“To take responsibility is more than a willingness to accept the blame. It is setting proximate objectives and handing the organization a problem it can actually solve.”
Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy Bad Strategy
How about that? A business quote for a deeply rooted mental health problem. What I tend to read business books or some sort of self-help book. I like to learn, I want to improve, and ultimately I want to be better tomorrow than I am today. That sounds great, doesn’t it? This quote resonated with me because it speaks to my desire to make amends and to take responsibility in relationship.
What does being better truly mean? To me, it means being receptive to feedback; it means being curious; it means having a willingness to correct course when it’s pointed out you’re straying off the path. Again, it sounds nice in theory, but what does all of this mean in practice?
I’m sure those of you who read this blog have noticed a trend in my posts of late. I’ve been reflective, introspective, plying my perspective and other things with an ective at the end of the word.
It’s been a year of ups and downs for me, also we’re in the middle of a pandemic, the west coast is on fire, the northeast is underwater. It’s all a bleak fucking mess no matter where you look. So, when I try to look away from the world and within myself, I see the same bleakness. I see the signs that I need to change a few things within myself.
Taking responsibility isn’t just a catchphrase. Words have meaning. So what do these words mean? Taking responsibility, to me, means owning your fuckups; it means taking care of something that needs to be taken care of. In my case, I haven’t had issues accepting blame when I’m wrong. Often, I’ll take the blame and shit on myself a bunch to make up for my mistakes (which isn’t a healthy thing to do btw).
I understand now that taking responsibility is more than just accepting a role or a commitment to do a thing. Taking responsibility is totally those things, but it’s more than that. Taking responsibility means that sometimes you need to share what you’re taking responsibility for and why with your community. There’s a fine line between naming and shaming (which is more hurtful than helpful) and being responsible and accountable. I haven’t figured out the right mix of these concepts yet. While it’s important for me to own my mistakes (which I have), it’s also important to be responsible for them, and that, to me, it means I ought to share what I’ve done that was harmful and what I am doing change and be better.
Beyond the responsibility
Taking responsibility, I think, is less difficult than the work required to become a better version of yourself who won’t repeat the same mistakes. But, of course, owning mistakes isn’t easy, it’s not fun, and if I could give it a rating on Google My Business, the act would receive a hearty one-star review ⭐️.
Committing to the work isn’t easy, but it is essential for personal growth. As I’ve been calling it, the work is a nebulous thing, and that’s because it’s an idea. Rather, the work is an ideal. The work is practice. The work is a commitment to yourself and a silent promise to those whom you’ve hurt.
For me, in the aftermath of the dissolution of my friendship with my ex, who I reconnected with six months after our breakup, I knew that I was reeling emotionally. I felt low, I felt angry—I felt so many things that my vocabulary can’t label all of them! I was focused on how I felt, but also I wanted redemption, to be redeemed. Redemption, in my mind, meant that I could be free from the hurt and anguish I was feeling—and, more specifically, the hurt and anguish that I caused someone else.
Instead of talking about an abstract concept, I’ll provide you concrete examples of what I mean.
Seeking help isn’t easy but, for me, I’ve done it before, but I never took the time to get help on why I perpetuate negative behaviors and patterns where it comes to my romantic relationships. Instead, I just sorta figured that all of this was normal, that it would be fine one day and work out, but things never worked out as I thought. Usually, I would sabotage a relationship, causing it to end, or I would pursue emotionally (or geographically) unattainable/undesirable women.
I’ve had a few therapists in the past three years, two of which within just the last nine months. Finding the right help isn’t always easy. But within the last couple of months, I’ve been able to connect with a therapist, and so far, it’s been helpful.
I don’t think therapy is a be-all-end-all solution to whatever is bothering a person. I believe therapy is helpful when supplemental to the other work a person might do. For me, the role of a therapist is someone who can provide outside perspective and provides a safe space to be completely open and honest, even when it’s sharing your mistakes. Their role enhances the other work I’m already doing and vice-versa.
