The Difference Between Responsibility and Blame

Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about blame and about responsibility. What does it mean to take full responsibility for your life? How can I let go of past mistakes and focus solely on moving forward?

The last several years have been filled with guilt, shame, and self-blame. The monthly visits to my family doctor–each month with new symptoms–were met with suspicion. On the multiple trips to the emergency room, the doctors pulled my boyfriend aside to tell him it was all in my head. By the time I received my diagnosis in May of 2018, my boyfriend was the only person who had any conviction that something was physiological wrong.

After three years of being painted out to be a hypochondriac, I fully believed that the fevers, rashes, infections, coughing, and fatigue that countless doctors had repeatedly brushed off were figments of my imagination. I blamed myself for making up my ailments, for not being able to stay up late with friends, for wasting the doctors’ time, and for not being able to control whatever mental voodoo I was using to make myself sick.

Then, when I was told that I’d been harboring a potentially-fatal infection in my body for those three years, I blamed myself for not figuring it out sooner. I blamed myself for not listening to my boyfriend when he urged me to see doctors. I blamed myself for not listening to or trusting my body when it was trying to tell me that something was wrong.

As I’m slowly climbing out of this cycle of self-blame, I’m realizing just how destructive the habit is and how much damage it has caused. I am also realizing that the antidote to self-blame is taking responsibly–fulling owning where I am in life, and taking ownership of the process of creating the momentum necessary to move forward.

Taking responsibly for your life does not mean that you’re to blame for all the things going wrong. When we attribute blame–whether to ourselves or to others–we are destined to become a victim and remain a victim. There is never any need for assigning fault; it’s simply a behavior that our ego embraced to make us feel better.

Don’t internalize the blame. Taking responsibility for the challenging situations in your life is not an invitation to wallow in self-pity and feel bad about what happened. Rather, responsibility is your ability to respond to the situation at this very moment. Right now, in this second, you have a choice as to how to respond to what happened five minutes ago and five years about.

Some people will choose to complain and play the victim. He took advantage of me. I’m too young to have cancer. My boss doesn’t recognize my contributions. Blame is a backwards-thinking, past-focused approach. It is saying someone is wrong for having behaved a particular way.

Other people can take the exact same experience and transform it into something more conductive to personal growth. I’ve learned the important of standing up for myself. I am learning the importance of living each day fully. I’ve overcome the challenge of asking for what I want, and I’d feel confident doing it again. Responsibility is a forward-thinking, future-minded approach. It is asserting what you will do moving forward to make things right, or make things better.

When one says they don’t have any options, they are relieving themselves of responsibility. You can always choose whether the respond to any scenario with anger or with grace.

The key here is to understand that accepting responsibility for your response to a situation doesn’t mean accepting blame for it. You can be responsible for the future without blaming yourself for the past.

I’m writing this today precisely because it’s what I need to hear–just what I need to have hammered into my mind: taking responsibility is not the same as assigning self-blame. It does no good to blame yourself for something that happened to you, and it does no good for your to blame yourself for something that you did.

By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them.

Taking responsibility for improving things in the future benefits both you and others,  especially if you’re the one doing something wrong. As I dig more into the idea of personal responsibility, I find the idea empowering, because it means that there is always at least one area of my life over which I have complete control–my response to circumstances.

If I do something hurtful, I can take responsibility to repair the damage done and ensure I don’t do it again in the future. On the other hand, if someone does something harmful to me, I can take responsibility to avoid similar situations in the future.

Though I am still navigating out of the pit of self-blame to ascend the ladder of personal responsibility, the clear-cut differentiation is making the journey much simpler for me. Rather than allowing my eyes to drift back towards what’s done and gone, I am committed to keeping my eyes fixed forward and approaching each situation–good or bad–with the intention of discovering that which lies within my control, and responding in a manner than support my personal growth, well-being, and happiness.

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