“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”
Joan Didion, On Self-Respect
During one of my PEAT Trainings, a student asked me a question about responsibility and about what I’m doing when I’m helping a client to get rid of the accumulated emotional charge around a specific issue. He asked, “What should I do if someone asks me to change another person in their life?” My student, who was a psychologist, said that people come to him sometimes in the hope of changing someone else. They are not ready to take responsibility for their life. Then they come to a coach, psychologist, or PEAT facilitator, and say, for example, “My husband is not working. How can I make him look for a job?” or “My wife likes to quarrel, and I don’t like confict. How can I change her behavior?”
The simple fact is that we can’t change anyone except ourselves. In Lesson 23, A Course in Miracles says, “There is no point in trying to change the world. It is incapable of change because it is merely an effect. But there is indeed a point in changing your thoughts about the world. Here you are changing the cause. The effect will change automatically.”
Another fact is that our external circumstances change, when inner changes become deeply integrated in our life through emotions, thoughts, and actions. It’s important to be clear about that, so that we don’t waste our energy on trying to change another person. When I meet a person for the first time for a one-on-one session, I clarify that by explaining that we can only work with their inner material. For example, we can work with the client’s thoughts, emotions, and reactions to the behavior of his or her spouse.
As much as we want, we can’t change another person. At the same time, I can guarantee someone who is working with me that their reactions will change and they will become calmer, more conscious, and more objective. Eventually, new emotional state will lead to new actions. It might happen that the external situation will change or disappear because of these inner changes. When we resolve our inner issues, we don’t need them to be replayed over and over in our life, because the lesson has been learned.
What Is Responsibility?
Responsibility has an unduly bad reputation in our society. It is often mistakenly associated with blame and pointing fingers. In fact, it is a very empowering notion. Sigmund Freud said, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”
Taking responsibility for your life is the first step for any change. While we are thinking that someone or something else is responsible for circumstances in our lives, any progress is out of question. If I believe that something external controls how I feel, I’m giving away my power to that all-powerful something. It is literally disempowering.
As long as I believe so, I will stay in a position of a victim, where anything can happen to me against my will. I can get angry because someone didn’t show up on time. I can get irritated because I had to wait in traffic for an hour. I can get upset because I work with people, who don’t understand and don’t appreciate me. There are many versions of this miserable scenario.
Even though we are used to thinking that way and rehearsed it very well, this is a position that is very far from reality and from the realization of our own power to choose any reaction to any situation. While we keep complaining and crying over spilled milk, life is quietly passing by and we keep wasting precious opportunities for growth. Opportunities for change are always there, but they assume that we are at least open to them instead of being stuck in self-pity.
This is not to blame anyone, because it is a learned habit. But we can make another choice. Do we want something new or do we enjoy swimming in the ocean of complains and self-pity? I think the choice is easy! Both options are available to us at every moment in time. The question is: “What do I choose right now?”
In the book “Way of The Peaceful Warrior,” Dan Millman writes about taking responsibility for your life, “It is better for you to take responsibility for your life as it is, instead of blaming others, or circumstances, for your predicament. As your eyes open, you’ll see that your state of health, happiness, and every circumstance of your life has been, in large part, arranged by you – consciously or unconsciously.”
Why Is It Difficult to Take Responsibility For Your Life?
Sometimes it’s difficult to take responsibility for everything that happens in your life, including your reactions, for several reasons. It’s not easy to do it without proper guidance of someone, who has already mastered it at least partially. There are situations when a person may not have enough inner resources to quit an old habit of considering oneself an innocent victim of circumstances. In fact, it is a very addictive and self-destructive habit. Here are a few reasons, why it may be hard to just drop it once and for all.
- First, we don’t yet have a habit to think differently. No one teaches children in the kindergarten or in school that they always have a choice which emotion they prefer to feel, or which thought to think. As time goes by, a person forms an opinion that all these reactions just come and go as they please. It’s like an uncontrollable river of emotions and thoughts, where everyone is just trying to survive and avoid drowning. If we think that way, life actually becomes a whirlpool of circumstances, reactions, and events, which “just happen” to us because we have voluntarily given up our rights to affect our own inner states.
