Responsibility is Hard to Bear

It is difficult to sit still and accept responsibility for anything really, but the fact is, we are responsible for our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviors. Much of psychotherapy is an attempt to get people to stop blaming themselves, criticizing themselves, and being enraged with themselves. We try to help people feel “I’m okay, you’re okay.” And that is important. Many people have learned to direct an avalanche of negative responses toward themselves internally. These responses are not accurate, and they are not helpful.

Sometimes we can overcorrect, however. We have to distinguish between responsibility as a causal agent and responsibility as a repair agent first of all. Even though our internal world is largely learned early in life, and therefore we did not cause the internal pain we experience, as adults, we are charged with making the most of the life and circumstances we have been given. We are responsible for forming our lives, making choices, and healing what we can heal within ourselves. It is not fair, but it is reality.

And, further, we are responsible for choosing which parts of what our minds generate we are going to accept, amplify, focus on, and act on. We have a smorgasbord of inner experience and we choose what part of that experience we believe to be true and act on. We need not prevent negative thoughts and experience. We need only be observant about thoughts and feelings as manufactured responses to external and internal experience. What we choose to believe and live within is the reality that defines us.

For example, if I think that every person is basically selfish and isolated, that reality will affect how I interact with other people, and I will reinforce that belief with evidence from my life. If I believe everyone is basically kind and good, that reality will form my experience. At some point, I am going to have to develop a way of understanding my life that is as accurate as possible while contributing to growth and development for me. It is not helpful to be naively optimistic without an awareness of the complex reality of the world. At the same time, if I am overly fearful and protective, I will limit my own growth.

We are responsible. We are in the world, in the community, and in the families we are in. We have an impact. We choose directions for our inner self. Even not choosing becomes a choice by default. We cannot opt out of having a place in the world. We are afraid of hurting other people, causing damage. We are afraid of not measuring up, not performing, not excelling, not delivering. We don’t want to be judged and found inadequate. The thing is, we didn’t cause all these problems, but we are responsible for living with integrity, owning our full selves and our impacts, and making choices, however difficult and uncertain they may be.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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