Thursday, August 21, 2008

Accepting Personal Responsibility

In 2003 when I met with my doctor of integrative medicine to see if I could finally get a handle on bipolarity, we had a great first meeting. As I've mentioned before, she asked good questions, she listened, and most of all, she saw no reason why I couldn't get well.

I knew I liked her and trusted her from the moment we met. It's an intuitive thing with me. But she confirmed my immediate impression by her behavior--the way she treated me as an equal, her willingness to learn about bipolarity, and her admission that while she wasn't a psychiatrist and had never treated anyone who suffered from bipolar disorder, she believed that illness is about a system that's out of balance, and she saw no good reason why we couldn't resolve things.

As the meeting progressed, my primary concern was whether she would take me as a patient. At the time, she was primarily a researcher and was only seeing patients on a limited basis. But, before I left she confirmed that she would handle my case.

A few months after I began working with her, I asked her a question that had been on my mind since our initial meeting. "How do you decide which people you'll treat?" I said.

"It depends on whether I feel I can help them," she answered.

"And what are the criteria?" I asked.

"The most important criterion is whether a person blames others for his or her illness," she said. "I'm not saying people create their illnesses. But in all my years of working with people, the ones I can't help are those who blame everyone else for all the bad things that have happened to them. They never accept personal responsibility for anything. Not only are they difficult to work with, but I've learned that they never change...even when they're dying."

My doctor's answered confirmed my own hypothesis, which is that I am my own best healer. At the time, it was a feeling I had, although I wasn't clear about the degree to which I believed it. Now, I think it's the critical component of my ability to heal.

I've always known that when the going gets tough, I can always count on myself. When I was so sick and so fearful of bipolarity--because I worried that other people's behavior could so stress me out that I'd get sick--I sometimes forgot about my inner strength.

But now I know that while there are people whom I don't choose to have in my life, or those whose behavior truly annoys me, it's not what they do that matters, but how I respond to what they do.

And the blamers will always blame. The people who have a thousand excuses for what they aren't doing, will continue to have their excuses. But those of us who understand our own power, and truly believe in ourselves, will get well because we know we deserve it!


catatonickid said...

It's easy to forget your own power sometimes but more difficult to not say 'I can deal with this', at some point. Even in my worst times I've never forgotten that at the end of the day my life is my life. That's a fact that makes it difficult sometimes but is also where the greatest rewards are, I reckon.

For me resilience comes most often in remembering that I get to pick my battles. I may not have many answers but I know that I'll only find the strength to keep searching for them in myself. Nobody else can give us that.

Jazz said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Catatonic Kid,
I couldn't agree more. " the end of the day my life is my life."

And it takes bravery and self-knowledge to say, "I may not have all the answers, but I will always have the strength and fortitude to continue searching for them."


Wellness Writer said...

When I read all your "yeses," the first image that came to mind was Sylvester Stallone in the film Rocky running up the steps with his fists in the air and the Rocky theme song blaring in the background!

I can't imagine why this image came to mind, but it sure made me smile!


P.J. said...

AMEN!!! It's so difficult to work with someone, or live with someone, or be friends with someone, who thinks that nothing is their responsibility. You know, those who can't take ownership for their problems or their actions. That annoys me to no end.

Just to have the mindset that "This is my life and I am in charge of what I do and how I feel" makes a huge difference in the live of that person.

Believing in yourself and accepting personal responsibility, I think, is the first step to being the best you can be.

Great post, Susan!

Wellness Writer said...

Thanks PJ. I couldn't agree more. I've always found it debilitating to be with people who have a thousand excuses, but never take any action.

I wish they'd hear themselves give the same excuses over and over, or blame the same people over and over.

The older I get, the less time I have to spend with people like that. Life is just too short!


Jazz said...

People who refuse to accept personal responsibility are one of my pet peeves, and I have an entire family of in-laws as well as a brother who fall into this category. They drive me up the wall! Nothing is ever their fault, they are always victims, and their lives are oh-so-hard, and we should all feel sorry for them and give them money *gag*.

Wellness Writer said...

I couldn't agree more. And my response is the same as yours. It does make me want to gag. I also find it exhausting to hear the same litany day after day and year after year!


discoverandrecover said...


I find it interesting that "illness" models don't bring responsibility up much....

But, the best "recovery" models always seem to incorporate responsibility....

My thought is that if a person wants to recover, they have to be front-and-center with all of it - including reponsibility.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Duane,
I agree about the absence of "responsibility" in most recovery models. A huge "absence." And I agree about responsibility being front and center!