Doing your own research
There’s no shortage of resources available to us with the power of the internet. For example, a random Instagram story from a friend (99% of the time, I don’t bother looking at stories) provided me a podcast and a book that has been instrumental in understanding why I do what I do and what I can do about it.
As silly as it is to admit, one of the most illuminating discoveries is that I am not alone. I’m not alone in the feelings and insecurities that I have, I’m not alone in the poor choices I’ve made, I’m not the only one who has hurt someone they loved, I’m not alone in my inability to cope in healthy ways. I think that understanding has helped me be kinder to myself as I learn and try to repair—even more important is the tool of witnessing my negative and toxic patterns in real-time and calling them out, and understanding why.
In short, if there’s something shitty that someone did to someone in the world, there’s a story about it, there are resources on how to identify the triggers, and how to heal and do better next time. Everyone trips, everyone fucks up, not everyone repairs, not everyone heals—but you can, you can heal, be better, and mend. Of course, I’m projecting, and I’m really saying these things to myself! Let me be clear: You can be and do better, too. I fucking promise you!
How you do the work is up to you. Reading books, talking to friends, seeking therapy, listening to podcasts. All of it is the work, people. All. of. it.
Correcting the narrative
I shared my story with my friends, who didn’t know what was going on. In some ways, I hoped they would ridicule me, knock me down, say something shitty to me. I wanted punishment because that also meant that I received a consequence from my actions—a consequence I had control over somehow. But, no, my friends who I confided in did not tear me down, nor did they ridicule me, not even those with knowledge of the events that transpired. They told me they were disappointed to hear about what I did, but they encouraged me to do better; they were kind and sympathetic when I thought I wanted them to be hurtful. I’m thankful for the friends I have and their support.
Creating the narrative of who were are is critical to how we take on the world. If we’re the villain in our story, then it has an adverse effect, it’s harmful, it skews how we see our place in the world. While I knew I made terrible choices, I had to give myself grace and understanding, too. Those decisions don’t make up the whole of who I am, not by a long shot.
Why did I do what I did? I’ve written about this and, in short, it’s not because I woke up one day and said, I’m going to be a vile person today. Instead, I acted the way I did largely due to my fears of emotional insecurity, financial insecurity, a lacking sense of self-worth, and ultimately not knowing what the fuck I wanted. In short, a lot of personal turmoil—turmoil that didn’t suddenly manifest overnight, like Trader Joe’s Oats Overnight. No. Those feelings of fear, insecurity, and lack of self-worth are issues I’ve had for a long, long time (yes, I still have them), originating from a traumatic childhood and were ignored, pushed aside, thusly unhealed. As a result, I didn’t understand that what I was doing wasn’t healthy or normal; I didn’t possess the vocabulary to understand my toxic patterns and behaviors, I lacked the tools to cope with these things in a healthy way. But now I do. I have to give my ex credit there as she tried to salvage our relationship, she enlightened me to things I didn’t know about like Attachment Theory. Attachment repair has been one area of my work, an important one at that.
What is my narrative today?
I am broken but mending. I am not a monolith; I am not alone. The past is there to learn from, not to live from. I have community. I will carve out a person who knows their worth given time, willingness, and patience. I am worthy of life’s good things that aren’t actually things at all—I am worthy of love, security, and healthy partnerships. I am not a bad human—I am just a deeply flawed human who knows they can be better and do better. I will find the courage to love. I am committed to improving a little bit every day and when I slide back, I’ll be kind to myself and try again. The work is not linear and there is no finish line—it requires small steps every day and nurturing.
If I’m the hero of my own story then I better start acting like one. I better start living the values that I want to have, that I thought I had before I fucked things up. Living our values is a whole other post but I think it’s important to do so if you want to show up in your relationships. It’s important to be yourself, to be secure, and to be present for your partner. I know I can be better and I know I will be better.
It’s time to make shit happen.