Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Are You Extreme When It Comes to Responsibility?

The first personal development book I ever read - almost 30 years ago - was Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. I was struck by his opening sentence, "Life is difficult," which is truth-telling at its best. He goes on to say that once you accept this fact, then life becomes easier because you're no longer struggling to try and make it simple.

This is one of the all-time best parenting and leadership books you'll ever read because of its focus on learning discipline, delayed gratification, and personal responsibility. As leaders and parents, we constantly search for the right balance; we want to role-model desirable behaviors for those watching us closely.

The Road Less Traveled introduced me to the terms "neurotic" and "character disorder" as they relate to responsibility. Think of them as two extremes along a personal responsibility continuum. The neurotic assumes too much responsibility, while the person with character disorder avoids it altogether.

Most likely, you're not at either end of the spectrum. But it's worth examining your attitudes and behaviors to identify where along the continuum you land when dealing with life's challenges...because your reactions have a powerful impact on the people who live and work with you.

Those with neurotic tendencies automatically assumes they are at fault when something goes wrong. Their language includes phrases like, "I should" or "I shouldn't," and they often feel guilty about what they have or haven't done. They frequently experience feelings of inferiority, blaming themselves for falling short of their own expectations or making wrong choices. These attitudes leave them vulnerable to being manipulated by others who can sense a lack self-confidence.

People inclined towards character disorder are quick to place the blame outside themselves when things don't turn out well. They say things like, "I couldn't" or "I have to." They can be difficult to be around because they never see themselves as the source of any of their problems. Instead, they take on the classic "victim" role. Counseling is often ineffective because no one can penetrate the denial and convince them that they do have choices.

Take heart that discovering the right level of responsibility is truly a life-long learning process, as Peck states so succinctly:
"The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence. It is never completely solved."
When faced with a difficult situation, you can do something about your own attitudes and actions. Being aware of these two extremes can guide you to make an appropriate, balanced response. And you'll be better prepared to handle future challenges that are sure to come your way..

Just don't expect it to be easy. Remember, "life is difficult..."


  1. This is a strange thing to bring up here - but Donald Trump says that in business, we should simply "Expect Problems." Not because we're pessimistic - but so that we know that we will always be called to look for solutions!

    It's the same thing with "Life is Difficult!" It's MEANT to push up against you. It's MEANT to grow you. It's meant to be a buffet. What a freeing concept!

    (I was pretty young (and VERY messed up) when Road Less Traveled came out - and all I remember is being really triggered by "delayed gratification" - so i stopped reading it. :-) )

  2. Christine, Thanks for your insightful comments. It's important to use reality and truthful statements like Peck's and Trump's to motivate us. Love your comment about delayed gratification. It's something many adults never learned so their kids aren't learning it either...but that's a post for another day.

  3. Excellent post Meredith. I have come across "victim" personalities and try to coach or avoid hiring those persons altogether. I had not considered the "neurotic" behavior, but I believe that it is also prevalent. An inferiority complex requires coaching as well. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thank you for your positive feedback, Christopher. I'm glad you found it valuable. I too have learned to avoid people with victim mentalities as much as possible. Peck said most of them don't respond to therapy because they cannot or will not see their role in anything that happens to them. They only succeed in bringing others down, so you are wise to avoid hiring them.

  5. I loved your post, Meredith. Through my journey in recovery, I not only learned that I am responsible, but I learned how and when to be responsible. For example, I learned to be responsible for my own healing. This was huge, as I'd spent my whole life blaming and drinking over what my parents did to me when I was growing up. In recovery, I learned I had the choice to continue to blame them, or work on healing. Fortunately, I had the grace to choose the latter and it is the best choice I have ever made. I have been able to forgive my folks and we enjoy a good relationship today because of that. I hope your post touches many and makes them reconsider the issue of self-responsibility and choice. Thanks!

    Carolyn CJ Jones

  6. Carolyn, thank you for sharing the struggles of your journey...and the successful outcome. I am honored that you felt comfortable being vulnerable here. What you did involved a lot of courage because it is not easy to shift from being a person who blames to one who is willing to take responsibility. I applaud your choices and thank you for your openness and honesty.

  7. I think people often take the "Victim" position, because it is easier and in some way set them personally apart from the problem or difficulty they experience. It is much easier to say that the difficulty you experience is due to something or someone beyond your control and therefore you can't do anything about it.
    The more difficult position to take is that of "Personal Responsibility" which means that you have to do something because you play a role in everything that happens to you. This also empowers you more, because you can do something about your difficulty.
    I enjoyed the post very much.


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