, but you’re having a hard time. Comment below to start a conversation.