- Negative reactions of fear, irritation, anger, or anxiety are more familiar than positive states. Over time, they build and strengthen neuro-networks that are linked with corresponding chemical reactions in the body. To reprogram these mental, emotional, and physiological tapes, we then need to exert certain effort. However, the longer someone lives in these destructive unconscious states, the more inner resources are getting used up. As a result, there is not enough inner resources left to make a shift. We can observe similar dynamics in any addict. I have seen many people, who have come to this point. There is a solution to any problem, however, if there is even a little willingness to find it. In this state of mind, it is necessary for the person to seek the help of someone who is vibrationally higher now, someone who can lift that person up by seeing his or her positive potential. It can be just a friend, partner, coach, or another helping professional. After the first emergency relief has been provided, the person can use different methods to raise their vibrations and practice self-empowered thinking. Doctor David Hawkins, for example, writes about it in his books.
- Finally, the most important reason is that it’s hard to accept that I have created everything, good and bad, I see in my life with my own reactions, thoughts, and beliefs. This is what the quote from “Way of The Peaceful Warrior” says. No, we don’t have a problem with taking credit for everything that we think is going well in our life. It’s the other part that we have a problem with. There is a deep-seated belief that punishment must follow any mistake. This is also a learned pattern, which we can eventually change. For example, A Course in Miracles teaches us how to do that.
The Power of Responsibility
In fact, if these three barriers have been overcome, which is easier to do with the help of an objective observer who genuinely wants to help, new opportunities show up in a person’s life seemingly out of nowhere, and everything begins to work out. Clearly, taking responsibility for your life opens the doors for consciously choosing your reactions and the direction of your life. It’s a process of taking back your power.
With each new choice the sense of fulfillment, energy, and inspiration grows stronger and stronger. We become more aware of our reactions, which gives us power by itself. Gradually, we are clearing all the blocks in our awareness, and the joy begin to overflow, so that it is impossible not to share it with others. It freely flows through us and fills everything that we do. A Course in Miracles has several quotes on responsibility, including this one:
“I am responsible for what I see.
I choose the feelings I experience, and I decide
upon the goal I would achieve.
And everything that seems to happen to me
I ask for, and receive as I have asked.” (T.21.II.2:3-5)
Three Pitfalls On the Way to Responsibility
There are three pitfalls on our journey to taking full responsibility for our life. In fact, there are more than three pitfalls on this path, but I will start with the three that are most obvious to me right now. I wasted so much time on each one of these mind tricks.
- Intellectualization of My Problems. When we start to see what we are doing, our ego creatively invents various theories to justify our old patterns of thinking. For example, I can think that I have a right to continue blaming my spouse for his behavior because it does affect my well-being. As long as I buy this argument, I’m not in control of how I feel anymore. Like an alcoholic can always find a reason to have a drink, the ego will keep offering new explanations for the familiar blame game. The answer should be always, “No, thank you. I accept my responsibility for how I choose to feel.”
- Looking for a Scapegoat. As we come up with different stories, we tend to blame someone or something. Even when I learned to recognize these stories, some of them were so persistent that I kept holding on for them for years. For example, one of my “favorite” stories about my life was that my parents and the entire education system, including kindergarten, school, and university, were responsible for my way of thinking now. So what if it is true? Do I want to get stuck in the energy of powerless complaining? In fact, I was stuck on this story for years. To move forward, I needed to leave the past in the past and free the future from my own grievances and complains. It simultaneously opened up new possibilities that were not on the horizon before, because I was too focused on what went wrong in the past that I couldn’t even see them.
- Not Taking Action and Not Expressing Your Talents in The World. I could write a separate post on this one. I see not taking action as a certain mark of the separation between the inner and the outer, the spiritual and the material. If someone doesn’t have any relationship or creative outlet, no real interaction with the world, the question is what prevents the person from acting. What blocks the implementation of inspired ideas in the world? Usually, if there are no inner blocks, then there are no impediments to realizing one’s talents either. One way or the other, they will find their way to expression in the form of a very specific activity. If that didn’t happen yet, that’s okay too. It is usually a long process that takes time, effort, and dedication. I believe that everyone comes here with certain talents and unique strengths, and only expressing them brings us joy and enriches the world. In “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor E. Frankl said: “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”
Using Empowering Language
As we gradually change our thinking process from victim mentality to self-empowerment, the old habitual thoughts can still persist. Having this list of substitutions handy can be helpful when you want to replace an old way of speaking with the new one. Our words are very powerful! We can use language as a tool to reprogram our subconscious mind.
Here is a table of replacement phrases. I put the victim words on the left and their empowering counterparts on the right. Some of these reframes are taken from the book Feel the Fear and …Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, which highly recommend.
There is much more that can be said about creating an empowered life, and I’m going to continue sharing my ideas and experience here. If you have any questions or comments, please share them with me in the comments below.
Thank you for reading my blog!