Monthly Archives: March 2011

Responsibility for Ourselves (Part 2)

This is another aspect of the Responsibility blog I posted a couple of days ago:

We have been doing the wrong things for the right reasons. -Codependent No More

Caretaking: the act of taking responsibility for other people while neglecting responsibility for ourselves. When we instinctively feel responsible for the feelings, thoughts, choices, problems, comfort, and destiny of others, we are caretakers. We may believe, at an unconscious level, that others are responsible for our happiness, just as we’re responsible for theirs.

It’s a worthy goal to be a considerate, loving, nurturing person. But caretaking is neglecting ourselves to the point of feeling victimized. Caretaking involves caring for others in ways that hamper them in learning to take responsibility for themselves.

Caretaking doesn’t work. It hurts other people; it hurts us. People get angry. They feel hurt, used, and victimized. So do we.

The kindest and most generous behavior we can choose is taking responsibility for ourselves – for what we think, feel, want, and need. The most beneficial act we can perform is to be true to ourselves, and let others take responsibility for themselves.

Today, I will pay attention to my actual responsibilities to myself. I will let others do the same. If I am in doubt about what my actual responsibilities are, I will take an inventory.
-Melody Beattie (The Language of Letting Go)


When I talk about the professional philosophy I want to portray to my clients, one of the words that pops up is “responsibility”. I believe we each need to take personal responsibility for our lives, and I encourage that in all my clients.

Some people get it pretty early and get active in confronting their issues – acknowledging and accepting the reality of what is in their lives. They move on to feel better relatively quickly.

Others take a little longer, and I can usually tell if that is going to be the case during the first session. How? They are more comfortable with “blame” than with “responsibility”. They blame others for their problems, or they blame themselves and continually beat themselves up emotionally, staying caught up in the intellectual violence of their story and how they got to my office in the first place.

Blame is defined as “the action of assigning responsibility for a fault”. The use of the word “fault” implies the negativity of blaming, whether it be the blaming of someone else or of the Self.

Responsibility is “the state of being accountable for something; the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization”. Another definition given: “a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of . . .”

Responsibility starts with the willingness to experience your Self as the cause. Responsibility is not a burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt. As implied in the above definition of blame, all of these include judgments and evaluations of good and bad, right and wrong or better and worse. They are not responsibility.

Responsibility starts with the ability to deal with a situation from and with the point of view, whether at the moment realized or not, that you are the source of what you are, what you do, and what you have. This point of view can even extend to include what is done to you – from the perspective that we put ourselves into situations or around people that will take advantange of us. (I understand that this can be viewed as a controversial topic, and won’t go too far into this aspect of it. Certainly I’m not saying that victims of abuse (for example) are responsible for their own abuse and the perpetrator has no responsibility. What I am saying is that we develop patterns from early childhood that draw us to specific situations and people that can eventually be unhealthy for us. In order to break these patterns, we must recognize this and work to understand what within us needs to change).

So again, responsibility is a context of seeing my Self as the source of my attitude, feelings, behavior and life. If I am the source, then I have at least some control over how these turn out. I can be responsible for myself. I cannot be responsible for others. That’s another whole blog! 🙂

Your Tool Box

When I ran Intensive Outpatient Programs for substance abuse, I used to hold an Orientation Group for those just coming into the program. During this group, I would explain what would be expected of them and what they could expect of me and of the program.

One of the images I used to help them understand my hope for them was to ask each of them to imagine a tool box sitting beside their chair. That tool box may have a couple of tools in it, and some might continue to be useful, but some were probably old & worn out – no longer helpful. But by the time they finished the program, they would have to drag that toolbox out the door with them, because it would be so full of new tools they would learn about – and begin to use.

This same concept works for those in therapy – or anyone who just wants to make positive changes in their lives. Yet, many of us having trouble accepting that we need tools to repair our damaged Selves. Who would try to nail boards together without a hammer or change a flat tire without a jack? To reject our need for tools to perform these tasks would be ridiculous.

Sheer force won’t lift a car so we can replace the tire, and it won’t lift a heavy heart. Reading a book, and understanding how to nail those boards won’t guarantee that they’ll look like a table the first time we try it. Insight and knowledge can possibly help us see why we behave the way we do, or how we’d like to change; but it takes consistent use of support groups or learning appropriate ways to open up to (or set boundaries with) family members, gratitude lists or stress management or communication techniques, or (for some) even medication – to actually repair that battered ego. Usually just one tool won’t do the trick, but each of us has to find the combination that works for us.

It isn’t weak or shameful to admit that we need tools to accomplish something. If we need to lay a new foundation, we need to dig a big hole. And if we need to dig a hole, we’d better be willing to use a shovel. That foundation is our willingness to do whatever it takes.

What I Said Never Changed Anybody; What They Understood Did

This weekend I’ve been at a 2-day Workshop, learning new tools to help my clients.  So, since I don’t have the time or energy to write a blog, I’m sharing one of my favorite meditation readings:

How often have we given our all to change somebody else? How frantically have we tried to force a loved one to see the light? How hopelessly have we watched a destructive pattern – perhaps a pattern we know well from personal experience – bring terrible pain to someone who is dear to us?

All of us have.

We would do anything to save the people we love. In our desperation, we imagine that if we say just the right words in just the right way, our loved ones will understand.

If change happens, we think our efforts have succeeded.

If change doesn’t happen, we think our efforts have failed. But neither is true. Even our best efforts don’t have the power to change someone else. Nor do we have that responsibility. People are only persuaded by what they understand. And they, as we, can understand a deeper truth only when it is their time to grow toward deeper understanding. Not before.

Today, I will focus on changing myself and entrust those I love to a Higher Power who loves them even more than I do.

-Earnie Larsen and Carol Larsen Hegarty

Not So Fast

It’s useful to get things done in a timely manner. And yet, the quickest way is not always the best way.

Our culture has become geared to immediate gratification. But often, life’s treasures can gain much more value when you wait a while for them.

Though there are more and more ways to achieve instant results, there is really no way to receive instant fulfillment. The things that bring real meaning and joy to life are the things in which you’re able to invest yourself over time.

Life is best when it can be savored. Rushing from one thing to the next can fill your days with sensation, yet it leaves your spirit sadly empty.

You don’t have to do it all or have it all today. Take the time to fully experience and enjoy the moment you’re in .

Life is already filled with more richness than you could ever imagine. Give yourself the opportunity to take it all in.

-Ralph Marston