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Claiming Responsibility for the Self
By Gabriella Kortsch, Ph.D.
As children, our parents often admonished us: Be responsible! Take responsibility for what you do. And we took it to mean that if we had chores or homework to do, then we needed to be responsible about completing those tasks, and not dawdle, or worse, procrastinate so much that in the end they never got done, and we wound up with real emergencies on our hands.
I used to say to one of my sons (I found the saying in some article): Your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency when he would come to me in the 11th hour with a paper that had not been written, or a project that had not been properly planned.
But this is not what claiming responsibility for the self is really all about.
One thing is to be responsible out there in the world, as described above, and another thing is to claim responsibility for the self. Both types of responsibility form part of responsible behavior, but the latter is much less understood, and even less implemented in an individual's life.
To claim responsibility for the self literally means to decide to be responsible for all that goes on within the self. Not, let me hasten to add, for all that happens to the self. You can not control that. If you live in a police state and are arbitrarily arrested, or if you live in an area often devastated by hurricanes, or if you live in a third-world country with raging hunger and poverty, or if you are of the wrong ethnic or religious origin (according to the powers-that-be) and are subject to harassment or worse, it is clear that you are unable to claim responsibility for that manner of events.
But you can - without the slightest doubt - claim responsibility for the way in which you react to all of that, and therefore, you can claim responsibility for the way you feel about it all, for the state of your being in the midst of such havoc and chaos, and therefore, in a nutshell, you have control of your life. As long as you are in control of what goes on inside of you, what happens on the outside carries much less weight.
We can take this into the arena of much more normal external events and experiences and understand how we can begin to take control of much of that which ails and plagues us by claiming responsibility for the self.
- Your boss just passed you over for a promotion
- The bank declined your request for a loan
- The man you love just walked out on you
- The girl you asked out for a first date said she already has a boyfriend
- It rained the entire week you spent in Hawaii
- Ten publishers rejected your manuscript
- Your college application was put on waitlist
In each of these examples something external to the self causes frustration, heartbreak, pain, annoyance, anger, or any number of other emotions. And so we explain our negative emotions to ourselves by blaming them on the event or the person. Obviously we feel that way because of what happened.
If that is explanation enough for you, then you are willing to give over control of your state of well being to an event or another person. It is tantamount to saying that you are not in control of your state of well being. How can I be when these things happen to me? You can be in control of your state of well being by deciding to be. It's as simple as that.
Make the decision that when things happen that would normally upset you, you will, in future, look at all the possibilities, all the alternatives of reaction at your disposal. Of all of these alternatives, one of them is always going to be:
- I can choose not to get upset
- I can choose to remain calm
- I can choose to keep my cool
- I can choose to remain in a good mood
- I can choose to refuse to let this person or event bother me
- I can choose to look at this as a learning situation and take something positive from it in order to advance to the next place in my life
- I can choose to grow from this
- I can choose not to worry (because worrying never solved anything at all)
- I can choose to smile
- I can choose to walk away from this situation
- I can choose to let this person be the way they are, realizing that their way of thinking, or their behavior says nothing at all about me
- I can choose to believe in my own value as a wonderful human being
- I can choose to laugh
- I can choose to shake hands
The examples of the choices you can offer yourself are endless, but if you make certain that your choices are always roads that take you to a good state of being, that enhance your well-being, and that serve you in some way, you are truly taking control, and claiming responsibility for the self.