Do you play the blame game? Taking responsibility for one’s life is a key aspect of being a mature adult. If you grew up in a healthy home environment, you might have assumed that being a responsible adult comes naturally as you grow up. Unfortunately, as we all attain adulthood, we start to recognize that being responsible isn’t automatic. It requires ongoing effort, commitment, and maturity.A lack of personal responsibility can be detrimental to your life, career, and relationships. People have unique ways of avoiding responsibility, based on their environment, personalities, and tendencies. Some people struggle with pride, lack a conscience, or even display criminal behavior without remorse.
On the other end of the spectrum, some adults might be overly dependent even though they are no longer children. Overdependence can include codependency, dependent personality disorder, etc. There can be many reasons for these conditions, including addictions or trauma, but for some, it stems from a desire to avoid full-fledged adult responsibilities.x
In this article, we’re going to discuss what personal responsibility looks like, what happens when we avoid it, and how you can cultivate a healthy, balanced sense of responsibility for yourself.
Let’s Talk About Responsibility
Writing for the Brookings Institution, Ron Haskin shares this definition:
Personal responsibility is the willingness to both accept the importance of standards that society establishes for individual behavior and to make strenuous personal efforts to live by those standards. But personal responsibility also means that when individuals fail to meet expected standards, they do not look around for some factor outside themselves to blame The demise of personal responsibility occurs when individuals blame their family, their peers, their economic circumstances, or their society for their own failure to meet standards. (emphasis added)
As Christians, our standard is God’s Word. When we apply this definition of personal responsibility to our faith, we can see that we must:
- Accept God’s Word as our standard.
- Make the effort to live by that standard
- Acknowledge when we fail to do so (meaning, we sin).
- Refrain from blaming other people for our sins.
Both Christians and non-Christians have the potential to be mature and responsible – the difference lies in our motives and worldview.
Personal responsibility is one of the foundational aspects of being an adult, yet it doesn’t just happen automatically. Writing for Psychology Today, Dr. Loretta G. Breuning says:
Children have their needs met by others. Adulthood means meeting your own needs and those of any children you have…Your sense of well-being rests on your confidence in your ability to meet your needs. The disease model invites you to blame unwanted emotions on externals instead of building your internal power. It suggests that your emotions are not your responsibility.
Life is full of circumstances beyond our control, yet we must identify what we can control and take action accordingly.
And again, as Christians, we also rely on God to care for us. Our sense of well-being comes from knowing that he is in control, and asking ourselves what he wants us to do today to walk out our faith.
The Blame Game
Personal responsibility – also referred to as self-responsibility – means you don’t play the blame game and blame other people for things that are your responsibility, such as your emotions or habits. On the flip side, it also means you don’t blame yourself for something that is outside of your control – i.e. other people’s emotions, actions, hurtful behavior, etc.
Why do we avoid living up to this standard of maturity, and why do we shift blame onto others? Blame and shame are often connected. We see this in the story of Adam and Eve. When God confronted them for their disobedience, they blamed anyone but themselves, because they were ashamed.
Yet the blame game response is the wrong way to handle guilt, failure, or less-than-ideal circumstances. Instead of shame and blame, we need to face the situation head-on, acknowledge our part, and ask ourselves what God wants us to do next.
Roots of Avoidance
What are some reasons people never mature past a childish tendency to play the blame game?
- Narcissism/pride This condition ranges from our basic desire to avoid feelings of guilt, all the way to a pathological personality disorder. We are all prideful at times, but we can learn to overcome it and learn to humbly acknowledge our sins and shortcomings.
- Lack of conscience Perhaps the most pathological cluster B personality disorder, someone with antisocial personality disorder seems to lack the conscience that other people have. They may pretend to have one, but they will avoid taking responsibility for themselves, either internally or externally.
- Dependence Sometimes it’s easier to rely on other people to take care of you, but overdependence is an unhealthy pattern. Interdependence, or mutual support, is healthy and necessary, but unbalanced overdependence is not.
Remember, taking personal responsibility for our lives is an area in which we all have the potential to grow. None of us are perfectly responsible, but the stronger this trait is, the more well-rounded and mature you will be as a person.
How to Increase Personal Responsibility
Psychology Today notes that the younger you are, the more neuroplastic your brain is, which means young people must learn personal responsibility.
The more children and teenagers learn not to blame-shift, the more quickly they mature as they get older. And again, taking personal responsibility also means avoiding blaming yourself for things outside of your control; young people need to learn this as well.
A huge part of personal responsibility involves having the capacity to manage your emotions and behavior without needing others to do it for you. This ability is the most basic difference between childhood and adulthood.
Very well Mind says this about self-regulation:
Self-regulation can be defined in various ways. In the most basic sense, it involves controlling one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals. More specifically, emotional self-regulation refers to the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses.”
When you believe that you are responsible for yourself, you’re already on the right path to having a healthy level of self-regulation. Self-regulation is a muscle that can be strengthened. It means knowing how to manage your emotions, thoughts, and behavior according to what’s appropriate at the moment, and what will be best over the long run.When your emotions and impulses are strong and overwhelming, self-regulation means you don’t just give in to these impulses thoughtlessly or destructively. Instead, you act according to your values and deeply held beliefs.
To increase your ability to self-regulate, Very well Mind recommends practicing mindfulness and cognitive reframing, along with maintaining the knowledge that you have a choice in each situation. A Christian counselor can help you practice these techniques and increase your self-regulation skills.
Build healthy habits
Just as exercise and a healthy diet are important for physical health, many cognitive and emotional habits are crucial for mental health. It’s important to include both types of habits to ensure your needs are being consistently met.
Popular website Develop Good Habits recommends several basic habits to start with when working on personal responsibility, including:
- Set boundaries. You can’t control what other people do, but you can control how you respond. When you set a boundary, it often involves an ongoing plan for how to handle a certain situation or dynamic. This process is empowering, although it may be difficult, especially in the beginning.
- Ask for what you want, whether it’s clarity in a work project, a change in your relationship, or more trivial matters – part of growing up means acknowledging that other people can’t read your mind and that communication is necessary.
- Accept your failures. We’re all human, and we’re all sinners. We all make mistakes. Acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them.
- Be yourself. The more you accept yourself and your unique qualities and attributes, the more you’ll enjoy authentic relationships with others.
- Be organized. Organization is a learned skill that can always use improvement. What is one area of your life where you can be more organized today?
Healthy habits for personal responsibility can drastically improve your life and relationships over time. Christian counseling or coaching can help you identify areas of weakness, work on cognitive reframing skills, and implement techniques to bring about positive change in your life.
“Pointing the Finger”, Courtesy of Adi Goldstein, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Open Bible”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Frown”, Courtesy of Drew Hays, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hugs”, Courtesy of Candice Picard, Unsplash.com, CC0 License