Taking Responsibility

Recognizing Victimhood

Samantha doesn’t realize it, but there’s a victim lurking inside her. Though she wears a sunny disposition outside, inside, the perky 42-year-old mother is resigned to three ideas:

1. It’s too late in her life to go back to college like she always wanted to. She’d look ridiculous, and who has the time, anyway?

2. Her ex-husband is to blame for her financial problems and for her children’s disrespectful behavior.

3. No matter what she does—no matter how many self-help workshops she attends or how much inner work she does with herself—things are not really ever going to change for her.

Quite a life sentence she’s given herself: hopelessness and helplessness, twin offspring of the same poisonous parent known as “Victimhood.”

When we operate from a victim mentality, we give the power to create our own life to someone else, and then we moan about how controlling the other is. To avoid taking responsibility, we create (and protect at all costs!) the dangerous illusion that we are always right. We blame others for our circumstances and remain stuck in a silent “poor me” that keeps us small. 

This is not to say that we can always control what happens to us. Some people’s behavior is abusive. Hurricanes or other natural disasters occur. The company downsizes.

We can, however, always control how we respond. We can refuse to accept abusive behavior, leaving a relationship, if necessary. We can recognize that others can only have control if we let them. We can see the banquet of choices before us, and choose what appeals to us, even if that means going back to college at age 42. 

Here are some clues to help you recognize when you’re carrying around a victim mentality and robbing yourself of your personal power:

•  Your first response to a setback is to blame someone else for what has happened.

•  You often find yourself beginning thoughts with phrases like “I can’t…” or “I’m no good at…” or “I’ve never been able to.” You believe that nothing you do ever works out. 

•  Conversations with friends and family are often about how hard your life is.

•  When friends offer advice, you usually counter it with a “Yes, but…” since they can’t know how difficult your situation really is.

•  You’re always so busy with work and the things you need to do to survive that you just don’t have time to do things you want to do for yourself.

•  You think that other people usually cause you to feel the way you do, that you’d be more centered if it weren’t for them.

•  You’re convinced that if you weren’t tied down to all these obligations, or if only you had more support, you could really do some of the things you always think about doing.

•  When angry, you usually begin sentences with “You” instead of “I.”

You choose: small and powerless and perfect, or stepping up to meet your biggest self—warts and all—and live the life you want. Which will it be?

Note that the word responsibility has the root word, respond. It is all about how you respond. 

Self-Responsibility Starts With an I

Self-Responsibility Starts With An I

Asking Questions and Making Choices

“Take your life into your own hands and what happens?

A terrible thing: no one to blame.”

—Erica Jong

 

 

In the following three scenarios what do the people have in common?

 

Josie is a woman in her twenties. She still lives at home with her mother who makes all Josie’s important decisions: how to spend her money, who to go out with, even what clothes to wear. Josie is anxious and depressed.

 

Matt ordered a new printer for his office. When it arrived he discovered it wasn’t compatible with his computer. “Those idiots,” he ranted, “why didn’t they tell me this was the wrong printer.”

 

Sally and Jerry had a big fight. Now Sally’s tossing and turning in the bedroom while Jerry beds down on the sofa. Neither one is getting any sleep and both think the other should make the first move to apologize.

 

If your answer was “Hey, no one is taking any personal responsibility here,” you’ve got a good eye for human behavior.

 

Because what Josie and Matt and Sally and Jerry all have in common is a lack of self-responsibility that leaves them dependent, impotent and victimized. They’re caught up in blaming others for their problems and waiting for somebody else to come along and make their life right. Unfortunately, they’re going to have a long wait because, in the words of self-esteem expert Nathaniel Branden, “No one is coming.”

 

This is the good news. Your life is in your hands. You get to make the choices, elect the options and take the actions that come with self-responsibility. It’s through the door of self-responsibility that personal power and independence enter, often hand-in-hand, bearing gifts of confidence and self-esteem.

 

Be clear though, self-responsibility is not the same as feeling responsible or accepting the blame for bad things that have happened or situations that are painful. We don’t all enter the world with the same trappings, and people, events or circumstances have wreaked trauma and caused wounds from which many are recovering. Self-responsibility means that when you have worked through your grief or anger or other issues, you can ask yourself: Now what am I going to do? What options do I have?

 

At the other end, self-responsibility doesn’t mean becoming so self-reliant you don’t ask for help when you need it or seek others’ opinions or points of view. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have to know everything, make every decision alone or take on the world single-handedly.

 

Rather than a heavy burden, self-responsibility can be a source of joy. Knowing you can create the life you want by accepting responsibility for yourself is a great freedom. Even saying the words aloud can produce a feeling of power and strength. Try it.