On Taking Responsibility

If you can’t see your problem, it doesn’t exist, right? At least it might not to you, but it might to the rest of the people in your life. It’s hard to take ownership or responsibility for a problem if you don’t know that it even exists. Choosing to “own” or be accountable for yourself and your actions or behaviors is a difficult thing, especially when you’re used to downplaying or shuffling off responsibility on the rest of the world.

Bills, mortgages, parenting, household planning, 401K planning – all require some level of taking responsibility if you want a certain outcome. Dealing with your personal problems is no different. If you continue to push off responsibility for yourself, the effects will accumulate and will come back to present problems for you later on: a struggling marriage, loss of friendships, poor mental health, job problems, feeling stuck, living with regret, etc.

So, what are some examples of not assuming responsibility for your personal problems?

  • Not being open to making the changes that are causing your spouse or your marriage problems
  • Having poor physical or emotional well being because you aren’t responsible for your health
  • Blaming outside forces for job unhappiness, and staying stuck in a bad situation without leaving or changing your situation
  • Blaming others for their personality deficits that keep you stuck in a bad state; carrying that “if they only change” mentality, which will get you nowhere
  • Holding onto past successes to keep yourself stuck in the present; wishing things will return to better times in the past, or mentally living in the future without doing anything about creating that future

Not blaming others, or outside forces, for your problems or woes is one way to start. Men I talk with blame their parents, or their spouses, or their employers, as a way to continue to stay stuck in their current unfulfilling environment. They think that “If this person or situation would change, then I would be happy,” which is false thinking. People won’t change on your watch, and the longer you hold out for them to change so you can be happy, the more time you waste in your life.

Victim mentality goes along with the idea of blaming others. Sometimes, people get so attached to the victim identity that it’s too difficult to give it up. They might get certain benefits from it, like feeling sorry for themselves, gaining pity from others or comfort in knowing that their situation is secure – even if it’s uncomfortable. Taking a risk to do something different, or to look within oneself, sometimes is the harder route, and the less attractive one, because it requires work and challenging oneself.

Chronic negativity is also a deadly killer to taking responsibility. If you’re constantly negative, you can’t see possibility or hope of a different outcome.You get stuck in myopic thinking – only seeing one limited route to take in your situation. Negativity destroys the ability to take responsibility, and doesn’t allow us to get to the heart of the matter, whether that is fear or terror that holds us back from being accountable and taking that action.

You are the driver of your life, and your outcome. No one else can dictate to you these things unless you allow them to. Taking responsibility for your life means growing up into full adulthood, something a lot of people unconsciously have a hard time doing.

How can you take more responsibility for yourself?

Start with these questions:

  1. Am I unhappy with my situation? What prevents me from making a change?
  2. What exactly is in my control in helping myself through a difficult challenge? What’s not?
  3. Do I blame others for my situation, rather than look inside of myself for the origins of my problems?
  4. How do I live carelessly? Are there areas of my life where I can take more responsibility?
  5. In my love life, how do I fail to take responsibility? What would my significant other say about me?
  6. Do I live with an “it is what it is” mentality, never challenging that core belief to create alternative outcomes for myself?
  7. In my work, am I happy or fulfilled, and if not, what barriers am I responsible for changing to get there?

Taking more responsibility for ourselves, our problems and our lot in life reduces some sense of powerlessness about a cold and indifferent world, whose forces are conspiring against us. If we can see that we can change our own outcome, or have more power over it, then we might be able to pry ourselves out of a stuck state. This takes time, and courage to look at our role in the situation.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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