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Personal responsibility begins when we stop blaming our circumstances, our past, or other people for our problems and the negative responses we have toward those problems. We can behave or respond to any situation in a positive and constructive manner. We, ourselves, choose how we will respond in every situation and with every person. We can choose to blame others for our problems and unhappiness, or we can accept the responsibility ourselves. The degree to which we blame other people or other things is the degree to which we will excuse our bad behavior and remain unhappy. Likewise, the degree to which we decide to accept responsibility is the degree to which we will choose to do what we know is right, and is so doing, find true happiness and live a life that is worthwhile.
To accept responsibility means we recognize that if no one else or nothing else ever changes for the better, we can. And not only can we change, we can go on to lead a productive, constructive, godly and therefore happy, life.
Our life might not be as comfortable as we would like. Our circumstances might not work out the way we would want. The people in our life might not respond the way we would like, or do what we want them to do. Yet in spite of all this, we are wise to realize no one guarantees we will lead a perfect life or live in a perfect world. Yet, we are not forced to live unhappy, angry, depressed, or lonely lives. We can, in fact, make several choices which will affect our lives for the good. We can choose how we are going to think about life. We can decide how we are going to interpret our circumstances. We can choose how we want to interpret other people’s response to us. We can choose our own responses and feelings. We can even decide that we are going to make the best of a situation. To a large extent, our choices determine how satisfying and productive our lives will be.
Our past becomes a defeating force when we choose to allow memories to bring negative and self-destructive thoughts or behaviors to present situations. Guilt over a past mistake can fill us with feelings of worthlessness and regret. We may feel rejected by God or other people who were or are important in our lives. And we may develop a paralyzing fear of failure. Dwelling on past hurts, perhaps thinking of a time when we were treated unfairly by family, friends, or an employer, can also be destructive. We may feel bitter, angry to the point of getting even, or unhappy with life in general. Or we may live in fear that others want to use or abuse us. When we accept personal responsibility for our present behavior, we choose to no longer allow our memories or our past to control us.
This same kind of personal responsibility can be applied to our present circumstances and relationships. We all experience times of disappointment, frustration, irritation, rejection, and loneliness. But we can choose to make the best of these times rather than become depressed, or enraged, or be engulfed in self-pity. Choosing the responsible, godly way does not end the frustrating, irritating, hurtful, or lonely situations. However, it does mean we will stop excusing or overlooking our negative and self-destructive behavior. We can become consistent at choosing more positive and constructive responses.
We can determine if we are excusing ourselves and blaming others for our behavior or circumstances by examining what we are telling ourselves (our thoughts) and listening to what we are saying (our words). Thoughts such as, "Why does he have to talk like that when he knows I can’t stand it" allow us to easily shift the responsibility for our behavior to others. Phrases like, "He made me mad!" also indicate we are shifting the responsibility. We must be conscious of our words and thoughts in order to effectively deal with taking personal responsibility for our choices and behavior.
Even more important and basic, we need to look at our beliefs. There are four major irrational beliefs which encourage irresponsibility for ourselves and our behavior. If we find any of them operating in our lives, in any form, we need to challenge and correct it.
The first belief says that emotional misery or distress comes from external pressures (circumstances or people) and that we have little, if any, ability to control the feelings that result from those pressures - feelings like depression, anger, or hostility. Some of us then label ourselves, for example, as having a bad temper, or being too sensitive and easily hurt. We actually use the labels to excuse our own wrong or destructive behavior. We may make statements like: "I guess that is just the way I am." or "I cannot stand it when everything starts piling up. I always go to pieces." In this way we blame our behavior and feelings on something we think we have no control over. Interestingly, those who believe that others cause their hurt, anger, or depression often believe they are responsible for causing other people to feel the same way (even when they have done nothing wrong). They live in fear that they will say or do the wrong thing, and in so doing, cause others to feel hurt, rejected, etc. We fail to recognize the fact that people choose how they will respond. We need to be lovingly considerate, but excessive or unfounded fear of saying or doing something to upset someone else indicates a wrong belief. Some rational alternatives to this irrational belief are:
1. I can handle it when things go wrong. Even though I have strong feelings about it, I can choose to handle it if I want to.
