Understanding Responsibility

Written by
Michael Wells

Understanding Responsibility

Written by
Michael Wells

Understanding Responsibility

Written by
Michael Wells

Originally written as an answer to this question on Quora...

"My dad is abusive and his whole family hates me for running away. It's been two years since I left, but I still feel so much pain when I think about it. How can I get over this?"

Responsibility is a funny thing.

You’ve learned to take full responsibility for yourself, protect yourself, make tough decisions, even walk away from your immediate family. At some point in your life you realized that no one else was going to look after you, and that it was up to you to take full responsibility for yourself.

Nice choice :) you’re halfway there.

Taking responsibility for yourself gives you power and freedom, but taking responsibility for others can do the opposite.

It can be crippling.

Right now, you are concerned about your family’s feelings. You feel attached to the idea that they should understand why you needed to protect yourself. That they should appreciate your reasons for leaving. That they should be thankful that you have managed to create a life where you are safe and happy.

But they don’t. Or at least, none of them can express it openly, because the others would turn against them.

Honestly, that’s totally OK … because only you get to choose who & what you take responsibility for.

Let other people have whatever emotions they want. You get to have whatever emotions you want.

They key thing to realize is that you are not responsible for them, or their emotions.

This is a choice you make.

How do I Choose what to be responsible for?

In general the pattern below works best for most people…

Things to be responsible for…

  • Yourself, including your health, safety, and emotions
  • Your young children
  • Your pets
  • Your partner, e.g. when they are sick
  • In some cultures, children accept responsibility for their parents once they have retired. ( e.g. if you are Chinese, this is a bit harder for you because you have to confront your cultural programming on top of everything else )

Things NOT to be responsible for…

  • Other people, including your parents, cousins, aunties, uncles …
  • ANYONE else’s emotions, including your child’s, pet’s, or partner’s

Good luck! Learning what to take responsibility for, and what NOT to take responsibility for, is among the most enabling & freeing perspectives you can develop in life.

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Does Time Heal All Wounds?

I used to think so, but... it seems time doesn't help as much as you'd expect with mental trauma.

Except when you die, of course, we assume.

I recently coached a man who was still missing his girlfriend from high school. They dated for only 2 months. He last saw her 34 years ago, and has not had contact with her since. 34 years... mind-blowing.

The mind reinforces what you choose to think about consciously, and it surfaces memories and imagery attached to what it wants & needs emotionally.

When you experience trauma, I see people heal much faster and more completely if they approach it the same as, say, a broken leg. Get it set right, attended too, care for it. Don't walk on it for awhile, then once it's sound, re-strengthen it and rebuild the muscles with exercise. Done right, it will be stronger than it was before it was broken.