Responsibility: something one is expected to deal with and take care of, for which one is accountable should something go wrong An essential component of being emotionally and physically healthy is the ability to take responsibility for ourselves, our behaviour, our actions and our responses. Many of us who have a chronic illness or are chronically anxious, stressed or burnt-out are unsure of the distinction between our responsibility and someone else’s responsibility. Taking responsibility for the behaviour of others or not taking responsibility for our behaviour is damaging. Even though great effort is required, for the sake of physical, emotional and spiritual health, we need to work hard to understand responsibility. Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” talks about the confusion of responsibility and ownership in our lives being a problem of boundaries. The authors are very clear that the inability to set appropriate boundaries at appropriate times with the appropriate people can be very destructive. I came to a powerful realization a few months ago when I was reading Gary Chapman’s “Desperate Marriages: Moving Towards Hope and Healing in Your Relationship”, that my emotions should not control my actions. I have often been guided by my emotions and have justified inappropriate responses because I felt hurt, I felt wronged, I felt attacked or I felt betrayed. But what I didn’t realize was that I was still responsible for my actions no matter how I felt. It has taken me time to change my mindet in this area. I now understand that although it is essential to acknowledge these emotions, I cannot allow my emotions to control my actions. This knowledge has brought freedom because believing myself to be controlled by my emotions left me feeling powerless and exhausted and caused great damage. Another truth that was revealed in Chapman’s book was that I am responsible for my own attitude. Attitude relates to the way we think about things and what we choose to focus on. Attitude has a profound effect on physical and emotional well-being which affects our relationships and our lives. The challenge for me, is to be realistic without being negative or feeling hopeless, and not being idealistic about my expectations or impractical about what can be accomplished. In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey talks about being proactive. For him, this means that as humans we are responsible for our own lives and that our behaviour is a function of our decisions rather than our conditions or our feelings. He describes proactive people as those who recognise responsibility and therefore do not blame circumstances, conditions or conditioning for their behaviour. Therefore, it is not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us. This means that our basic identity does not have to be hurt, but that difficult experiences can build character if we choose. Covey talks about how, unlike proactive people, the language of reactive people absolves them of responsibility. Language like, “There’s nothing I can do, that’s just the way I am, if only and I can’t” transfers responsibility. While being proactive rather than reactive leads to healthier relationships, better productivity and being more effective in life, another important lesson is not to allow the reactive responses of others to undermine us. I found hope in Gary Chapman’s words that admitting my imperfections does not mean that I am a failure. It feels dangerous and unsafe to admit to failure, but without that admission and without taking responsibility for those failures, change cannot take place. Chapman writes so beautifully when he says that “To acknowledge your imperfections does not mean that you are a failure, it is an admission that you are human. As humans, you and I have the potential for loving, kind and good behaviour, but we also have the potential for self-centred and destructive behaviour. Admitting past failures and asking for forgiveness is one of the most liberating of all human experiences.” (Chapman, G. 2008)

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