Any parent will tell you, the urge to shift responsibility outside of the self begins at a young age. My kids frequently embody Bart Simpson, claiming: “I didn’t do it!” even in the face of being caught red-handed. It’s almost funny! Except, when we develop a habit of not taking responsibility for our actions, we literally cut ourselves off from a learning experience, hindering our growth, and potentially causing conflict by blaming someone else. Which is not funny at all.
It becomes a subconscious pattern, if we don’t change our perspective!
Unfortunately, it is pain and fear that cause us to react in this way. Fear of being wrong. Fear that you aren’t lovable. Fear that you aren’t whole. Those are the deep wounds that we touch when we face the need to take responsibility.
And fear is scary. It asks us to write a new story about ourselves. We must step into the discomfort of not knowing what the new story will be, but trusting that it will include a better version of you.
Let’s think about how this habit begins, in childhood, with claims of “I didn’t do it”, to adults and caregivers. All children want to be loved, and to have the attention of their parents. We are all connected by that common desire/need. We don’t want to get “in trouble” or feel as though we are less-than, not worthy, or in any way “wrong” (see my blog post on Ego). In some cases, in a worst-case scenario, a child’s physical or emotional safety may even be threatened by an admission of guilt.
The consequence of a child’s actions may be strict, violent, or overwhelmingly upsetting in a way which would obviously drive a child to want to avoid the pain of punishment. And if a punishment is severe, a child believes it could only be because they somehow deserve it, and that they are fundamentally unworthy of anything better.
When we become adults, we are no longer beholden to our parent’s rules. But the habit has already been created: we want to avoid being seen in a negative light, we want to avoid pain, we want to avoid punishment, and we take steps to avoid the negative feelings that arise when we admit we made a mistake. It does not feel good to admit you hurt another person and were wrong – even if your intention was not to cause hurt. It does not feel good to admit our own inner turmoil, or that we need to adjust our thinking or actions.
We have all made mistakes, some of them worse than others, but when we actually take responsibility for our actions, we ensure that we honor the other person/people/situation by shining the light of truth towards it. We also honor ourselves, by inviting in more self-awareness and self-exploration.
I think the world would be a better place if we were able to just allow ourselves to make mistakes. If societally, we were more open to imperfection, we would probably open to change and evolution so much more quickly. We are stunting ourselves by rejecting the possibility of being wrong.
So next time you notice that you are blaming someone else, or unable to take responsibility, why not dive in? See what happens when you admit you made a mistake, or that you didn’t know. See what happens if you apologize, TRULY apologize (not the B.S. non-apology of “If I hurt you, I’m sorry”), which also includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior again in the future.
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