Last updated 9/26/2023 at 10:14am
It feels good to have a scapegoat sometimes. The perception that we ourselves are free from blame, and that our challenges are the fault of circumstance or others, is an alluring reprieve from our own culpability. In our attempts to bypass blame, we also put our scapegoats on a pedestal, holding the power to hijack our sense of agency and joy.
We live in a shame- and blame-based culture, too frequently practicing outdated beliefs that shaming and punishment are prerequisites to desired behavior. Shaming others often comes from a place of insecurity, and is itself a form of scapegoating. Those who have been shamed are also less likely to have a sense of individual grounding, making them, too, more likely to blame and shame. Our culture has produced a cycle of patterned projection where we trade self-awareness and responsibility for the disempowered convenience of blame.
What if we accepted that our reactions are 100 percent our responsibility? What if we acknowledged that our perception is, yes, informed by a rich collection of factors, but ultimately our own creation?
Everything we experience is a projection of what’s inside of us. The concept of radical responsibility necessitates that we intentionally step out of the blame game by prioritizing the practice of looking inward. Taking full ownership for our personal circumstances is the conscious choice to return to a place of agency and self-empowerment. And before I go further, please know that self-responsibility and self-reliance are not synonymous. One of the most powerful acts of radical responsibility we can take is asking for help and taking steps alongside others to fortify our own emotional awareness.
Steps to Cultivating Radical Responsibility
• Practice looking inward: When we are met with challenges, the tendency can be to look outward and blame. This unwittingly can strip us from our own agency and power. The practice of asking ourselves, “what can I do?” is a simple and transformative question in itself.
• Get familiar with personal triggers: We all have our own layers of shame and emotional trigger points. Those places where we feel the most shame are also the places that can trigger us most to shame and blame others. Identifying the areas where we ourselves are most emotionally vulnerable, finding safe spaces to process shame and trauma, and becoming more acquainted with our own shadows can help us better create strategies around self-care and self-regulation.
• Invite solitude: When we live in a shame- and blame-based culture, our worth becomes dependent on the opinions of others, and it is easy to lose our sense of personal identity and grounding. Practicing solitude and stillness is one of the better ways to cultivate self-trust and become familiar with our own thoughts and perceptions. It takes courage to sit still with our own emotional landscape without distraction or feedback from others, but it often provides the space necessary to navigate and process.
• Don’t depend too much on an outcome: Planning and purposefulness are important, but let’s face it, life can change on a dime. Sometimes we lean too heavy on a particular outcome to feel “okay.” All of us are entitled to disappointment, but learning that the extent of our disappointment rests much more on trusting ourselves to ride the waves of life and accepting responsibility for our responses versus outside and uncontrollable factors, can be liberating.
• Challenges can be opportunities: Rather than feeling defeat or bitterness, we can choose to also see our challenges as opportunities for growth and resilience-building. This does not mean that heartache, grief, and worry should not be acknowledged, but that we also hold space for the paradox that amidst tough feelings, doors can also open for self-discovery, empathy, and spiritual growth.
• Find a sense of meaning: It is easy from a place of existential doom and gloom to not care too much about our own footprint on this world. Joy can feel elusive and outside our control. Find the ways big and small that give you a sense of meaning. Make somebody smile, take a walk in the woods, have dinner with your family, embrace your spiritual side.
• Take care of ourselves: Self-care is accepting the responsibility that the energy you bring to this world matters, and has real-world consequences. Eating real food, moving our bodies, getting good sleep, getting outside, and connecting with others are the foundations of radical responsibility.
Radical responsibility upholds our personal freedoms — it does not subtract from them. Taking full ownership for how we treat others and ourselves is the mainstay, and one of the most important steps toward the joy and peace so many of us desire.