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by Rita Maulucci (Registered psychologist)

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”
Jean Paul Sartre

A prerequisite for self-actualisation is to take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and experiences. Many people resist being fully self-responsible*. To be self-responsible challenges the deepest parts of ourselves because it means we need to start perceiving and believing that we are in control of our lives. Ultimately the ‘buck stops here’. Although there may be many things in life that we cannot directly control, we can nonetheless control the way we perceive things. How things affect us – good or bad – is ultimately our responsibility. Sometimes it seems much easier to be a victim of circumstance and blame others; that way we do not have to be accountable for what happens to us. Yet in blaming others or circumstances we become ‘stuck’ in our life.

To be self-responsible means we must play a major role in CREATING our reality or life circumstances. It allows us to be in control of life and to have choice and freedom. We are enabled to be accountable for who we are and everything we do.

Internal and External Responsibility

To be a responsible citizen is different from being self-responsible. The two are not the same thing. There are many people who are perceived to be highly responsible within the community in that they raise families successfully, they help others, they ‘do’ the right thing, they recycle their rubbish, they manage their finances wisely, etc. This is referred to as EXTERNAL responsibility upon which the running of our day to day obligations depend.

The other is INTERNAL responsibility, which is going beyond the day to day running of our lives and is driven by our spirit of INTENT. Internal responsibility is about making the world a better place by being responsible for our:

  • Thoughts.
  • Feelings.
  • Actions and behaviours.
  • Reactions to other people.
  • Reactions to events.
  • Choices we make.

To be internally responsible means we have become aware that things don’t happen to us, but rather we make things happen. That is, we have decided NOT to be a victim of circumstance, but that we alone have the power to take control of our life. The benefits of internal responsibility are:

  • Increasing trust in self and others.
  • Overcoming resentment and learning to forgive.
  • Accepting others and ourselves.
  • Depending less on others to have our needs met.
  • Having more self-awareness.
  • Being happy.
  • Accepting ourselves and our lives.

Positive Consequences of Internal Responsibility

1. Blaming others means we are avoiding self-responsibility.

Many rush to blame the government, or the economy, or the unemployment rate, or our neighbours, or the television for all the unpleasant things around us. It helps us to get all that ‘bad stuff’ off our chests. Once we have dumped our ‘bad day’ onto others, we can be on our merry way. And many people do it again the next day and the next.

Blaming, however, is not constructive behaviour. It starts a spiral of negativity that ultimately leads to disempowerment. People who are self-responsible understand this and therefore make a conscious effort to stop blaming. Self-responsible people know that the world is not always pleasant. They do however avoid the futile practice of blaming.

2. We are accountable for all our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

An internally responsible adult knows that no other person is responsible for how they think, feel or behave. Everything they think, feel and do, is their responsibility.

When people react differently to the same experience, they make a choice. Not everyone will react the way you do to the same situation. This means that, at some level, we choose to react the way we do. You can’t really blame anyone else for making us feel the way we do - if we do that; we are giving him or her OUR power. They will have the power to hurt us and make us feel bad, or praise us and make us feel good.

If we are self-responsible, no one can ultimately control the way we are going to react to any given situation. To be self-responsible means OWNING all that goes on inside us (our thoughts and feelings) and outside of us (our behaviours).

Once we embrace the concept of self-responsibility we can make choices about how to react. This personal power will FREE us and HEAL us so that we can get on with our life and not let other people control us by making us feel hurt or sad.

3. We do not depend on the acceptance and approval of others.

Relying on other people to make us happy is just as detrimental as blaming them for hurting us. Our happiness is not anyone else’s responsibility. We need not depend on our partner, children, parents, friends, employers etc. to make us happy. It is not wise to rely on someone to fulfil that expectation because we will be inevitably disappointed.

Similarly, it is not our responsibility to make others happy. We can certainly contribute to their joy and happiness and others can to ours - but no one can realistically be placed under the pressure to make others happy.

It is our responsibility to make ourselves happy and to accept and approve of ourselves. By doing so, we will greatly minimise the risk of being constantly disappointed. Inevitably, if we do not approve and accept ourselves, no one else can. It is really that simple.

4. The choices we make now directly affect our future.

The types of choices we make now will affect where we will be in the future. We reap what we sow. We are where we are now and in the future because of the way we choose to perceive things RIGHT NOW. Indeed the present is the only moment when we have total control, especially in the way we choose to perceive life.

Knowing that we have a choice greatly contributes to our internal responsibility. The starting point is not so much to make conscious choices but to KNOW and BELIEVE that we have a choice in the first place. We can choose to either act from a position of love and abundance or from fear and limitation. Once we accept this, making choices will flow freely and naturally.

