When a friend showed me a picture of this rock, I thought of a one of the self care contracts* that I use in my personal life and with my psychotherapy clients. That contract is “I am responsible and accountable for my thoughts, feelings, actions and attitudes.”
It is not uncommon to hear people in our society make comments such as, “You hurt my feelings.” and “You made me do that.” You…..you….you….you. When we get into the “you’s” we are more than likely not being responsible and accountable for our own feelings, thoughts, actions and attitudes. Using that way of speaking increases the chances we will immerse ourselves in victim thinking and as a result experience a sense of powerlessness.
I’m not saying that people who are nasty and viscous in their words and actions should not be responsible for what they say and do. And I am not saying that we shouldn’t feel anger, sadness or fear when people act that way towards us. What I am referring to is that in many, if not most, of the situations where we become triggered, the person who upset us is acting in a way that a parent, peer, teacher, boss, etc. treated us in the past. When that happens, we tend to react with more energy than the situation calls for. That excess energy is a sign that we are probably attaching emotions from something that happened in our past to the present day situation.
We may also feel emotions that are bigger than what the situation calls for if we have been building resentments towards someone. When the pile of resentments get high enough then a small action on the other person’s part may result in an explosion from us.
To me, “I am responsible and accountable for my feelings, thoughts, actions and attitudes” means that I do what I need to do to heal my wounds from the past and that I stay current with the people in my life. If we choose, we can use the pain we experience when we get triggered as a motivation to do the work necessary to heal from past traumas.
The words on the rock also reminded me of a story Jean Illsley Clarke, a mentor of mine, related at a workshop many years ago. The story was about a 7 year-old-girl who had lived in many foster homes, and had been kicked out of several schools. Jean was asked to see the girl on a day she had been sent home from school because of her problematic behavior. When Jean arrived at the house, the girl was playing in the yard. Jean approached her and said, “How did you make your day go today?” The child was startled by Jean’s choice of words but thought for a moment and then responded, “Exactly like I intended for it to go.”
I believe it is important for us to recognize that we bear a great deal of responsibility for how our day “goes.” If we set out to create chaos that is likely what will happen. If, instead, we have the intent to fill our day with meaningful experiences, we probably have them.
I believe if we use the statement on the rock, filling in the blank daily, we are likely get valuable insight into how we create, or don’t create our own happiness.
* The therapists and clients in my therapy community all use a series of six self-care contracts as guiding principles in their lives. The contracts are not about being perfect. When we break a contract we are accountable by identifying the contract we broke, how we broke it, the mistaken belief we were operating under when we broke it, what we will do to prevent ourselves from breaking it again, and the therapeutic work we will do to heal the mistaken belief.
- I will not hurt myself or others nor provoke/allow others to harm me. I will stay safe and honor the safety of others
- I will not run away. I will stay and work through my problems.
- I will not be sneaky or lie. I will be honest with myself and others.
- I will not make myself sick or go crazy. I will stay sane and healthy.
- I will not be passive. I will be proactive.
- I am responsible for my feelings, thoughts, actions and attitudes.