2. I do have control over how I will react to situations.
3. Others also have choices in how they react to me. As long as I respect the rights of others, I do not have to take 100% responsibility for their reactions to me.
4. I am responsible for my own behavior and accept the reasonable consequences for what I have done.
The second irrational belief says that it is easier and more worthwhile to avoid facing our difficulties than to face them and be responsible. We may believe that immediate relief from problems is so important that we overlook the negative long range consequences of such a choice. We fail to recognize that right behavior may be painful and difficult at first, but it ultimately frees us from the problem and produces a lasting satisfaction and pleasure. Some rational beliefs include:
1. Even though I might get immediate relief by avoiding a difficult situation or by responding angrily, it will not solve the problem and I will continue to feel frustrated and unsatisfied.
2. What I am avoiding probably isn’t as awful as I’ve convinced myself it is.
3. Avoidance of a proper and responsible response does not ultimately lead to goodness for all involved and happiness for myself.
A third irrational belief says that our past remains all-important and has a strong, unavoidable influence on our feelings and behavior today. Many excuse their present behavior by pointing to their past. We’ll make statements like, "You don’t know what it’s like to fear rejection because you come from a secure home. I don’t." We might interpret situations or peoples intentions in light of our past even when it’s unfair to the person we are condemning and it is self-destructive. Rational thoughts include:
1. My past is significant, but I am not locked into it’s mold.
2. I can change, and so can the people around me.
3. The motives of people who mistreated me in the past are not necessarily the motives of those who hold a similar position in my life today. And, even if such people today have the same motives, I have more knowledge and can find more help to properly deal with such people. I do not have to select a sinful solution for the sake of self-protection.
The fourth irrational belief says that giving up is better than trying. It implies that life is hopeless and we are, too often, helpless. This leads to withdrawal, depression, suppressed anger, and bitter unhappiness. It even destroys the will to live. A rational belief would be that life has no real guarantees and if I don’t make the best of it by being responsible, constructive, positive, and Christ-like, I am the loser!
The scriptures teach us about personal responsibility. Read the following Bible verses and write out your understanding of what each passage says about being responsible.
Ephesians 4:31 - 5:2_______________________________
Find three other scripture portions which speak to you about personal responsibility and do the same as above.
List four thoughts and four phrases that shift the blame for your behavior from yourself to another person or an object.
1. She makes me angry
1. I only get angry like this when she interrupts me.
Read the following example. The situation is one in which a man is late for an important meeting because his wife was not ready in time. He breaks the speed limit and gets stopped by a policeman.
"But Officer, I couldn’t help it. We’re late for an important meeting....I know I was going too fast but we have to get to the meeting and I got a late start from the house. I think it’s unfair for you to give me a ticket when you know I have to get to the meeting, and besides, I was not going that fast anyway."
(Rolls window up - speaking to mate) "That rotten cop... giving me a ticket for going just a few miles over the limit (actually 10). We’re going to be late. You made me get the ticket. I told you you’d make us late. Why do you always make us late? You know how it upsets me. Its amazing we don’t get more tickets. It’s no wonder I get mad at you. Why don’t you change...." (silence and icy glares)
The inner thoughts, feelings, and observable behavior we might have in this situation may be as follows:
I don’t know why she’s always late. She’s out to get me. She knows how mad it makes me. It’s a sore spot in our marriage. If she would only change, things would get better. These thoughts are a mental preoccupation with the negative things about his mate which he blames for making him upset, angry, and frustrated.
anger, resentment, despair, hopelessness, malice
silence, avoidance of meaningful or kind communication, pouting or angry looks, malicious, short quips about aspects of our mate's behavior that make us angry
In this situation, we ignore reality when we ignore the following:
1. The speed limit
2. The factors surrounding our mate's tardiness
3. The policeman's right and obligation in giving us the ticket
4. Our actual speed in excess of the limit
5. Our choice of speeding as a means of meeting our needs
And we ignore our responsibility when we continue to believe:
1. My mate made me drive too fast.
2. My mate made me get the ticket.
3. Receiving the ticket is unfair.
4. My mate's tardiness makes me angry and is a sore spot in our marriage.
5. If she would only change, I would not have to the so angry, malicious, resentful person I am towards her.
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