Your Sense of Agency: Influencing Your Own Life and Taking Responsibility

What do you bring to your relationship?

Posted Oct 15, 2010

Your well-being may be influenced by your aspirations. Researchers consistently find that placing a strong importance on intrinsic aspirations-goals that directly satisfy basic needs such as personal growth, affiliation, and community involvement-is positively associated with indicators of well-being, including self-esteem and self-actualization, and negatively associated with depression and anxiety. On the other hand, placing strong relative importance on extrinsic aspirations-goals that indirectly satisfy needs like wealth, fame, and public image-is negatively related to indicators of well-being.

There are many ways in which you can influence and control your own life that will provide you with a sense of agency. These include striving for personal health, creating reasonable and attainable goals for yourself, developing resilience to cope with stressful situations, mastering new tasks or challenges, developing your talents, and striving for mutual respect and cooperation in your interactions with others.

Having a sense of agency is also associated with being able to take responsibility for your actions. If you are a tarnished or terrorizing/terrified white knight, you're likely to hurt your partner's feelings and have a difficult time admitting wrongdoing as well as sincerely expressing remorse. If your shame prevents you from apologizing, when pressed, you're likely to make a statement that has an aspect of an apology but is disingenuous. This pseudoapology can take many forms. It can be a terse, blunt, one-word apology, such as, "Sorry," which implies, "I'm only going through the motions of an apology, but I don't really mean it." It can include a disclaimer that contains an element of blaming the victim; for example, "I'm sorry, but when you did...," or "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings."

Such pseudoapologies can imply that the problem is not due to the guilty party's actions but, rather, that the person owed the apology is too sensitive and has feelings that are too easily hurt. Whatever type of pseudoapology is used, keep in mind that it really reflects the fear that your weakness will be exposed by the admission of wrongdoing, leaving you open to harmful self-judgment or criticism from others.

You may want to reflect on the notion that when you apologize, you are simply saying that you take responsibility for your mistake, agree that it should not have happened, and regret that your mistake adversely affected the other person. One crucial aspect of taking responsibility for your actions can be found in your future behavior.

Starting Points for Influencing Your Own Life and Taking Responsibility:

If you were to make a conscious effort to increase your affiliations with others and further your community involvement, where would you begin? What are your special interests? Find a community organization or volunteer group that addresses those interests and become involved.

Create a list of goals to promote your own personal growth. What would make you a better, happier, or healthier individual? Focus on positive qualities you want to adopt as your own. Become inspired by reading biographies and noting the qualities or behaviors you admire in the people being written about. In your daily life, notice admirable qualities in others and seek out mentors who inspire you.

The next time you have an argument with your partner, try to acknowledge your part in the conflict without pointing out what your partner did. At a later time, you can tell her how her behavior affected you-without making this an excuse for your own actions. Make sure you can back up your apology with a real behavioral change.

If you tend to take all of the responsibility for the conflicts in your relationship, think about a time when you were unable to stand-up for yourself, and then consider what you could have said to protect your own self-interest. What are the fears or beliefs that interfere with your self-protection?

Recognizing your partner's emotional state can help you to avoid and resolve conflicts, and to take responsibility when conflicts arise. Stepping back and focusing on your partner's feelings or imagining how you would feel in your partner's shoes are ways to increase your empathic response.

For more information about The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself From Your Need to Rescue Others:

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This blog is in no way intended as a substitute for medical or psychological counseling. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.