“You’re not always guilty, but you’re always responsible!”
The patient keeps telling me how awful her partner is for about 30 minutes. He has all the negative traits one can imagine. The speech is finally finished with one sentence that should have a dramatic impact:
“In fact, I don’t love him. He doesn’t love me either.”
“So why do you still stay with him?” I ask.
“Because I’m afraid of loneliness.”
“Afraid or not, you are hurting yourself and you’re abusing your ideal of how a great relationship should be!”
“Yes, and it’s his fault because he doesn’t love me!”
“No, it’s your fault because you accept to stay in this toxic relationship!”
“But I have no choice! Loneliness…”
“Alone or in couple, it seems to me that you feel lonely in both situations…”
“If only he could be a nice guy…”
“But you saw from the beginning that he was a not-so-nice guy!”
“Yes, but I thought he’ll change!”
“And he didn’t… but you stayed in relationship and now you have kids.”
“And I don’t love him…”
“Love or not love, you’re responsible!”
“What? I am the one responsible? He’s the bad guy in this story!”
“But you accept to stay with him, therefore you are responsible!”
“But it’s not my fault that he is a psychopath!”
“No, it’s not your fault if he behaves badly. But you’re still responsible.”
“I disagree with you! I am the victim here, he’s the one not showing love! How am I supposed to love such a guy!”
“But you saw this from the beginning, the fact that he’s a ‘psychopath’ as you say…”
“Yes, and now he’s keeping me dependent of him. He brings money, I don’t work. What am I gonna do, doc?”
The patient has started crying. She will keep crying for a couple of minutes. Then, she will get out of my office and curse God, life, her partner, her doctor, for not being empathic, loving, etc. Then she will go back to her partnership where she feels like being jailed, but where at least she doesn’t have to assume responsibility. She will feel unconsciously relieved by having criticized her partner and consciously relieved by our long discussion (or her long monologue), where she could cry freely and be at least accepted. She is not, however, ready to assume responsibility. In fact, I doubt she’ll ever will.
You are responsible for everything in your life. Absolutely everything. You are, however, not aware of this. Everything good or bad happening in your life is your responsibility. You are not responsible until someone tells you that you’re responsible. Until that very moment, you become responsible. You’ve been told…
We are not responsible for what happened in our childhood and the education was given to us. We’re not even responsible for most of our teenage. That was the past. And we continue to be irresponsible until someone tells us that it’s time to assume responsibility. It’s a sign of maturity. From that moment on, we can’t say we didn’t know we’re responsible. So, for those of you who do not feel responsible, reading this article is enough to inform you that you are in charge and you can’t find any excuse from now on in your life for everything happening to you. It’s too late already to stop reading this…
The patient in the imaginary dialogue from above (although I have many real life dialogues like this one) prefers to stay in a couple for fear of loneliness. Love might have existed but now seems to have gone. She blames her partner for not loving her and for abusing her. She has a huge history of abuse in her own childhood, something that was never under her power to change. Overall, it’s a nasty situation that has no perfect solution.
At a superior (psychodynamic) level of understanding, considering her history and her symptoms, she is a borderline personality with a chaotic attachment, a constant feeling of inner void and an abandonment lifetrap constantly active. She can’t live without some sort of relationship. This kind of personality disorder often tries to maintain her own suffering by staying in a child-like ego state and avoiding responsibility. She blames her partner but in fact it was her who has chosen him from the many possible partners she encountered. Somehow, her inner compass pointed towards the most abusive possible partner, the one that could be blamed afterwards. Although her choice is obvious for a psy, it’s unconscious for her. She didn’t want to end up in this cage-like relationship. Yet, she is here now.
At an existential level, she refuses responsibility. In a situation like hers, avoiding the situation can’t help, surrendering to it will cause her to become more and more detached from her existence, and a possible counterattack could mean getting out from the current relationship only to get into the next one that will surely be even more abusive, following the same pattern. A possible solution is acceptance. Accepting that she is like that, has a personality disorder, makes bad choices because her inner emotional radar is broken, and assuming any decision she takes from that moment on. However, the temptation to blame the other, the partner, is huge, as each of us has usually problems accepting that we might be wrong. Let’s face it: can you feel comfortable walking on the street and telling the others that you’re an idiot who makes bad decisions?
By telling her she is responsible, I’m trying to use her guilt as a healing force. She now knows that, if things get nasty, she is responsible. And if she refuses to assume her life and her choices, she will feel guilty. At least I hope she will feel guilty… I’m not telling her to end her current relationship; it doesn’t help. I’m not telling her to remain; I don’t know if it’s good for her or not. But at least I tell her to assume that, if she’s not able to find a better relationship, she could accept that she is the way she is, with her good and bad traits, and continue her life knowing that she decided to remain in the relationship using her own free-will. It’s one thing to remain in a relationship because you’re afraid of being alone and see yourself as a victim, and it’s a different thing to remain in a relationship because you’re afraid of loneliness but you accepted that you are afraid of being alone and you accepted to stay in that couple because this is the maximum you can do for now. The locus of control, the power, is given back to you. You stay in that couple because you choose to do so, not because it happens to you. The outer reality is the same, but the inner reality is significantly changed; despite your difficulties, you are in charge and you control your life (or at least some aspects of it).
