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Who's Responsible?

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We often think of responsibility as being that which we owe others. You say you'll bring dessert for a communal dinner. You promise to get someone information. You make certain legal agreements.

This understanding agrees with the dictionary definitions of this word. Here are a few:

Able to be trusted or depended upon; reliable.
Able to make moral or rational decisions on one's own and therefore answerable for one's behavior
Liable to be required to give account of one's actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust.

In reading these definitions, do you notice how much they depend on the opinions of others?

Who decides how well you've acted/discharged your duties?

In fact, who decided what your duties were?

To whom are you answerable for your behavior?

Who decides if you're reliable?

Someone else.

This means that responsibility, as defined above, has nothing to do with what you owe yourself: to know who you are and to safeguard your essential being by thinking and acting in a way that's true to yourself.

Instead, it's about meeting the expectations of others and them meeting yours. It's about who owes whom what. And when we default on a debt, we move into the realm of guilt and blame.

The Dance of Guilt and Blame

The trickiest aspect of the relationship between guilt and blame is that they have less to do with who did what than with which emotion is more trained in a person.

Let's say I'm angry with someone for something they've done.

If it's someone I don't know at all: a slow teller, a driver who cuts me off in traffic, or someone who puts me on hold for two days, I can release my anger with a few well-chosen (but often unprintable) thoughts.

If, however, it's someone I care about, I don't release anger so easily. I may think, "I love this person; I'm not supposed to get angry at them."

Instead of focusing on their imperfections, I find myself aware of my own. I'm not so flawless, either. Look at these mean feelings I'm having.

I'm not perfect at all. Actually, I'm so imperfect that I don't have the right to complain about anyone on this planet. Probably the terrible thing someone did to me was my fault—even if I can't figure out how this could be so.

Guilt can feel more comfortable than blame for a number of reasons. Blameful parents often train guilty children. Those who are afraid of losing in a confrontation with others (especially if those others are loud, forceful, and persistent) will find it less stressful to blame themselves. People with low self-esteem may not believe they deserve to stand up for themselves.

Shifting the Blame

Those who are used to guilt manage to numb themselves to its genuinely unpleasant sensations (or decide that they deserve them). Those less accustomed to guilt let guilt bounce off their resistant surfaces. They redirect it to others by blaming them.

As some people are trained into guilt, others are trained into blame. People who are surrounded by those who believe that life (government, authority, bosses, doctors, lawyers, the weather, etc.) consists of a conspiracy to make life awful for people, find it easy to continue the tradition of blame. Those who view life as unfair to them are bound to find evidence for this belief.

On the surface, blame may seem like a more powerful response than guilt. Whereas the guilty person is attacking himself and his self-esteem, the person who's blaming someone else is avoiding direct hits to his self-esteem.

However, blaming others also implies a lack of ability to determine one's life. "It's not my fault, but people keep on doing these terrible things. My only recourse is to try to make them feel awful about doing them, so they'll stop." This powerless way of approaching life never gets people to realize that they might have something to do with what happens to them.

And that is the heart of responsibility.

Returning to the Source

In taking responsibility we take back that part of selfhood that's been abandoned to fate, the cruelty of others, and the inscrutable and unpredictable ways of the universe.

When we gather these scattered bits of self together, we reintegrate our energy fields and restore to ourselves a sense of power to effect change.

Responsibility, in essence, means the ability to respond -- not to the demands of others, but to the deep wellspring of selfhood that, in the end, is the only guidance worth following.

It can be a healing recognition to realize that even in the simple statement, "I can" there can be a feeling of empowerment that begins to dissolve the veil. When we are truly committed to owning our acts and our lives we can take heart in the realization that the ability to be responsible is one of the greatest human gifts. To be responsible is to have the ability to change one's life, to realize one's dreams.

Releasing Guilt

The Bach Flower Remedy Pine is our foremost helper in releasing guilt. This flower essence helps us to release the need for perfection and teaches us compassion for the human imperfections of others.

Rose quartz, which helps us to love ourselves, also helps to release us from the loveless trap of guilt.

The more grounded we are in the present the more difficult it is to immerse oneself any past negativity. The Bach Flower Remedy Clematis helps us to live in the here-and-now, and the crystal, carnelian, also helps us to center in the present.

In dealing with guilt or with any emotion that does not allow us to acknowledge ourselves as full human beings clear quartz, which we call the mirror of the soul, helps us to reclaim our full humanity. The FES flower essence Sagebrush helps us to see and release all that isn't a part of our essential being.

For Resentment and Anger

Blame can occur on the active level of anger or the passive level of resentment. Holly (Bach) helps to release and dissolve anger, while Willow (Bach) is the traditional Bach Flower Remedy for resentment.

Green calcite helps one to see a situation from a more objective level of reality. It also helps to cool the buried anger that smolders as resentment.

Overall, chakra balancing is very good for moving stuck energy, and resentment is very stuck energy. See an article on the chakras for more information about this.

A heart that is fully open will not harbor resentment or anger. For this reason I strongly recommend the Wild Earth Animal Essence, Wild Horse, as a gentle heart opener. Beyond the Rainbow
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