35. Personal Responsibility
The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.
Joan Didion (American journalist and writer)
This area will start by clarifying the difference between two types of responsibility: imposed and personal. We will then consider why personal responsibility matters, and common strategies that are used to avoid it, as well as how we can counter them.
The term responsibility is sometimes coercively used to reinforce complying with rules or order imposed from above. Parents, teachers and even managers resort to it. For our purpose though, it is particularly interesting that imposed responsibility doesn’t need to come from outside. We often internalise an authoritative voice (that usually operates with ‘shoulds/musts’ and ‘should nots/must nots’) and end up being divided into a part that orders, reproaches, punishes, or rewards (inner parent), and a part that obeys or sometimes rebels (inner child). This type of responsibility can be effective (in forcing you to do something, for example). However, it creates internal conflicts and needs to be constantly reinforced to make things happen. If you recognise that you too are divided into the ‘parent’ and the ‘child’, try this exercise:
Parent-child-adult: engage in dialogues with your inner parent and child. You can do it in your imagination or you can use two chairs for that purpose. Sit in one chair when you, as an adult, are talking, and in another one when either the ‘parent’ or the ‘child’ is talking. When speaking with the ‘parent’ try to find out more about it, where it is coming from, and why (if at all) you need its help; you may also, if you wish, assure that part that you can take care of yourself. When you talk to your inner child you may enquire if it still needs a parental figure and why. The overall aim is to integrate these aspects of yourself well.