Ready to change your life for good? It all starts with “Radical Responsibility”
I remember the exact moment my life started to change. That things started falling into place. That I became less of who I was then and more of who I was meant to be. I’d love to say that I’d just summited Mount Kilimanjaro, saved a dog from a burning building or had a profound conversation with a grandparent. That would be nice wouldn’t it? That’s when life is meant to change, in some momentous realization, isn’t it? Well, no. It isn’t. And it usually doesn’t.
My story goes like this. I was face down crying on my bedroom floor, in what was probably the 100th melt down in as many days. I had just slammed the phone down on my dad after another fight. It was almost impossible for us to communicate without one of us losing our shit.
(Side note: It’s funny how we still say “slammed the phone down” in the smartphone era. There is no phone to slam down. We merely press “hang up” in an extremely aggressive manner hoping that the other person hears our emotion in the pressing!)
Anyway, back to the crying. I laid there. Face buried in the way too dirty, cream shag carpet. Telling myself over and over again how he wouldn’t do that “if he actually loved me”. Decade old memories surfaced to prove to myself that I was right. To validate my story of victimization.
As much as I was raised to be a “strong, independent woman”, I was also modelled an emotional state of victimhood and intense need to be carried by others. So when things were good I was a badass, money making, world travelling, independent woman. And when things were bad, a la exhibit A, I lay face down crying, blaming all of my issues on the people who “should” be helping me. Screaming to all that is holy about how unfair my existence was!
But the Universe had other plans.
I have been intuitive my whole life. As a 5 year old I knew I was different. As a teenager I just thought I was insane. And in my mid 20s I finally started to listen. But not too much. I would experience little inklings, nudges, moments that made me feel a certain way. And then I would ignore my body and spirit and get back to more human pursuits of misery and depression. So my intuition had learned to yell at me.
“Stop blaming other people for your problems!!” blasted through my soul. Like a scene in some low budget horror film, I sat bolt upright.
“Well, shit.” I thought.
In that moment my whole emotional experience as a human came crashing down. Like the Universe doused my life in petrol and dropped a match before I had even felt it’s presence. My whole life I had been blaming every single issue, no matter how big or small, on those around me. My dad, boyfriends, my brother, best friends, my Mum.
It was like life made sense, for just a hot second. I was my own problem. And I was confronted with a life changing choice, ignore this obvious truth or accept that I (and only I) was in control of how I felt. And more importantly I was in control of how I responded. There was to be no more “he made me”, “they said that” or “you hurt my feelings” to be used as an excuse for my bad mood, bad mouth or bad actions.
And so began a long, and bumpy road, to taking radical responsibility for my life and my emotions. To creating conscious interactions and thoughts over momentary, emotion fuelled reactions.
“Stop blaming other people for you problems” became a mantra. As I continued to clamber my way out of my victim mentality, I started to look for solutions over reasons. I began to react less, say less and think less. I learned to find empathy and choose positive emotions. I learned to detach my emotions from others.
Of course I still experience the whole spectrum of emotions: sadness, anger, pain and hurt. But what I no longer do is allow these emotions to validate negative stories I am telling myself. I feel them, I honor them. You may still find me face down crying from time to time. But now as I bawl on my living room carpet I am merely experiencing my emotions. I am allowing them to play out and purge from my physical body. I accept that these feelings are mine. I no longer blame others for the way I am feeling. I am merely feeling. And that is okay.
In taking radical responsibility, by no longer blaming other people for my problems, I have learned that there are few storms I cannot weather and come out calmer on the other side. I quickly choose to relax and move through an issue rather than react and fuel the emotional fire. I have learned to weave bridges over burning them down and I have learned that, intense emotions removed, almost every conflict I have encountered is communicable.
