I hope this letter finds you well. I'm loving the sunshine and had a lovely weekend on a magical mystery tour exploring some beautiful towns and villages in Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk.
This week all the guidelines for our strange world change again! And I've seen and heard lots of different opinions as to what people think we 'should' or 'shouldn't be doing.
It seems like society is very polarised right now - you are either with me or against me, it's right or wrong, it's either black or white and the grey area in between is rapidly disappearing.
I'm pretty sure we've all come across people and situations like this in our own lives too right?
And if you are someone who has the tendencies to please and help others, all these strong opinions can be quite anxiety-inducing and it may feel safer to stay silent (or nod along), shrink and avoid certain people, situations, or conversations.
I get it. I've been working on my own people-pleasing patterns for nearly 10 years now, yet during this covid season, I've found myself battling some of those old demons once again.
So in this letter, I want to show you how what you focus on will determine how you experience a situation, and how embracing 'self-responsibility' can help you move from feeling anxious, frustrated, miserable, and stuck to empowered and free.
You see I believe that in order to thrive, it's necessary to learn to embrace the grey areas and accept that everyone is entitled to their opinions, their beliefs, and their own way of doing things - even you!
So if you've had enough of the crazy-making cycle of judgement, fighting, criticism and blame, the ineffective conversations with others that don't seem to really resolve anything, or that feeling of walking on eggshells around someone, then read on.
What Is Self Responsibility?
Taking responsibility for ourselves means taking responsibility for what we see, feel, think, and do. It requires us to stop blaming ourselves and others, untangle from difficult relationships and interactions, and turn inwards with curiosity and compassion.
Practicing self-responsibility is hard because it means you don't get to blame anyone or anything else for how your life is going.
Instead, you use these difficult feelings and experiences as opportunities to deepen your self-awareness and heal your wounds.
"Your wound is not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility."
- Denise Frohman
Self-responsibility doesn't mean you like or agree with a situation or another persons views or behaviour.
It's is about choosing to focus your time and energy where you actually have influence — with yourself and your choices.
I'm not saying this is easy, and it's certainly not a linear process. It's still a work in progress for me too!
And yet it is what helps you to move away from the fear and survival-based instinctive behaviours of people-pleasing, rescuing others, avoiding conflict and overgiving towards more empowering choices.
Are You Proactive Or Reactive?
In his book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey distinguished between proactive people, who focus on what they can do and can influence, and reactive people who focus their energy on things beyond their control.
Proactive people take responsibility for their own lives. They are influenced by their environment and their response to their stimuli is a choice or response.
Reactive people are often affected by their physical and social environment. When people treat them well, they feel well; when people don't, they become defensive or protective. They build their emotional lives around the behaviour of others, allowing themselves to be controlled by their actions.
Our language is usually a good indication of whether we are being proactive or reactive -
- There's nothing I can do
- That's just the way I am
- They make me so mad
- They won't allow that
- I have to do that
- I can't
- I must
- I should
- If only
- I wish
- Let's look at alternatives
- I can choose a different approach
- I control my own feelings
- I can create an effective solution
- I will choose an appropriate response
- I choose
- I prefer
- I will
Another way to determine whether we are being proactive is to look at where we focus our time and energy -
The Circle Of Concern
The things that make up our circle of concern will differ but will usually include some of the following - politics, the economy, the government, the state of society or the world, things other people do or don't do, etc.
There is probably little you can do to change these things so devoting your time and energy to them is the equivalent of shouting at the television!
The Circle Of Influence
This circle is usually much smaller and includes the things that we can actually do something about. The extent of this will be based on how much power we have - the prime minister will obviously have far more influence than you or me for example.
When we focus our energy on those things that we can influence it enables us to make changes, builds confidence, and empowers us to move forward and become the creator of our life.
Conversely, if we are putting our energy into things we cannot change or have very little influence over we will drain our battery and other people may also start to see us as unduly negative and critical.
What's Pushing Your Buttons?
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom."
- Viktor E. Frankl
When you have a strong reaction to another person or situation this is an indication that something has 'touched a nerve' inside you.
If that nerve didn't exist inside you, 'the thing' couldn't create that kind of feeling or reaction.
So these strong feelings are opportunities for us to get curious and go inward to find the root of the nerve that is creating our pain and suffering.
When we can understand and begin to heal the root of the problem, 'the thing' has much less power over us and we are able to respond with more compassion, maturity, and wisdom.
Here are some questions you could use to explore what is going on when you are feeling emotional -
- What is it about this person or situation that is bothering me?
- What emotions am I feeling?
- What does this feeling remind me of?
- Who else have I felt like this with?
- What is my part in this situation?
Once we've become aware of what is triggering us we then have an opportunity to choose whether to react or respond.
Responding takes a little time to plan and process, it requires us to press the pause button and check in with ourselves before opening our mouth or taking action.
On the other hand, reacting takes no time at all! Is it any wonder that in today's busy society that this often becomes our go-to!
Reacting is essentially feeling free to say or email whatever pops into your mind without considering the consequences or impact you create. Great in theory; however, if you value your relationships then it may not always be the best approach.
Neither though, is staying silent and avoiding the conversation altogether...
Pushing your feelings down and silencing yourself so as to not displease, disappoint or upset someone else is a recipe for a reaction disaster.
Because these suppressed feelings don't go away. They build over time and then often explode spectacularly and everything comes tumbling out all at once!
So self-responsibility is about using your strong emotions to get curious and turn inwards first. And then applying this information to respond to the situation in a way that feels empowering and doesn't leave you either cringing at your behaviour or stuffing down your emotions.
Every relationship and interaction we have is an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. Inner peace and freedom doesn't come from deflecting, avoiding, numbing and bypassing our pain. It comes from building the courage to walk into those dark and difficult places and come out the other side transformed by the experience.