Owning Your Life — Self-responsibility as compared to Blaming

  1. On Waking Up — Awake as compared to Asleep
  2. The Attack of the WhyBut Monster
  3. Owning Your Life — Self-responsibility as compared to Blaming
  4. Into the Flow — Flexible as compared to blocked
  5. Dropping the Ego — Self-actualized as compared to self-absorbed
  6. Having Integrity — Truthful as compared to devious

Owning Your Life We’ve been conditioned since birth to blame — to make others responsible for who and where we are, and to let ourselves off the hook. Self-responsibility is all about turning the light on your behaviours and understandings, and accepting that what you do and who you are is a solo act.

no blame

You’ve probably heard it a million times, but the word responsibility means “having the ability to respond.”

The idea behind responding is this: as a stimulus comes in, I have a small window of choice, even if it is not apparent. Within that window are two options — I can react or I can respond.

Reactions are multiple.

I was sitting with a client the other day, a guy I’m mostly doing Bodywork with. We were talking about an incident at work. There is a guy he works with that is quite vocal with smart remarks and cutting asides. My client didn’t like being the brunt of the verbiage, but learned, growing up, to keep his mouth shut.

We’ve been talking a lot about finding, and then having his feelings. He finally realized, as the guy was going at him, that he really didn’t like the attacks. So, rather than stuffing his anger, he told the guy to stick it where the sun don’t shine. This new approach worked; the guy left him alone (and didn’t speak to him) for a week.

I asked him, “So, what was it like to choose to strategically use an angry remark in order to see what results you’d get?”

He did what I think of as a “full shut-down” — he gave me a blank stare, then silence, while holding his breath. Then, he said, “Wait a minute! I thought I was supposed to just let my emotions out! Now you’re telling me I’m supposed to think about it before I yell at someone?”

I said, “I think that it might even be more complicated than that. You might want to consider, mostly, not yelling at all.”

He looked even more confused, and said, “This sounds like I’d have to be paying attention all the time, thinking, making choices about how and what I’m saying and thinking. I’m just learning to let go, and now you’re talking about more control.”

I agreed that I was saying something like that, but more like this:

We all have feelings, and sometimes people do stuff we find objectionable. There needs to be an outlet for the feelings, and we also have to consider what we are trying to accomplish. If the person is a colleague, or my partner or parent or kid, or an intimate friend, there might be more to it that just dumping our emotions all over the person and situation. Seldom does “letting it all hang out” accomplish much more than contributing to hard feelings. You might want to consider the discipline of letting your emotions out at an inanimate object, while learning to be clear in your communication about what is and is not acceptable to you.”

the picture

Here’s one, but you can’t have the other

Admittedly, there’s a certain charge to letting it all hang out - letting go of whatever is inside, a free-flowing dumping of emotion.The dump can be anger, or sarcasm, or self-righteousness. It might be sadness or grief. Let’s look at where knee-jerk reactions come from.

From the time we were hatched, people have been saying, in our presence, “You make me so ________ (fill in the blank.)” The idea is that someone says or does something, and I have no choice as to my reaction. I can’t tell you how many clients have sat with me, and with a straight face, have said, “I can’t help yelling at her. She makes me so angry. Besides, my father yelled at my mother,” or, “Sure, I drink when I’m upset. People should just stop pissing me off,” or, “The only way I can get by is by being controlling. When people try to tell me what to do, I just have to stop them.”

This is what is called a conditioned response.

Rat Lab 101 — how we get conditioned

In the lab, a rat presses a button and gets fed maybe 100 times. Then, the rat presses a bar, and gets shocked. The rat quickly learns to always press the button and avoid the bar. Classical conditioning. The weird part — once the rat has learned the food producing behaviour, it will continue to press the bar, even after the food pellets stop coming. They’ll starve to death, pressing the bar.

People react similarly. Through some strange process, they develop a way of being that gets lousy results. Either it worked initially (Whining often gets kids listened to — it‘s not so effective for adults…) Or, they might have seen mom or dad do it. They come to see me, and initially we talk about all the behaviours they have that get lousy results.

And they want me to fix the behaviour, so, as we discussed last week, they can continue trudging along on autopilot, while getting “better” results!

In most areas of our life, there is a pattern to our learning, even if we’re not particularly aware of it.

  1. First, we learn to do what we do through repetition, and then
  2. through thinking the process through, and then
  3. through abstraction. At this stage, we begin to see patterns emerging, and can take what we’ve learned and shift it around — make it into something more elegant.

I got a hunch that when it comes to our relationships, most people don’t get past repetition.


So, we blame, because that’s what our elders did to us. We blame because we can’t believe that life is really all about me, as an individual, deciding (again and again and again!) what I’m going to do and how I’m going to live.

The self-responsible person engages with life. Dances with it. Sees it, and decides what to do next.

This requires paying attention, both to the choices available, and to the results of each behaviour. And there are endless choices available to each of us, if only we will take the time to notice.

There may be a strong pull to repeat endlessly what never works, all the while blaming the other person for “bringing this out in me,” but at the end of the day, there is no gun to our heads. There’s just life happening, and us either reacting like conditioned rats, or responding like fully functioning adults. If you pick the latter, your life expands along with your choices.

If you pick the former, you’re stuck in your self-righteous blaming until you die. In which case, I can only hope one thing.

I hope you like cheese.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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