Taking responsibility

Having blogged for many years about fostering and raising children I have more recently looked at ways in which adults and young people can achieve happiness and contentment. Last time we looked at how we can turn the corner and move on after a negative experience. This time I’d like to look at taking responsibility for our lives.

While we are not responsible for the decisions and actions of others we are always responsible for our own decisions and actions, although sometimes we would rather not admit it.

'If he had shown me more affection I wouldn’t have needed an affair.'

'She went on at me until I hit her. She should have left it. I can go out with my mates if I want.'

These are two extreme examples of trying to transfer blame and therefore responsibility. On occasions we are all guilty of blaming others for our actions and the reason we do so is obvious – if we can shift the blame it lets us off, or so we would like to believe. Clearly this is untrue, for we are only transferring the responsibility in our minds. No one else has accepted responsibility for our actions. We haven’t been let off the hook: we are simply in denial.

A man aged forty-three wrote:

'I blame my father for always criticizing me as a child. I couldn’t do anything right. If I got a B grade he said I should have got an A. If I scored a goal he asked me why I’d missed the other two shots.'

The man wrote that in adult life he reacted very badly if he thought anyone was criticizing him, becoming angry and aggressive, even when the criticism was in fact constructive feedback from his boss at work. He knew he was over-sensitive to what he perceived as criticism and his reaction was causing a problem both at work and in his private life. From what he said it was likely his father had been over-critical, but by using his father as a scapegoat and failing to take responsibility for his own failings, he was endangering his relationships at home and work.

Holding on to blame

I have been taken aback by the number of readers in middle age and older who still  blame their parents (or carers) for what is wrong in their present life. No parent is perfect; parents are fallible human beings and will get their parenting wrong as often as they get it right. Without doubt some people have easier and happier childhoods than others, but as adults we owe it to ourselves to try to take responsibility for the present and future and move on. Otherwise life will be a series of missed opportunities, regrets, discontent and unhappiness. While we can’t change the past, by taking responsibility we can change the present and future. The key to our success is in our own hands.

As well as blaming others and assigning to them responsibility for our lives, we are also very good at blaming situations, circumstances and even fate. A lad of eighteen who had failed his exams and dropped out of school wrote:

'I have a big family with six stepbrothers and sisters. There was never  anywhere that was quiet for me to study. That’s why I failed.'

He was bemoaning being unemployed and having no money. I appreciated that it must have been difficult for him to study at home, but even though he now recognized he needed qualifications to get a job, he was still refusing to take responsibility. One option would have been to enrol in a college course to gain the qualifications he needed, and his mother had suggested this, but the lad had a ready list of excuses as to why this or any other suggestion wouldn’t work. Until he took responsibility for his life he was going to continue disgruntled and without a job.

A woman, aged forty-five, who had been in foster care for a year at the age of eight, wrote that she blamed all that was currently wrong in her life, including her two sons being drug dependent, her husband’s domestic violence and her obesity, on being in care thirty-seven years previously. While I would never minimize the disruption being taken into care (or any other trauma over which a person has no control) can have on a young person’s life, by allowing a crisis in her past to become a peg on which to hang responsibility for all her woes and misfortunes, this woman was not taking any responsibility for them herself.

Taking control of our own destiny

Whether we are suffering as a result of an unhappy orabusive childhood, losing a job, a hurtful comment or action, a failed relationship or a divorce, bereavement, ill health or a fateful encounter, at some point we have to take responsibility for our lives and deal with whatever needs to be changed. Otherwise we are like flotsam on a wave – sloshed around at the will of the tide and never in control of our destiny.

A man, aged twenty-three, who drank excessively and drove while intoxicated, was stopped by the police, heavily fined and banned from driving for two years. He was then sacked from his job, which required a clean driving licence. He blamed fate and an old friend: If I hadn’t stopped off at that pub after work I wouldn’t have met him and none of this would have happened. A better response, where the man took responsibility, would have been:

'What an idiot I was! But I’ve learnt my lesson. When I get my licence back I’ll never drink and drive again. In the meantime I’ll have to find a job for which I don’t need a driving licence.'

Taking responsibility for our lives is fantastic! It puts us at the steering wheel and we can go wherever we want. Yes, it can appear daunting before we begin our journey. But once we assume responsibility for our lives and therefore our destiny, we can go from strength to strength.

This is taken from my book Happy Adults, available in paperback, e-book and audio:  http://po.st/HappyAdultsAudio

Cathy Glass


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