Taking Responsibility: How to Tell When It’s Your Stuff to Own

It can be challenging to determine when something falls on somebody else’s shoulders and when it it is ultimately your responsibility to bear. Here are four ways to tell if it’s your stuff to own –


1 – A pattern keeps repeating.

When I first started casually dating post-divorce, I had guys start to pull back after a few days. At first, I brushed it off, lamenting the poor manners and hook-up culture in today’s world. But it kept happening and I eventually admitted that I was the common denominator. With just a brief amount of reflection, I soon embarrassingly realized that they withdrew because I was acting like their wife. Oops. It wasn’t intentional on my part, but since I had been married so long and dated so little, I was an expert in the first arena and a novice in the second. Once I identified the issue, I quickly corrected it and the pattern came to an abrupt halt.

When we repeatedly find ourselves in the same situations or with the same sort of subpar relationships, we often point the finger, blaming anything and everything we can. Yet when the same pattern keeps happening to you, I’m afraid there is a reason and you’re likely the source of it.


Here’s your stuff –

Identify any patterns that have a tendency to occur in your life.

Look for the commonalities between the situations and identify how you contribute to the pattern.

Consider how you can alter the pattern. Can you change the antecedent, your behavior or your response?

Enlist the help of a professional, if needed.



2 – It’s an issue you have now because of something that somebody else did to you.

My ex-husband certainly did not set me up for success with future relationships. By leaving with a text message, he primed me for fearing abandonment going forward and by committing bigamy, he set me up for worrying about future betrayals. Blaming him is futile, as he didn’t seem fazed about the repercussions of his decisions and besides, he couldn’t alter the impact that it had on me. I could also try to shuttle this to my now-husband’s shoulders, dictating his actions because of my past experiences. But not only is that not fair to him, it also won’t undo the damage from my ex.

It’s tempting to state that we need people to treat us a certain way or to do (or not do) certain things because it easily triggers us. And yes, we can (and should) communicate these preferences to others. But ultimately, our responses (or overreactions) are our responsibility because we are the only people that we can control.


Here’s your stuff –

Know yourself and your triggers.

Set yourself up for success by avoiding or limiting certain situations until you are able to handle them.

Communicate your preferences clearly yet without expectations.

Actively work to discharge the energy around your triggers.

Refrain from blaming people that come into your life after the event for what happened.


3 – It is not something that another person can fix for you.

I stress. Big time. My ex-husband learned how to soothe me when I got worked up when we were teenagers. I grew to depend upon his help to calm down when I would become overwhelmed. And then he left, and I was left stressing even more. When my now-husband came into the picture, I assumed that he would also take on the role of professional stress tamer. He refused, rightly pointing out that managing my stress was ultimately my job. I pouted, but I learned. And the techniques that I have in place now are far more effective than anything that my ex could do for me.

We often try to pass off our unwanted struggles on others. After all, it’s easier if we can outsource the things that we don’t want to get our hands dirty with. Life rarely works that way, however. We can – and should –  ask for help. But all others (including therapists) can do for us is offer guidance, support and encouragement. Ultimately, nothing changes until we do.


Here’s your stuff –

Know what you normally struggle with.

Ask for help when you can’t make progress or you are unsure where to begin.

Accept the limits of helping and be prepared to do the heavy lifting.


4 – You find yourself complaining about the issue repeatedly.

I used to have a really hard time going back to school at the end of the summer. I would feel the envy rise as I heard about the amazing vacations that other teachers took while I reflected on my time spent working or looking for somebody available to do something with. This happened more years in a row than I would like to admit. Finally, I realized that the other teacher’s trip weren’t likely to change and neither was my financial status. But I could still shift my summer focus from work to adventure-on-a-budget. And now, when I return, I hear others exclaim over my summer stories and pictures.

We all can fall into pattern of complaining. It’s easy and it can also feel productive since we are actually doing something (even if that something is only moving our mouths). There are two possibilities with the issue you’re complaining about. Either it’s out of your control and so you need to change your mindset or it’s something you can change and it’s time to get busy.


Here’s your stuff –

Be aware of the issues or situations that you frequently complain about.

Release any defensiveness around the issue; it’s only holding you back.

Identify if the issue is within your locus of control or not.

If you cannot change the situation, reframe how you view it.

If you do have some influence, come up with (and initiate) an action plan.


Related: What If it IS Your Circus and They ARE Your Monkeys?

Thank you for sharing!

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