What is Your Responsibility?

A sunset scene with a dark purple sky and an orange streak in the center of the photo containing the sun in the background. In the foreground, tall, thin plant stalks are in focus showing the sun behind them.
Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

I recently wrote about comfort zones, and the discomfort we feel when we’re growing beyond our previous way of thinking to allow for new growth.

Sometimes that discomfort comes from outside influences rather than your own thoughts and beliefs. 

And when the doubts and fears are coming from outside the house, it can be hard to know where your thoughts and beliefs end and those of the people around you begin. 

This post is about how to tell the things that are your responsibility from the things that are other people’s responsibility. Because you can’t out-think somebody else’s doubts and fears because they’re not really yours. You can only work on your own thoughts in your own head.

What’s your responsibility?

Many many things fall into our personal responsibilities, and there is nuance involved. In our society there are very real oppressive practices at play that remove people’s agency. But for the most part, in a very general sense, the following things are your responsibility.

  • Your emotional processing and inner work
  • The way you react to conflict or disappointment 
  • Your decisions and actions
  • How you treat people 
  • Your care tasks 
  • Your work tasks 
  • Who is in your circle

Your emotional processing is your responsibility. You can’t expect someone else to do the work that’s in your own mind. Of course, you can get help from a therapist or a friend or a coach to help you process, but doing the work is on you. All the therapy in the world won’t help you if you don’t actually dig in and get uncomfortable and vulnerable to do the processing.

The flip side is that other people’s emotional processing is THEIR job. You can’t do it for them. 

So if you have stress around people not processing their trauma or their emotions or their work… you can let that go. Because it’s not your job to bring them along on a journey of self discovery, as much as you might want to. 

That’s a hard part about doing a lot of inner work and processing and therapy. You can see how it would benefit other people when they’re going through hard stuff, but you cannot do it for them. They have to be ready for that journey. You can offer advice to see a therapist, but you can’t take them to therapy and make them open up and be vulnerable and dig into their past. 

That is important work, but it needs to be done at their pace with their full consent in the process. 

The way you react to things is your responsibility. If you throw things and people don’t feel safe around you, and you want those people in your life, you better work on how you express your anger and emotions. 

Obviously, sometimes we have instinctive responses to trauma triggers, and those reactions aren’t always under our control. But what you can do is recognize if your reactions are something you want to work on, and do the emotional processing needed to shift your reactions and make them more in line with how you’d like to react.

Likewise, the way other people react is their responsibility. If you have bad news for someone, or even awkward news or anything at all to say, and you’re tying yourself in knots because you want to make it as palatable as possible, that palatability is not your job. As long as you’re being clear and communicating what you need to say, you don’t have to gift wrap it with a pretty bow.

I remember having to think ten steps ahead when I wanted to ask my ex-husband for something. Even something as simple as asking him if he could make me coffee in the mornings the way he did when I first moved in with him. He could twist the simplest thing to make it seem like I was asking something way out of line, so I learned to either not ask at all, or to prepare a bulletproof case for myself so he couldn’t poke any holes in it. This is exhausting. And abusive.

Being frozen in fear by what people might say or do when you disappoint them is a trauma response. 

You are responsible for your decisions and actions. Own them. If you make a decision that hurts someone, don’t deflect responsibility to avoid the hard work of being uncomfortable and apologizing.

As much as possible, you need to take into consideration those who will be affected by your decisions. If you get a job offer across the country, saying yes without running it by your family to check their comfort level with moving could cause a lot of damaged trust because you removed their agency to have input into a decision that affects the whole family.

Other people are responsible for their decisions and actions. You didn’t make someone behave a certain way, even if they say it’s your fault. It wasn’t my fault that my ex abused me. He made the choice to manipulate and abuse every time.

You are responsible for how you treat people. Treat people in a way that is in line with your values and this one stays pretty simple. But sometimes, you are also responsible for intervening in someone else’s treatment of others.

If you are part of a privileged group and you can step in when someone else in your group is treating a marginalized person poorly, step in.

Start with education if it’s someone mistreating others or being harmful from a place of ignorance. If they continue to be harmful, that is their responsibility. Unfortunately, you can’t make someone stop being racist or transphobic or fatphobic if they are determined to hold onto their belief system and treat marginalized people poorly. That treatment is their responsibility and they’re determined to be a harmful person.

Showing up to challenge their treatment of others from within their privileged group can, at the very least, show them for a moment that their worldview is not universal within their group. They aren’t as safe in their opinions as they thought.

Care tasks for you, your home, and your kids are your responsibility. People have to be clean and fed, the house needs to be livable, etc. Notice I said livable, not spotless. We live in a world that prioritizes overwork and doesn’t make space for people with disabilities and mental health issues to operate outside perfectionist norms. But that’s bullshit.

Some care tasks can be outsourced if you are able! You can hire a cleaner, order groceries or a meal subscription, and the kids will eventually be old enough to shower and feed themselves. 

Other people’s thoughts about how clean your home is are their business, not yours. As long as it’s livable for you, not putting away your clean laundry or mopping the floors on a regular basis is fine. Find balance, not perfection. 

You are responsible for work tasks. This part gets fun. Because at work, people will give you things that aren’t your responsibility. Sometimes this delegation makes sense, but sometimes there just aren’t enough people on staff to do the work in a way that makes sense, and companies start putting extra people’s work onto their existing team without hiring more people for more work. As much as possible, create and maintain boundaries around what is your responsibility and what isn’t.

You are responsible for who is in your circle. If the people in your circle do not celebrate you, encourage you, and respect you, they don’t belong in your circle. You don’t have to give them access to you just because they like you, or they’re related to you, or they’ve known you forever.

People are responsible for the people in their circles. And sometimes, even though it’s hard, that can mean that they don’t want you in their circle. 

But you can’t be likable to every single person. You’re responsible for being yourself. If you want to be different, that’s your responsibility. If THEY want you to be different, that’s NOT something that’s your job to fix. You are you!

This brings me back to the original starting point for this topic, which is the way people put their doubts on you and your decisions when you’re growing outside your comfort zone. 

Why people put their doubts on you

Genuine concern. Sometimes this fear comes from genuine concern for you. They believe that you are at risk by taking this uncomfortable step outside your comfort zone. But remember that you are responsible for your decisions and actions. Whether you fail or succeed, you’re in charge of the decision and how you react to challenges along the way. They don’t have to “save you” from risk. This is a decision you are making!

Limiting beliefs. Sometimes people try to second guess your decisions for you because they have their own limiting beliefs about what is possible. If you say “I’m gonna quit my job and start a business!” and they believe that they would not be able to do that, they also believe that you will not be able to do that. But that’s about them. Not about you. You’ve done your work and you believe it’s possible.

Cognitive dissonance. Sometimes they are uncomfortable seeing you succeed. If they’ve always believed something would be impossible and here you are doing it, that is super uncomfortable for them because of the dissonance between their belief and the proof in front of them. But guess what? That’s their dissonance, not yours. You’re clear. You’re ready!

You are in charge of your actions, you can reframe your beliefs and thoughts that get in the way of your growth and success, and you do not have to handle other people’s responsibilities or cater to their standards.

Good luck expanding your comfort zone!

Subscribe and Review!

This post is a companion to my podcast episode, “Is That Your Responsibility?” available on all podcast platforms. Please subscribe to Run Like Hell Toward Happy and leave a review for the show to help others connect with it!

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