I’m doing an online life coaching programme at the moment, and this week’s theme was all about taking responsibility for your life.
You might think it sounds simple: I’m an adult; I’m responsible for my life, right? I’m responsible for the cooking, the cleaning, the putting on the big girl pants and the going to work. Well, yes. But what about taking responsibility for all the things that happen to me… and all the things that have happened to me in the past?
In the webinar I attended, the trainer gave us an example: the other day he parked his motorbike outside a cafe and went in for a drink. While he was in there, a lady reversed her car into his bike and broke it pretty badly. Most of us in this situation would probably kick off, shouting at the lady, cursing her, demanding insurance details and so on. We might then go on to complain about how this sort of thing always happens to us; how we always have bad luck with these things and so on. Stupid woman should have been looking where she was driving, right? What he actually did was think to himself, “I really shouldn’t have parked my bike so close to the back of her car.”
I know that a lot of people reading this will think the guy’s an idiot. Someone has just totalled his motorbike, and motorbikes are not cheap. He should be climbing the walls, shouldn’t he?
The thing is, if we don’t take responsibility for the bad things that happen in our lives, how can we take the credit when the brilliant things happen?
This is where things can become a bit controversial. For those who don’t know, here’s a potted history of my life since 2010: I had a massive nervous breakdown. As I was recovering, I found myself in an abusive relationship and fell pregnant. I had a fairly traumatic pregnancy, culminating in my giving birth to S five weeks early. And then I split up with her father, becoming a single mother before my baby had even reached her due date. The flat I lived in had a terribly leaky roof which took ages for the council to fix, and I didn’t have much fun with the noise from people rummaging through the bins below my window at 3am, or coming home drunk at all hours of the day and night. We moved out of there into a flat above a shop whose owner enjoyed playing his electric guitar in the evenings and was generally not ideal to be living above.
Was all of this my own stupid fault? When it comes to topics like this, especially domestic abuse, you can’t really go around telling people it’s their fault.
There is a difference between fault and responsibility though. Through all of this going on, I was going through a process myself. I was learning lessons I would not otherwise have learned. At the time, I didn’t know I could do anything about it; I didn’t know I could take responsibility and drag myself out of any of it.
Once I realised I needed to take responsibility for my life properly, I did so and that’s when things began to change. While I am not responsible for the actions of an abusive person, I must take responsibility for the way I reacted to it, and the fact I stuck around. That’s not me excusing his actions at all; but what other people do is their own concern. I cannot control what anyone else chooses to say or do, only how I respond. There are a whole host of reasons I didn’t get out of that relationship when I should have, but top of the list is that I didn’t think I was really worth it.
I tend to think that most people are going through things – bad and good – and don’t realise they have control over what’s happening. My opinion is that if you don’t know you can take control, you can’t really be blamed for it. I would never in a million years say to someone in an abusive relationship that “it’s your own stupid fault” because it’s not. Responsibility is not the same as blame. Blaming people – ourselves or others – helps nothing and nobody. There is no point in apportioning blame in any situation, as far as I can see. Responsibility is not about saying “It’s your fault/it’s my fault” – it’s about saying “it’s my responsibility, and I’m going to do something about it.” This is not about apportioning blame so much as drawing a line in the sand and saying: Right, this is the situation right now; let’s get on and sort it out. It’s impossible to do that without taking responsibility.
Once we realise that we are responsible, can take control, and it’s empowering. If I’m responsible for what’s happening to me now, I can do something about it. I can change it.
Things like having a nervous breakdown, being in an abusive relationship, being a single parent reliant on benefits, can make you feel like you’re powerless and helpless – things happen to you, and you just have to put up with it. If we don’t take responsibility for our current situation, where will we find the power to do something about it? Without claiming responsibility for our current situation, we risk fostering a victim mentality, sitting about and passively waiting for something good to happen. Once we take responsibility and say “ok, I am the reason I ended up here” we can also say “I am going to get myself out of this” and that is the first step.
Seven years on from my nervous breakdown, I am self employed and doing well. My mental health suffered while I was pregnant, but that was more to do with the abusive situation I was in; I’ve had no relapses since. I live a happy, fulfilling life with my daughter. A couple of months ago, we moved into a beautiful house that’s just perfect for S and I. I’ve worked bloody hard to get to this point; I still am working hard. I’m proud of myself for getting here, but I can’t really take the credit for this if I don’t accept responsibility for what went before.
The coaching programme I am on is run by Brett Moran. You can get a 30-Day Free trial here.