Take Responsibility.

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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In this short section of the book, David Richo mentions two very important items about taking responsibility.  Taking responsibility seems heavy to some people, but, really I believe being responsible means actually just owning your power. 

First, he says:  “we were handed those scripts, yet we can operate ‘with our eyes open’.  There are percentages in responsibility, but the largest percentage now is with us as adults” (p. 191).  Yes, knowing about experiences you had in your childhood is very important, but not for the purpose of assigning blame.  It is important because that is the starting point for seeing how it is impacting your current life.  Knowing about the impact means you can have a choice in how you shape your life.  Otherwise, that past is just an unseen force beyond your control weaving the fabric of your life.  Don’t just stop at “my parents did awful things and it is their fault I am like this”.  Realize this is the deck of cards you were handed, you figured out how to make it work as a child and now it is your call about how you are going to play them. 

Also, consider this: because we are beautifully adaptive human beings and our psyches will come up with elegant survival mechanisms, in examining the past, there is a chance to see how you survived whatever pain happened and how that survival mechanism might be one of your greatest assets.  It might be what makes you so successful in your career.  Knowing the gift from the pain also helps resolve it.  That helps you own your power, take responsibility for how you live and how you respond to the past instead of just blaming your parents.  Realize where that asset works for you and where it might work against you.  Using the same tool on all jobs doesn’t really make sense, does it?  Being very sensitive to the inner states of another person has made me a good therapist, but it is not the sole and chief skill I should use in personal relationships.  I also need to be sensitive to myself and lovingly communicate what I need/want/think/feel regardless of the other person’s truth.  This is being assertive and segues nicely into the next point.

Here’s the other part I love:  “there are no mistakes or failures in assertiveness while we are practicing these skills…we have not failed but only discovered that we need to begin a step or two lower in the hierarchy of practice” (p. 192).  David Richo equates being assertive with being with the truth and owning our power (see my post Be Assertive.  Own Your Power. ).  I love what he is saying because being with the truth really is a practice.  I know that it is a skill that is not readily taught in our society.  A lot of times, people will tell me that no one wants to hear the truth either.  So, starting with you, you can practice saying what is really true for you and you can practice tolerating what is true for someone else.  No one is responsible for fixing or changing your truth and you are not responsible for fixing or changing someone else’s.  That would be a misallocation of resources.  Being assertive is scary at first (you might have to panic a little and breathe before you push “send” to tell someone something!).  You might not be good at it and accidentally be way too harsh as you start.  People may hate this change because you are starting to operate outside of that silent contract you share to sweep things under the rug or enable bad habits.  That’s all OK.  Like David Richo says, it is not a failure, just means you might have to take a step back to gather your skills and keep going.

So, ultimately, the message is be POWERFUL by being responsible for your past and how you are living because of it today.  And, be responsible for your current experience by being assertiveThat means tuning into your truth and sharing it when appropriate.  One of my best friends always takes me through a four part criteria for when it is appropriate to share the truth (I'll have to ask her again about the source):

  1. Is it timely? (Are you sharing it at the right time for the person to be able to take in what you have to say?)
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it true?  (Is it simply your feelings or opinion?  That’s OK, just make sure to preface your words with “I feel” or “I think....”  It is not helpful to share something as if it is a universal truth when it is not a fact.  If it is a fact, then it is a fact.)
  4. Is it kind/loving?  (Are you sharing the truth with someone because you are loving them even though it is a hard truth to share?)

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".