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Taking Responsibility versus Taking the Blame

Is it really all your fault?

It's quite common for us to operate with the rather self-conscious notion that "it's all about me", so it's very easy to blame ourselves, and much harder for us to gain a perspective on our relative responsibility. That is a sword that cuts two ways; one draws us into the palace (that is not a typo - think about it) of the ego, and the other drags us down the rabbit hole of negative self-perception. Neither path serves us.

Being self-conscious is quite natural. We think of ourselves first mainly because we're our own best point of reference for that being in the world. It's a tendency that arises out of the integral ego-centric/ethno-centric/geo-centric developmental matrix. This self-as-reference-point perspective is often an obstacle for us because there is a fine line between "it's all about me" and "it's all my fault".

The tipping point is really about our perspective. Rather than maintaining ourselves in a place where we are exercising an evolved sense of "me-and-you" (ethno-centricity), we can get stuck in "it's all about me" (ego-centricity) -- especially when confronted with the strong emotions of another person, or an emotionally charged situation. That sort of thinking is both the root of self-blame, and a barrier to recognizing relative responsibility.

When someone becomes angry, rather than respond with, "Oh, that person is angry.", we are more likely to respond with, "Oh, that person is angry at/with me." Just so, rather than responding with "Oh, that person is angry, and I should hold space for that.", we are more likely to respond with, "Oh, that person is angry, and it must be me doing something wrong."

By learning to stay in a place of "me-and-you", and keeping a balanced eye on who plays what part in any given interaction or situation, we are better able to emerge from a state of self-blame and avoid the rabbit hole. We are also better able to keep the trap of the ego at bay, more clearly taking and assigning responsibility.

How do we do this? One important factor - and a way to break ourselves of our habit of self-consciousness - is to bear in mind where feelings come from. Your boss doesn't make you angry - you make you angry. By the same token, you don't make your boss angry -- your boss makes your boss angry. Our feelings -- all of our feelings -- and those of others are self-generated.

So, when someone comes at you in anger -- even if you have done something to intentionally harm or hurt them - their anger is theirs, not yours. You may have provoked it, but you can't own it because it's not yours in the first place. If it's not yours, you can't reasonably blame yourself, for it. Of course, you can, and should be responsible to it, and that responsibility then breeds accountability, which promotes clear, clean and balanced communication with both ourselves and others.

In the end what it comes down to is the ability to recognize who owns what; or, as a friend of mine likes to quip when assessing his degree of responsibility within the context of a conflict or emotionally charged situation, "It ain't my dog, so I'm not gonna walk it."

© 2010 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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