On the other hand, if she decides to leave her couple, she will have to accept that several things will happen: she will not have money, she will have to face increased fear of loneliness, she will probably have the kids under her responsibility or the judge will give them to their father, and she will feel empty and emotionally unbalanced. By assuming responsibility on her choice, all the problems above won’t go away, but at least she will have that feeling of control, of the fact that she decided that and she assumed that. In the long run, she will not feel like a victim: she is not the victim of someone else from outside; she decided to be a victim and assumed that.
In my eyes, she is not guilty if she made unconscious decisions, fueled by her personality disorder and disorganized attachment. I mean, she didn’t choose the life she had. But the moment she becomes aware of her responsibility, she may be guilty if she does not assume it.
Take some time to think about your own life. Are you taking full responsibility?
Some folks from your team have made a mistake and you (as a team-leader) are summoned in front of the big boss. The boss blames you for the results of your team. Since you didn’t know about the mistake of your team members, as they didn’t inform you, you are not guilty. Yet, you must apologize. You do not apologize because you’re guilty, but because you are responsible for what your team does or does not do properly. It was your responsibility to check as often as possible what your team was doing. If you failed and things got wrong, you are responsible. Get used to that!
If one of my patients comes to my office and complains that the nurses behaved badly, I apologize in the name of the department or the clinic. It is my duty to assume responsibility and speak in the name of the entire unit. Blaming my nurses in front of my patients would mean a demise from my responsibility, as I act like a team leader. Later, when the patient has left the office, I can call my nurses and talk about what happened and, if needed, make decisions to facilitate activity and prevent similar situations from happening. If the bad situation happens repetitively, I am responsible to give warnings to my nurses and, in extreme, fire them. If I am not the manager of the clinic and I can’t make administrative decisions, I am still responsible to do my best to fire a nurse with an unappropriated behavior. If I still fail to do this, I face the decision to leave things as they are or resign. This is responsibility to the extreme, an exaggerated example. If I choose to stay despite a passive-aggressive nurse that harasses patients or is incompetent, I must assume that I work with a bad nurse, and continue to assume any bad behavior she might have, without blaming her for what she does (blaming and not blaming her at the same time). I have all the time the opportunity to leave and I don’t do it for other reasons. And this means that, as long as I am in charge in that department or clinic, everything the bad nurse does to the patients is… my responsibility…
My country is, by many standards, a chaotic corrupted country. The fact that I’m still here, despite the situation, and given the fact that I can leave at any time and work in a civilized European country, makes me responsible. All the bad things happening in my life, things that result from my choice of staying here, are under my responsibility. It is not my fault that the government is corrupt, but it is my responsibility that it continues to be so. I could create petitions, get in the street and protest, go on a hunger strike in front of the state institutions, buy a gun and kill the president, etc. All these are possible ways of acting-out to change something in this country, and some of them might not be so wise (killing someone). But the fact that I do nothing does not give me the right to complain; I am responsible by not doing anything to prevent what happens. I do feel this responsibility every day… On the other hand, leaving my country would mean stopping my pain and replace it with other pains: loneliness, lack of a social network, a lot of work, language barrier, etc. If one day I make the decision to move to another country, I will have to assume responsibility for the feeling of void and the difficulties experienced when living abroad. But I will remain responsible for the fact that I didn’t do enough to change my country and I will be, from one point of view, a coward. Escaping from my country does not mean escaping responsibility…
Loneliness is also an issue of responsibility. Theoretically, everyone can be in a couple. The fact that I choose to reject possible partners because they do not fit my standards, or because I don’t love them, or because I feel I do not deserve them, it’s entirely my problem and my responsibility. Therefore, I can under no circumstances victimize myself for being alone. But if I get into a relationship because I’m fed up with loneliness, I can’t blame the partner for not being loveable enough or other kind of nonsense. I remain fully responsible. Supposing I live in a remote area where there is really nobody available – or nobody that I would accept as partner – it is my responsibility to move and get to a new place where the possibility of meeting someone is higher, for instance a place where I’ve been before and where I have some old friends that can make necessary connections. If I stay and do nothing hoping that things will change by their own, I am responsible. If I’m too depressed to move to a better area because I preferred to have a comfortable life and now I’m in burnout or boreout, I’m responsible as well. And guilty of non-action. If I get to the new area and come to the conclusion that is was a bad idea, I’m still responsible and I can’t blame anyone for my choice. As you can see, responsibility is always upon us.
I gave some examples. Few, in my opinion. But a book could be written about the many examples we encounter in our day to day life. Often people try to escape responsibility, either by blaming others, or by surrendering their lives to various guys who act like bosses, or by a complete denial of responsibility. Make a list of the worst things happening right now in your life! Put them in order, one sentence below the previous one, and leave some space to the left of each sentence. Like this:
I am not loved in my couple
I live in a horrible country
I feel lonely
After each sentence, write the following ending: “and I take full responsibility”. Like this:
I am not loved in my couple, and I take full responsibility.
I live in a horrible country, and I take full responsibility.
I feel lonely, and I take full responsibility.
Take a look at the new perspective! Ponder on what you could do to improve your life, knowing that your very action or non-action is the cause of your suffering. You are responsible! It’s your life… it’s your move!…