This article appears in its entirety on Elephant Journal.

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

Read The Four Stages of Personal Responsibility, Part 2 here. 

Now that we know what Personal Responsibility is and is not, and have gone over examples of the first two stages of personal responsibility, let's take it a layer deeper. The next two stages are slightly more complex and evolved. They require a higher level of consciousness and self awareness than the earlier stages, which claim that we are actually not at all responsible for how we feel. The attention is beginning to move from outwardly-focused, to inwardly-focused. 

Stage 3: “When you do this, I feel hurt.”

On the surface level, this sort of statement feels like a huge step up from Stages 1 and 2. After all, it’s making the conscious connection that certain circumstances or actions have an impact on us. It is often seen in the personal development realm as the way to generate intimacy in relationship, a way to get more honest with our partners, and to vulnerably share the impact others’ have on us. And all of that is true. Except that when most of us say this, what we are energetically communicating is a desire for an adjustment in behavior, action, or language so that we no longer have to feel the hurt (see Stage 2, doctored up with fancy language). 

Requesting adjustments and communicating what our needs are in relationship is important. It’s one of the best ways to get to know one another and to see if the relationship is being built off of common desires or fantasy, projection, and illusion. Vulnerability (read: not necessarily feeling weak and victimized, but rather, sharing our truths, trials, and errors, our dreams, aspirations and desires) is probably the most important thing needed to build any successful relationship, and, it’s a necessary precursor to the kind of intimacy that makes you want to keep coming back for more year after year. And, when the implication is that THEY need to change in order for US to feel good, it’s explicitly *not* personal responsibility. Not only are we still giving our power away just like in stages 1 and 2, but we are also not owning our part of the dynamic that has been created, nor addressing why it is that we feel so hurt in the first place. And therein lies our work. 

Stage 4 (aka: “The Work”): “I feel this way because this event triggered a story I have about myself that I am/will be _______ (unworthy of love, abandoned, taken for granted, held responsible for others’ actions, etc).”

Notice the very obvious absence of the other person in this stage. This gives way to an integrated understanding that it’s not a person’s actions or behaviour that is *causing* us to feel hurt, it’s how we interpret them based on our pre-existing beliefs about ourself. Championing this level of consciousness and emotional expression is not only difficult, but it also requires a lot of practice (and by practice, I mean making mistakes in execution of this very model and learning from them, over and over again). 

Understanding where we are making decisions and interpret our interactions with others based on negative stories we believe about ourselves is more than half the battle, and gaining awareness of these thoughts requires as a necessary ingredient a high level of willingness, as well as an ability to move slowly enough that we can actually feel the feelings and hear the thoughts we’re having in the first place. This is usually some of the biggest work we do with coaches, as this level of consciousness often requires the deliberate attention of another person in order for the stories to come up to the surface at all. 

It’s important to note that there is no point at which we ‘master’ this type of personal responsibility. If we believe ourselves to be perpetually existing in our interactions with others only in Stage 4, we are either highly deluded in our experience of reality, or we are living such controlled lives that we never experience any triggers at all, which ultimately would result in our stunted growth. While we can and should aspire to interact with others at Stage 4, to have the expectation that that’s the only place that is “right” for us to show up as positions us perfectly for a *lack* of personal responsibility: what we’re suggesting is that it’s possible to be wrong (see Stage 1).