It is the way we choose to REACT to an event, which is important, not the event itself. We make choices about how we react. How we react to events will shape the kind of future we will have. The more we live by this the more power we will have over our future.

5. We live by our own personal principles and values.

When we decide to be self-responsible we begin to automatically live by our own principles and values. We are no longer driven by how others want us to think, feel or behave. When we are self-responsible we make conscious choices about how WE want to live.

Self-responsibility is about learning from life experiences and drawing intelligent conclusions from those lessons. This is WISDOM. Self-responsibility leads us on the path to wisdom.

Nobody can tell us what those principles are. We will however fail if we live by another’s principles and we will succeed if we live by our own. Principles can be borrowed but only include them as your own if you truly believe in them. Your own system of principles will be based on the things you VALUE in your life. For example, if you value honesty then your principle will be:

“I accept the responsibility to be honest.”

To be self-responsible means to enact that honour and maintain it throughout our life. Our true self values those things, which fundamentally we know will bring us happiness. Trust, honesty, honour, intent, justice, integrity, respect - all these are words that spring to mind when we speak of values. Think about what your values are and decide whether or not you wish to HONOUR them in yourself. If you do decide to honour them internally, then you will project them externally in your life.

6. We need to be true to ourselves and act in a way which honours that true self.

Regardless of what type of life we have, we are WORTHY of being honoured and respected. Formulating a set of principles to live by using our own values as a guide is the beginning of honouring our true self. It is this gift to ourself that will propel us into the kind of future we wish for ourself.

Honour is a very special word, used rarely these days, which speaks of so much positive power. To honour our true self means:

  • To acknowledge all our strengths and weaknesses.
  • To accept ourself unconditionally.
  • To be honest with ourself and others.
  • To have faith and belief in ourself.
  • To be our true self.
  • To trust that what we do is the right thing to do.
  • To live a life with honesty and truth.

Let us give ourselves compassion, take responsibility for the way we respond to our circumstances rather than become chained to past events, which then control the way we perceive our future.

Criticism and Projection

Making judgements is an essential and necessary part of the human experience. Not all judgements are destructive. Judging a dog to be aggressive will probably help you make the right decision in avoiding it. Making judgements partake of the dualistic nature of humanity and it gives us the opportunity to own our feelings and take responsibility for them.

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to be highly critical of others and the world in general? “It’s his entire fault…” or “you know what your problem is don’t you?”, or “It’s the government’s fault that …,” are common complaints. It is often an angry person who snarls, “don’t you be angry with me,” and a poor listener who complains, “you never listen to me.”

These are examples of someone who is projecting their self-criticisms onto someone else. In psychological terms, projection is seeing one’s own traits in others. All of us project those parts of ourselves that we don’t like and cannot accept. Whenever we react strongly to another person we can be sure that suppressed feelings within us are surfacing. Projection occurs automatically to bring feelings to a conscious level. From this point we need to accept this learning.

We often keep our weaknesses, or those parts we do not want to accept in ourselves, in the dark – hidden from everyone. This is natural. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re not there – instead we deal with them on a subconscious level by ‘dumping’ them onto others. We don’t want to own our weaknesses so we try to give them to someone else by criticising or judging them. This is catastrophic for relationships and it stops us from taking responsibility for ourselves. The outcomes of criticism are:

  • Criticism is negative; it ruins relationships and creates resentment.
  • It destroys self-esteem.
  • It does not help to improve or change people in a positive way.
  • It is a judgement solely based on one’s own opinions.

Ideally we need to believe that we are OKAY while acknowledging our weaknesses. It is best to accept them and take responsibility for them. Accepting our weaknesses stops us from continually judging, criticising and blaming others for our problems. Relationships become learning experiences rather than battlefields. Understanding projection helps us to own our experiences and we therefore take responsibility for them rather than believing that other people are responsible for how we feel.

The following quote is apt here:

“When we learn not to judge others and totally accept them and not want to change them, we can simultaneously learn to accept ourselves.”
Gerald G. Jampolsky

This quote implies that when we criticise others we see something of ourselves in them. This provides us the opportunity to open up our hearts to our own weaknesses. This will help us to accept what we don’t like about ourselves, to tolerate others’ behaviour more and eventually to accept ourselves and others unconditionally. Being aware of our projections encourages us to own ALL parts of ourselves, our strengths AND weaknesses, and makes us think twice before we judge others.

* Self-responsible = to become aware that we own our reactions to people and to experiences and that we are basically responsible for the quality of our lives.

More articles:  1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 . 7 . 8 . 9 . 10 . 11 . 12 . 13