Taking responsibility for our choices doesn’t mean torturing ourselves about them.
There’s a difference between realistically acknowledging our responsibility and beating ourselves up for winding up in a situation.
It’s easy to confuse the two.
Sometimes people are going to WANT you to feel blame or shame for a situation— and they’ll tell you if you DON’T feel blame or shame, then you’re “not accepting responsibility.”
There are certain situations about which it’s very difficult NOT to feel blame and shame.
If we’ve ended up in a situation the world says we “shouldn’t” have, it’s easy to get down on ourselves.
If we’ve had a relationship, or multiple relationships, that have been painful or traumatic, it’s very common to blame ourselves for “choosing” those relationship partners.
If we’ve ended up in challenging economic circumstances— if we’re broke— the culture really loves to make us feel bad about ourselves. Smart, “responsible” people know how to manage their money, after all.
On a more basic level, if we’re suffering, the culture very often encourages us to examine our own role in that suffering, and “take responsibility” for it.
I am all for taking personal responsibility.
But a lot of what people think is “taking responsibility” is actually just shame and blame in different gift wrapping.
If we’re actually going to take responsibility for a situation, we can’t allow ourselves to get tangled up in shame and self-blame.
Shame and self-blame go nowhere. They do nothing but make us feel bad about ourselves and a situation we already feel bad or stressed about.
Moreover, when we beat ourselves up over ending up in a situation, we’re almost always distorting and oversimplifying the real story of how we wound up there.
I have ended up in plenty of painful situations that were of my own making.
I have wasted plenty of time calling myself stupid and irresponsible.
Do you want to guess how helpful calling myself stupid and irresponsible has ever been to actually extricating myself from a painful situation?
Actually assuming responsibility means containing those impulses to shame and blame ourselves.
It means noticing when we’re getting stuck in shame and self-blame, and consistently wrenching our focus in a more productive direction.
I knew I was ACTUALLY starting to “take responsibility” when I realized that I didn’t have the luxury of wallowing in shame and self-blame.
It may be the case that you’ve contributed to the circumstances you’re in now— though it’s very unlikely that the story is as simple as “it’s your fault.”
Nobody wants to be the type of person who “makes excuses.” I understand why we over assume “responsibility” for our circumstances.
Trauma survivors in particular are absolutely vicious with the self-blame.
We VERY MUCH don’t want to be like the people in our lives who REFUSE to take responsibility for their role in our pain.
But beating yourself up isn’t “taking responsibility.”
Calling yourself names isn’t “taking responsibility.”
Oversimplifying the narrative of how you got to where you are isn’t “taking responsibility.”
However we relate to what’s come before, REAL “taking responsibility” is taking responsibility for what comes next.
That’s literally all we can do.
We can’t go back and un-make old decisions.
All we can do is make the NEXT decision— the one right in front of us, right now— as consciously and purposefully as we can.
There are no do-overs.