Posted by: coachingparents | October 23, 2007


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

“Taking responsibility” is probably the most misunderstood, and misused, psychological concept I know.  For most people, being responsible is equated with being blamed.  Being irresponsible is equated with guilt.  Both equations are false.

As with most of our conclusions about psychological principles, we learned about “responsibility” when we were small childrenChildren think in concrete terms, not in psychological abstractions.  So when children are told, “Take responsibility for yourself,” or are  asked, “Will you please take responsibility for taking out the garbage (or going to the toilet),” they usually conclude something like, “I’m not doing something now that I should be doing,” or “I am being blamed (punished) for something I did wrong.”

The matter is even more complicated since, as children, we did not have the benefit of a lot of life experience nor the ability for rational thought, to help us form more accurate conclusions about what “responsibility” means.  We were dependent.  We did not have the skills for “self-responsibility” and fewer abilities for “acting responsibly” as others defined those words.  Is it any wonder that most of us grew up misunderstanding what responsibility really meant?

We need to update our childhood conclusions about responsibility.  Responsibility is not blaming anyone, including yourself, for anything in your current situation.  Keep in mind that we never react to the reality of a person or situation.  We react to our feelings and interpretations of that person or situation.  When we feel emotionally upset by another person or circumstance, it is our own feelings
responding to our own perceptions and interpretations of that personor circumstance…not the reality of that person or circumstance as it really exists outside our skin.

Your feelings in response to your perceptions are your own.  Your behaviors based upon those feelings are your own behaviors.  No one else causes them.  No one else created them by their behavior.  No one else “made you” feel the way you do.  No one else can “make you
behave” any differently than you have chosen to behave in the present moment.  When you finally realize this, you are then able to “take responsibility” for your own feelings, perceptions, interpretationsand behaviors.  And if you are uncomfortable with any of those things, you are positioned to change them.

Once you realize that only you have the power to change how you perceive yourself, the situation or persons around you, and your behaviors, you are then free to interpret any “upsetting” person or situation in any manner you wish.  If you wish to interpret someone as a tyrant or tormentor, you will respond accordingly.  If you wish to perceive another as a friend or teacher, you will respond accordingly. If you choose to interpret a situation as threatening, or ugly, or dangerous, you will then respond accordingly.  If you see any situation, especially the unfamiliar, as an opportunity to learn and grow, you will respond accordingly.

When we update our understanding of “responsibility” to mean our ability to respond to our chosen (or habitual) way of interpreting the reality of our life-circumstance, we plant the seeds of personal power…personal responsibility.  As those seeds sprout and grow, we realize we have the power to transform our perceptions and consequent responses, into beautiful realities.  We can choose to view the glass as half-full or half-empty.  We can transform an “upsetting” person or circumstance into anything we wish.  We can interpret our world in such ways as to evoke either pain or pleasure within our bodies.

I want to suggest that, psychologically, the healthiest interpretation of any moment of your existence is as an opportunity to grow in loving.  Love is the energy of the universe.  It is the force of healing.  It is the source of joy and delight in being alive.

I invite you to take full responsibility for defining your universe, and create a lifestyle according to your choices to be loving, peaceful and joyous.  If you take this invitation, you will discover you have taken responsibility for the quality and nature of your existence.  And that is truly psychological, responsible power.


Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and Licensed Psychologist.  He is available for coaching in any area presented in “Practical Psychology.”  Initial coaching sessions are free.  Contact him: (970) 568-0173 or E-mail: or

Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of
Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and
Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton 2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on

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