Responsibility has been given a bad name.
It began to happen when we were teenagers, with parents reminding us of all the ways weren’t being responsible. We violated curfew, forgot to pick something up to bring home, didn’t call. When I’ve talked with groups of adults and mentioned this word, asking them how they feel about it, they groaned audibly.
Since those teen years, lots of us adults have been avoiding responsibility, especially in ways we think we can get away with. We’re not bad or dysfunctional, we’re just attempting to avoid something that has been made distasteful and that we want to avoid.
Which is a real shame, because responsibility is a key element of human lives and is part of being “at choice” in the ways we live our lives. Take the word apart, and we can say that “responsibility” is “response-ability.” It’s our ability to respond to life, in all its challenges and permutations. Life goes better when we “respond” with our full, powerful self.
The reality is that each one of us is responsible for our life, and all the people and experiences in it, making us co-creators of our life. As co-creators, the decisions we make, things we focus on, people we invite into it, and reactions we have to events, all of these and more, require and reflect responsibility. In addition, responsibility is one of the four main building blocks of self-esteem. When we regularly take responsibility, our self-esteem rises and stays high, unassailable.
Doing research for my books (The ABCs of Anger, The ABCs of Love, e.g.) written in 1994, one resource said this: responsibility will have its rightful place when it becomes such a wonderful thing for you that when your best friend stops by to invite you to do your favorite thing, you respond “Sure, I’ll come with you. But I see some responsibility I can take over here, so I’m going to take it first, and then come with you!”
Fully embracing responsibility in life is a thing of pure joy!
Despite how many trips we make to the doctor, the jokes we make about “being bad” when we eat our beloved ice cream, or how many pills we take, we are also responsible for our body and its health. I was surprised to learn about four years ago that there are people, even in the medical profession, who don’t really realize that each of us is personally responsible for our own state of health. Medical people are available as partners, whom we can consult, but they are really helpers. Great healers acknowledge that they don’t do the actual healing. That’s up to the person whose body is having difficulties.
We are responsible for our relationships, how much money we make, what we believe, the things we do with our time, the way we treat others, the reactions we stimulate, and on and on. The more of this responsibility we accept and embrace, the better our lives become! (There’s more about the power of taking responsibility in my book, Emotions in Motion: Mastering Life’s Built-in Navigation System.)
Good News About Responsibility
To think what we are each individually responsible for our life could be a very sobering and scary idea, likely focused on what we, as adults, “should do.” It makes many of us want to run away, screaming. Fortunately, there is a really good part to taking responsibility which usually is not emphasized. It makes taking responsibility a wonderful thing, and it’s this:
Taking responsibility is the key to having a choice in life.
When we accept the responsibility that is ours, it gives us the ability to choose in every area of life. Do I want to be here, or there? Am I willing to do this? Am I willing to accept the consequences? I can choose! I can choose whether to live by principle. I can choose to live an honorable and caring life. I can choose to have a partner or to live alone. I can choose to work or allow myself to be taken care of. Whatever way I want to live my life, I can choose!
When my husband was struggling with cancer, there were some aspects of helping him that were distasteful. My friend, who helped me through the entire five years, developed a game that involved responsibility and gave us a joyful lift. Instead of saying “I have to do this,” we began to say “I get to do this!” We would laugh all the way through the distasteful things we needed to do as part of my husband’s care. It left room for us to do these things lovingly, rather than begrudgingly. Try this level of responsibility. It actually can make you feel great.
One of the funnier ways I’ve found myself taking responsibility for the last 16 years is that I replace toilet paper rolls in the bathrooms I visit when I’m shopping or at work! Lots of people, I have found, do not like replacing the toilet paper roll. Taking the responsibility for doing this menial task, especially without telling anyone, becomes an act of selfless service, which shields me from depression (something selfless service provides), while simultaneously raising my self-esteem!
When you can go out again, pick up some trash. Pull a weed. Put some water on a plant. These are acts of responsibility that serve and support Mother Earth. In your relationships, take responsibility if you’ve snapped irritably at someone, have become passive-aggressive, or avoided telling the full truth. Acknowledge your behavior, apologize for it, and offer what you intend to do “next time.” Your relationship will be better for all concerned. Your self-esteem will stay higher.
Try taking full responsibility in your life. It will draw you to very happily take more and more responsibility because it makes you feel so good!
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Ilene Dillon, MSW, has dedicated her life to helping people resolve personal challenges once and for all, then design life to be what they want it to be. A Transformation Specialist, she has worked 50 years as a psychotherapist and 15 years as a coach. She is a global speaker, Amazon International Best-selling author (The Wellness Universe Guide to Complete Self-Care, Volumes 1 and 2), podcast guest, and plans to give her first TEDx speech (on Anger) later this year. Ilene is also the author of Emotions in Motion: Mastering Life’s Built-in Navigation System and End Manipulation: Stop Being Jerked Around by Toxic, Energy-draining People. With her little dog, Pi, Ilene lives and travels full-time throughout North America in her RV, writing, teaching, and speaking along the way.