Let’s talk a little about trauma and “personal responsibility.”
Sometimes I’ll see someone on social media post a hot take about how trauma survivors— or anyone who suffers, really— needs to “take responsibility” for their lives.
I very often see a specific, moderately well-known therapist post about how indulging trauma survivors’ narratives can be problematic, in that it reinforces the idea that others are responsible for our suffering.
Another moderately well-known therapist is pretty famous on social media for her posts about how “coddling” is destructive to adults, and more often than not peoples’ REAL problem is they need to take “responsibility” for their lives.
(If anybody reading recognizes the social media therapists I’m referring to and feels I’m oversimplifying or mischaracterizing their respective worldviews, please let me know— I’m presenting the most straightforward recap of their pet themes as I can.)
It’s a well-worn cultural trope, “personal responsibility.”
We’re strongly encouraged not to have a “victim mindset.”
We’re encouraged to “take responsibility” for our happiness and stability— and this often seems to include denying and ignoring ways we were hurt or victimized.
I’m always struck by how many vocal advocates of “personal responsibility,” in their enthusiasm to reject the “victim mindset,” seem to view all of this as a black and white choice.
They seem to think that you can acknowledge your trauma— the ways you were, by definition, a victim— OR you can “take responsibility” for how you fee and function…but you can’t do both.
In my experience as a trauma therapist, that’s just now how trauma recovery unfolds in the real world.
In the real world, we ONLY recover WHEN we take responsibility for our happiness and stability— and part of taking REALISTIC responsibility means acknowledging our pain.
It is not reality to pretend we are responsible for our post traumatic pain.
It is not reality to “accept responsibility” for injuries that resulted from other peoples’ decisions and behavior.
It is not reality to deny the fact that we are in pain, and there are layers to our pain that we do not control and can not reliably affect.
It IS reality to see what we see and know what we know about our past and our present functioning— that there were aspects of our past that were painful and terrifying, and there are aspects of our current functioning that aren’t great as a result.
None of that is “victim mindset.” It is reality mindset.
When we acknowledge how hurt we are, and we get clear about what caused that hurt— including the truth that we didn’t and don’t control every aspect of every situation that resulted in pain or injury to us— that’s us taking REAL “personal responsibility.”
Nobody gets into trauma recovery to blame someone else for their pain.
Very often, the reason we find ourselves NEEDING to be in recovery is because we’ve blamed ourselves for so much for so long…and that strategy hasn’t worked out for us.
It doesn’t work because it’s not reality.
Many addicts struggle with Step One of the Twelve Steps because it is the step that speaks to the powerlessness of addiction— it asks us to get real about the fact that addiction is kicking our ass, and we can’t conquer it on our own.
Trauma survivors experience that same struggle as we try to come to terms with the fact that our conditioning has lied to us— we are NOT responsible for everything that happened to us or every aspect of how we feel and function.
It’s hard. Nobody reading this loves powerlessness.
Nobody reading this loves denial, either— but we can get kind of “addicted” to it in that the alternative seems so overwhelming we don’t want to consider it.
Survivors in trauma recovery know more about real world “personal responsibility” than anyone throwing that word around in a black and white way to score social media points.
We know the REAL cost of TRUE “personal responsibility.”
We know that if we’re GOING to take true responsibility for how we feel and function, sometimes we have to admit how powerless we were— or are.
It’s not easy. It very often sucks.
But don’t let anyone get in your head about “taking responsibility” when their only conception of that is “taking unrealistic responsibility for things you didn’t control and could’t have changed.”