Who is responsible?
Until recently, I’ve always assumed responsibility.
Other people’s anger, sadness, grief or unease was my problem, especially if I was seemingly the cause. Overwhelming guilt came when I was apparently the one to trigger someone else, even if it was unintentional.
My assuming responsibility caused tremendous suffering. I was experiencing the debilitating pain of constant guilt.
By taking responsibility for others’ states of being, I was leaving my state of being up to them. My own happiness was out of my control.
In order to experience contentment and a sense of inner peace, everyone in my life had to be doing well, and my outer life situation had to be going smoothly.
I realized that if I left my state of being up to other people or outer situations, I might never experience inner peace. I would never have the power to make others happy.
There would always be outer occurrences that are out of my control. There would always be someone I know who is suffering in some way, on some level.
I decided it was time let go. Assuming responsibility for someone else’s state of being implied that his or her happiness was in my control and this was a huge responsibility, an expectation of myself that I would never live up to.
Failing to live up to this expectation of myself caused even greater suffering.
I realized that I must take responsibility for my own happiness. I would no longer allow people or circumstances to dictate my inner state. And in turn, I had to allow others to take responsibility for their inner states.
By not taking responsibility for others, I am empowering them to be responsible for their own happiness.
The challenge is learning when it’s appropriate to take responsibility.
First of all, what do I mean by “taking responsibility?”
Accepting responsibility for another person’s feelings. I don’t believe I should take on other people’s stuff. I will accept responsibility for my actions, and feel guilty only when it is appropriate.
In turn, I don’t believe others are responsible for my feelings and emotions in a situation.
However, declaring that the feelings of others is “not my responsibility” is a dangerous claim to make. because it can mean “I can do whatever I want no matter how it makes other people feel.”
I believe that only by living from a place of love, kindness, compassion, pure intention and conscientiousness, can I release myself mindfully.
So who exactly am I responsible for?
I believe that I am only responsible for myself. Watching people I love suffering hurts, but I can only do what’s in my power.
I cannot take responsibility for someone else’s life or inner state. Although I may offer all of the help in the world, and care about and love someone deeply, there is a point when it is necessary to let him or her be.
“Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.” ~ Gloria Naylor
How do I know when I’m taking responsibility?
Taking responsibility usually isn’t a conscious decision, so I look to my feelings as an indicator. If I’m feeling guilty, I am most likely taking responsibility for the other person’s feelings.
I feel that guilt is appropriate if I intended to harm someone or acted unconsciously. Guilt is inappropriate if I was acting from a place of love and kindness, and my intentions with the person were pure.
What exactly am I responsible for?
I am responsible for my intention towards others, my actions, my words, my feelings, my emotions, my behavior, my health, my state of being and my life situation.
I cannot control someone else’s feelings or emotions, or they choose to react in a situation. And even if I am not conscious enough to control how I react in a situation, I will always take responsibility for my reaction.
I feel it is only appropriate to take responsibility (and feel guilty) if my intention was to cause harm. (This takes honesty and introspection, especially if the intention was on a subtle level.) If my intent was to cause harm, I know that any responsibility or guilt I feel is appropriate. I then work on forgiving myself.
If I do something that triggers a flow of suffering in someone, I will only take responsibility if it is appropriate. It is possible to be responsible for my actions without owning the other person’s feelings.
There are times when the natural guilt I feel in a situation is appropriate. This is where it gets tricky so I will provide an example.
Say I had a terrible day and an innocent comment made by a friend really sets me off. I shout hurtful things at him, demeaning his character.
Once I come to my senses, I naturally feel responsible for his pain from my angry outburst. Even though I was acting unconsciously and wasn’t meaning to do harm, am I responsible for my friend’s suffering?
No. I am not responsible for his suffering, but I am responsible for my unconsciousness which caused the suffering. Any guilt I feel would be appropriate. Even when guilt is appropriate, it is necessary to let it go, and forgive myself.
Why must I forgive myself?
I am human. I am on this planet to learn and grow and evolve spiritually. Mistakes are a part of the journey, and they always provide an opportunity to learn and grow.
Forgiveness of oneself is key to experiencing all of the love and light within, the essence of our true nature.
Learning to forgive oneself is probably one of the most difficult obstacles along the spiritual path. But that’s what we’re here for: to work at it.
A good starting point is to forgive ourselves at our current state of development, then work on becoming the person we each want to be. This begins with taking responsibility for our own issues, keeping in mind that our issues don’t define us.
We are love, peace, and light to the core, each one of us. If we are not experiencing that, then we are experiencing our issues, which I believe can always be healed.
If I absolutely know that my intentions were pure and that I meant no harm, I will not take responsibility. I will be compassionate. I will acknowledge how the other person is feeling, and that I can see where he or she is coming from.
Showing empathy eases suffering for the other person. And I’ve always found hugs to be helpful as well.
By refusing to take responsibility for another person’s state of being, I’m allowing for their growth. So it’s actually a huge gift I’m giving. I am providing an opportunity for healing, but it’s up to the other person to take it.
Without realizing it, I always assumed I had tremendous power. This sense of power was completely disempowering because it came from outside myself. I felt that the happiness of others was in my power, and my happiness depended making those around me happy.
I had placed my happiness outside myself and suffered for it because I had no understanding of the power I held within. I was outwardly focused, seeking joy and fulfillment from others and outer situations.
By refusing to take inappropriate responsibility for the happiness of others, I have claimed my inner power—my power to experience everlasting joy, regardless of outer circumstances.
I have freed myself from experiencing inappropriate guilt. I am able to treat others with compassion during times of suffering. I am no longer taking it personally.
Kelsey Kent grew up in Colorado and moved to Fairfield, Iowa one year ago. She plans to build a tiny house on wheels and explore the Southwest and Pacific Northwest of the United States, then return to school and pursue a degree in alternative counseling. She is a violin player with passions for music, artistic expression, true communication, live foods, healing, travel, spending time in nature, and anything inspiring or beautiful.
Prepared by Karl Saliter & Brianna Bemel