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What taking responsibility is not

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Taking responsibility for your actions can often be mistaken for explaining what you did wrong over and over again. These things may seem similar, but they are very different. If that feels a little uncomfortable to read, it may be something that you recognise.

Over-apologising centres your feelings and your need for absolution. Can you think of any examples where you are prone to doing this? If you're close to people who have tricky pasts, this can often present as needing to backpedal after you've asked for your needs to be met. Or getting frustrated about something frustrating and then spiralling into thoughts about what a terrible person you are.

The problem with reinforcing this pattern is that your brain begins to associate your needs being met with danger - because you keep attacking yourself.

This pattern is often mirrored when we try to take responsibility for our actions, especially if we have made a mistake or if someone who's reacted strongly to us. We have already reprimanded ourselves, so your body remembers this and sets off your nervous system to signal. “Avoid! Avoid!” which can lead to some rather unhelpful behaviour. Your fear alarm system in your brain has no idea if it is warning you about woolly mammoths or a frown your boss made. It doesn't have time. It focuses on safety and, if possible, getting you out of there as soon as possible.

Sometimes, naming and noticing what is going on for us can be an incredibly powerful tool. It doesn't have to be out loud, but it can be. How can you get into the habit of recognising that you're feeling uncomfortable, and then you'll probably try to get yourself to safety immediately? What happens when you consciously decide to sit with discomfort for a while?

When you can humanise the responses that you are having, It is a lot easier to learn how to stop criticising them. When we become familiar with our own emotions, forgiveness is also one of the emotions which becomes available to us. The great thing is the more we practise these things, the more accessible they become to us.

So, perhaps as you go about your week, you can find the tiniest things that you can take responsibility for to remind yourself that you're not in danger. Yes, I left the shoes there. Yes, I didn't do the washing up properly. Yes, I didn't return that text message. Where can you take full responsibility for your actions and train yourself that this behaviour is human? By creating a tiny thread of safety, you begin to test what is possible for you. The more we strengthen these connections in our brain, we learn that path could be possible; the more that road becomes accessible to it when we really need it.


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