“The moment you take personal responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you can change anything in your life.” ~Hal Elrod
I’m an introspective person, and at this point in my life don’t have any problems with taking personal responsibility. When I share my insights or understanding of situations I have been in, people often say, “Marlena, why are you so hard on yourself? What about the people that have wronged and harmed you? Why do you never mention them?”
For most of my life, I was trapped in a victim mindset, which meant that I focused on how I believed other people had wronged me or what I thought they had done to cause me pain. I focused on my perceptions of their flaws, their shortcomings, how I felt they mistreated or harmed me. As a result, I mainly experienced a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair.
I’m not doing that to myself anymore.
What some people may think of as being hard on myself is actually very empowering and liberating for me because I finally look in the right direction. My focus now is on the only thing I can control and change: me.
Instead of trying to figure out how I can stop someone else from harming me, I notice what I’m exposing myself to. I notice how I am suppressing the anger that aims to motivate me to take action and to move away from something or someone that is simply not good for me. I focus on my inactions and my inhibition. I notice how I let old conditioning take over and then I put an end to it.
How someone else treats me is outside my control. Noticing who or what I am exposing myself to is within my control. And so I focus on that.
I reassure myself that I am not doing anything wrong when I speak up on my behalf. I no longer need anyone’s permission to do so because I have found my voice and I now know that my voice matters as much as everyone else’s.
But it’s not about pepping myself up to do something that feels as forbidden as it once did.
I now see standing up for myself as my duty and responsibility. It’s something I do to make everyone’s life easier. It simplifies relationships at all levels because I finally express myself, and by doing so I have grown up and matured in ways I never believed possible.
But all of this came as the result of developing an internal focus. As long as my focus was on other people or challenging situations, I had no power to change anything.
My anxiety and stress levels were sky-high. I was frustrated, angry, and constantly disappointed. I held on to resentments and felt bitter. I developed very negative views of life and people and became more and more stuck in a mindset that served no one.
Worst of all, I was completely blind to it. I didn’t realize that I was disempowering myself because I was stuck in a victim mindset, believing I was born to suffer and endure an existence that was passively happening to me, that I could do nothing about.
My focus on others had made me blind to myself.
When you are unaware of your contribution to situations or problems, you render yourself helpless and out of control because you are not considering all available information or contributing factors.
I didn’t understand that change was something I could do or make happen. In my mind, I was a passive recipient of change and life. Things happened, and I had to just deal with them to the best of my abilities, which left me feeling hopeless and depressed.
If I was with a withholding partner, I just had to go without.
If I was with someone angry, I just had to learn to not let it get to me.
If I didn’t have enough money to buy food for me and my children, I just had to go without so I could feed them.
If no one offered to help me, I just had to do it all by myself.
If someone disrespected me, I just had to toughen up.
I thought that I had to accept whatever was happening. I truly didn’t understand that I could take action and evoke change in that way. I lacked an internal focus and so did not see that my actions, inactions, and reactions shaped my experiences.
This all changed when I started to undergo a huge transformation. It was a process I fought and resisted in the beginning. I was appalled at the suggestion that I had anything to do with my own suffering. Who would want this for themselves? Why on earth would I make this happen? At times, I got furious when I was pointed back toward myself.
But eventually, there was no more denying it. I had too much evidence, and I couldn’t unsee what I was beginning to see very clearly: that I played the main role in all of my problems.
The good news was that if I was part of the problem, then I would also be part of the solution.
And to do that, I needed to really get to know and understand myself. I had to get honest. I observed what I was and wasn’t doing, what beliefs gave rise to my unhelpful behaviors, and what fears I was trying to hold at bay.
I became aware of what I wanted and how I stood in my own way, ensuring I could never get what I wanted as long as I behaved the way I did.
I started to see other people’s responses as reactions to me, and I started to see my reactions to others as expressions of my insecurities. Insecurities that needed tending to. Insecurities that required my attention and loving care, which was something I couldn’t do without first focusing inward. I needed my attention.
Focusing inward created space between me and others. Where once there was conflict, confusion, and chaos, there now was time, space, and clarity, which allowed true connection to form. Blaming became a thing of the past, as did obsessing and ruminating.
I was focusing inward for the first time in my life, and suddenly I felt freer and more powerful than I ever thought possible. I realized that it’s natural to feel out of control and helpless when you try to control what you simply cannot control. It makes perfect sense.
I can’t control if someone withholds love, affection, and intimacy from me. I can control whether I address and talk about it. I can control walking away because it is not the kind of experience I want to have.
I now see that I have choices. I am an active creator of my experience.
Just because something happens to me does not mean that I have to stick around for it and expose myself to it. Old conditioning would make me believe that that was the case, but those beliefs were never true to start with.
They were just old programming that ran unconsciously in the back of my mind. I didn’t notice because I didn’t pay any attention to myself. I didn’t focus inward, and so nothing made any sense to me. Things just seemed to happen because I couldn’t see my part in anything.
But just because I wasn’t aware of it, didn’t mean that I had no impact on what was happening. I did. I know this now. And it doesn’t excuse what other people may or may not have done that I perceived and experienced as harmful or abusive. That is their burden to bear. That is not within my control and it is not something that I need to resolve.
I resolve my issues when I liberate and empower myself by focusing on my part in things, on my business, on my role, on my contribution.
I am now passionate about helping others in compassionate ways to develop their internal focus so that they too can empower themselves and change their lives in ways they currently daren’t dream of.
It starts with being honest with yourself and allowing yourself to see and acknowledge your actions, reactions, and inactions without negatively judging yourself, shaming yourself, or justifying yourself. It means stepping away from blame and not using others’ negative behaviors as an excuse for your negative behaviors.
If you feel helpless over a situation, it’s usually because you can’t see your part in it. Open up to exploring it. Allow yourself to see how it could be different if you made a different choice and acted or responded differently.
Notice what goes on for you: What are you trying to protect? What are you trying to avoid, defend, or control? How are you trying to keep yourself safe and from what?
Then tend to that. Be compassionate. Reassure yourself. Set boundaries. Express yourself. Take action. Do what matters.
This is how you take your power back. Focus on your part. Focus on what you can control.
It is not about being self-critical or taking excessive responsibility.
It’s about focusing on what brings relief and on what decreases our anxiety and sense of powerlessness.
It’s about focusing on where your power lies. Even if you can’t see it yet, just know that it is there.
Even if you don’t feel like you have a choice, remind yourself that you do and try to find it.
Your life will become simpler and much more enjoyable as a result of that.
Because I am living proof of that, I know that you can do it too.
About Marlena Tillhon-Haslam
Marlena loves people and life and is passionate about finding ways to make our human experience as fulfilling as possible. She works as a psychotherapist, relationship coach, and Clinical Director. She loves to connect on Instagram or via her Love with Clarity and Codependency Today Facebook groups and pages. She is an expert in human relationships and sees them as the lifeblood of a meaningful existence.