We’re the authors of our own lives, and we’re the only ones who truly control them. Yes, there are things that happen to us that we can’t control, or situations that we’re brought up in that we couldn’t help. But, generally speaking, the more responsibility we can take over our own lives, the happier, more in control and fulfilled we can become as people. Taking responsibility for ourselves spans so many things, from the smaller things like being responsible about what we say to whom or about our emotions, to the larger ones, like taking responsibility over our situation, be it work, relationship, health, status or otherwise. When we take more responsibility for ourselves, we don’t give people so much control over our lives, and we can learn to take it back and steer our own way a little easier.
How do we take more responsibility in our relationships? Maybe there are relationships that have been negatively affected through our words, deeds, behavior or lack of interest. Taking responsibility often times means making what’s unconscious conscious, and getting more insight into our habits or ways of being that are problematic, neurotic or dysfunctional for ourselves, others, or both. When we can develop that insight, it takes a conscious effort to use it to make changes in our lives for the positive, and to change what had previously been in the dark to us.
Seeing that we have some investment in a problematic relationship, we can eventually learn to let go of situations that we believe others are doing to us, that cause us pain and misery if we can better understand our negative emotions that trap us. Identifying and taking responsibility for those negative emotions often frees us and allows us to see things in a new way, and allows us to turn the focus back on ourselves, rather that have it so tightly wrapped up with someone else who we perceive as unjustly causing us pain or harm.
Taking responsibility for one’s own life sometimes means sometimes making the harder or more “enlightened” choices for oneself, whether it’s in work, personal well-being, health, or relationships. I think it means being the “better man.” Sometimes, it means doing what you know is hard to do, but doing it anyways because it’s for the greater good or because it’s what right for the situation, or for you or yours in the long term.
What taking responsibility looks like:
- Developing your self-awareness, so that what is unconscious to you becomes conscious, and facilitates some change in you
- Changing your behaviors, speech, and actions if they are problematic to you, or to others
- Admitting your faults, and integrating them into your being – “owning them” rather than avoiding them
- Listening to feedback about what others are trying to tell you about yourself – your spouse, your kids, your friends – without defensiveness or denial
- Dealing with your emotions in an effective way, rather than “losing it,” getting enraged or blowing up on others
- Committing to seeing your part in a situation, relationship, or a part of your life, where you might not be
- Considering your “blind spots,” or hidden parts of your self or life that you might not be seeing accurately
In existentialism, the concept that existence precedes essence means that the most important consideration for individuals is that they are individuals, and that they act independently and are responsible, conscious beings (“existence”). This is in opposition to what others have to say about us through labels, roles, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories the individuals fit (“essence”). Taking responsibility, or ownership for what we do, is a consequence of living authentically, and, unfortunately, comes with a lot of opportunities for mistakes and anxiety about having to make those decisions about our lives and live with their consequences.
Developing self-awareness facilitates taking more responsibility. When we can accurately see our behaviors or intentions, it becomes clear to us that we play the central role in our own lives, and that negative effects or consequences occur as a result. Without that self-awareness, we keep living our lives in the dark, subject to our own beliefs that might not be in sync with the reality of things outside of our limited perspective, or as others see it. When you shun responsibility, problems then becomes everyone else’s fault, and from that point, we can easily slide into victim mentality. Other people become the source of our suffering, and it’s quite difficult to disentangle from that narrative without better self-awareness. We can never get out of that pit of despair, knowing “others put me here” and “there’s nothing I can do about it now.” I’ve heard people liberally use the phrase, “It is what it is,” or “I can’t control this or that thing.” Although there may be some truth to that, is it all true? Is there something you actually can do to affect or improve the situation yourself?
What taking responsibility is not:
- Doing things in a marriage or relationship like withdrawing, hiding, or cheating on your spouse to deal with your problems
- Constantly complaining about your situation without doing anything about it
- Using drugs or alcohol to hide from your problems, rather than face them head on
- Avoiding taking the reigns on your health, be it mental, physical, or emotional, and having someone else take care of it for you
- Becoming dependent on your spouse as a “parent” to take care of you and your needs without getting them met yourself
- Playing the “victim,” blaming others’ for your woes and staying stuck in your situation because of it
- Being defensive, in denial or generally checked out from your reality
- Blaming your parents, or your bad upbringing, without assuming the responsibility for yourself to change certain belief systems or behaviors in the here and now
- Not “owning up” to problematic behaviors that are causing distress for others in your life
- Becoming “codependent” and stuck on others by waiting for them to change themselves, rather than initiating the change in yourself and letting go of them
Growing up, you may have learned to shun responsibility for yourself, because your parents did it, or your older siblings did it. You may have learned to dismiss your problems, or push them aside as to not deal with them, which allowed problems to build up. Not taking responsibility for your actions or decisions, you may have created types of scenarios or situations in your life that led to more poor or unconscious decisions, and it seems as if your life if now run by forces outside of your control. That may be true, to an extent, as we can’t change who we have as parents or family members, or difficult childhood growing up, or other unfortunate experiences we’ve had, but we can change the present, which influences the future.