RADICAL RESPONSIBILITY: THE BASICS
Step 1. Forget What You Think You Know
Taking radical responsibility for your emotions and taking the first step into conscious living begins with forgetting anything that you have ever been taught about “responding”. Any “should” feel emotions have to go. For example, if you brother bails on you last minute, you “should” be angry. If your partner cheats on you, you “should” be heartbroken. These reactions are so ingrained into us that we don’t stop to think about them. It is just expected that we feel this way. So you have to start by being okay with not experiencing that expected emotion. Stepping away from this conditioned action A = reaction B system gives you the space to choose your responding emotion instead.
Step 2. Choose the Emotions You Want to Experience
It is impossible to change your emotional responses without preplanning. In order to take control of your emotions you have to spend some solid time refining your chosen emotions. Look at a particularly intensive emotional reaction lately and ask: What happened? How did I feel? How did I react? How did I feel after the intense emotions had passed? How would I rather feel?
To use my arguing with my dad example: What happened? He let me down when I needed him. How did I feel? Personally hurt, unloved, worthless, sad. How did I react? With anger, said hurtful things, cried, felt sorry for myself. How did I feel after the intense emotions had passed? That maybe I had overreacted, shitty for saying unkind things, embarrassed at how quickly it all escalated. How would I rather feel? Calm. That I am always in control of my emotions, that his actions are only a reflection of him and not me.
In that final answer you have identified how you would rather feel, for me it was calm and “I am always in control of my emotions”.
Use this wanted emotion or phrase as a mantra to remind yourself in stressful situations where your conditioned response is one of negativity. “I am in control of my emotions. I get to choose how I feel. I react from a place of calm. I react to create solutions. I react with love and empathy.
Step 3. Allow Negativity to be a Passive Experience
Passive meaning that it is happening without blame. Stop yourself from creating a reason for every emotion, you do not have to explain yourself. Allow yourself to just feel without needing to justify it. Change your expression from “I am (insert low emotion here)” which tells your subconscious it is part of who you are to “i am feeling” or “I am experiencing”. This different use of expression tells your subconscious that this is a temporary state and that it too shall pass.
Step 4. Ask Different Questions
We are all constantly chattering away to ourselves. Asking and answering our own questions in our heads. Validating what we know to be true and leaving no room for new, better feeling thoughts to surface. So you need to ask better questions. Rather than asking questions that continue the cycle of negativity, ask questions that seek to uncover new information, a deeper level of understanding. For example: Is this thought even true? What evidence do I have that it is not? What is the easiest thing to do next? Is there anything I can do to feel better? How can I show kindness to myself and the other?
Step 5. Always Look To Empathise
When people react in anger/malice/hate, it is usually very little to do with the current situation and much more connected to a deeper issue that is creating this behaviour. Think of your own experience, have you ever been suspicious of a partner and acted in a way that is not truly aligned to who you were? Quite often this has little to do with your partner and is in every way shaped by previous hurt in other relationships, abandonment by a parent or internal unworthiness. Part of radical responsibility is accepting that we also hurt people sometimes. And because we all do it, it becomes imperative that we seek empathy for those around us. Taking a situation from hurt and anger to kindness by looking at it from the other person’s perspective. Seeing their intention, their history and their emotional availability can all help you to find empathy.
For example, my Dad regularly lets me down with his emotional unavailability, reliability and somewhat detached behavior. Previously, I saw every one of his transgressions as a personal attack, all the reasons why he didn’t love me. Once I began to look at his behavior through the lens of his experience, this began to change. My dad had a pretty gnarly upbringing, often fending for himself. He was never appropriately parented and thus never really knew how to parent my brother and I. He did whatever he needed to survive and didn’t think much deeper into it. From this perspective I could change my viewpoint on our interactions. From the victim mentality “why would he do this to me if he loved me?” to “he’s just doing the best he can and is really not very conscious of the impact he is having on me”. Which feels a whole lot better and allows me to revert to my mantra, “I choose to feel calm. I am in control of how I feel.”
Finding empathy for others is a constant reminder that the way people respond in emotional situations is 100% about them and their experience and says nothing about you. And with this knowledge you begin to internalize that what I say and do, is not a reflection of the other and merely a reflection of me. You begin to ask yourself “am I reflecting my truth?”
- Rachael Ami