This article appears in its entirety on Elephant Journal.

Read The Four Stages of Personal Responsibility, Part 1 here.

It’s been my experience that there are four evolutional stages of personal responsibility.

Stage 1: “You did this to me.”

Whether conscious or not, whether verbalised verbatim or not, this sort of communication inherently assumes negative intent. We often don’t realise the extent at which we are thinking like this except for when we get triggered, and what follows is that we feel victimised by the person (or place or thing) and then follow up with some version of blame. We make them wrong in order to feel right or justified in having our feelings about it. The more highly functional and intellectual we become, the more covert the blaming is. The way this shows up the most often is when we use phrases like “you hurt me” or “you belittled me” or “you ignored me.” The implication of this statement is that the person who did this thing to you a) did it consciously, and b) based on your interpretation of their actions, actually wants to cause you suffering.

The thing about this is that, actually, all humans are innately *good*. Even the ones who commit crimes and do horrible things. More often than not, those who are doing bad or seemingly vindictive things are actually suffering significantly more than the suffering we are accusing them of causing us. At the root of all that we are, no one truly wants to cause anyone else pain. All we all want is love and connection. If we can remember that always, we stand a good chance of not spending much time in Stage 1. 

Stage 2: “You make me feel this way.”

The implication here is that the person who has either said or done something that resulted in us being hurt has the power to control us and how we feel. We tend to believe this about others in equal measure to our own belief that we have the ability to control others’ feelings and actions. In our attempt to NOT feel the way someone “makes us” feel, we try to control their behavior so that we feel as though our needs are being met. So long as they oblige, we continue to feel safe. 

Those of us who hang out most often in this stage tend to shape-shift ourselves and compromise on our own needs in order to have connection, and so we expect the same treatment in return. We get triggered and upset when other people have boundaries here and won’t take responsibility for our feelings. When someone says to us that we made them feel hurt, we feel immense guilt and shame and will do anything to make it all right again. Broadly speaking, this is what codependency looks like. 

A typical sign of intellectual but not emotional evolution of this particular phase is when we’ve gotten really good at avoiding the people who “make us” feel bad, and surrounding ourselves with people who “make us” feel good. While I would never understate the value and necessity of removing ourselves from pathological and destructive relationships, doing so without fully investigating the trigger at play, while taking full personal responsibility for our part in creating it, also won’t serve us in our growth.

This stage can be used to explain how the massive divide in political stance in the US has occurred, and the shock from liberals that followed Trump winning the election. We tend to avoid what has us feel hurt, and that results in denial, because so long as we don’t see it happening, it can’t possibly exist, sort of like the enormous number of Republicans who truly believe in Trump’s capability as a leader and how surprised Democrats were that that was even possible. This act (particularly denial or avoidance) is also called Spiritual Bypass

Read part 3 here.