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Who’s Responsible?

Do you believe that other people/events are responsible for the way you feel? I mean, when people do things that really upset you, do you see it as their fault that you react the way you do? That girl in high school who stole your boyfriend? Do you believe it’s her fault that you’re still single? Your boss not giving you credit for work you did?  Maybe you see him as responsible for your angry outburst to his boss. Your friend saying you embarrass her by talking too loudly in restaurants? It’s her fault you are upset because she’s so critical and mean to you. When you pout, is it your spouse’s fault because he doesn’t listen to you?

When you act on your emotions, you may see that as the “fault” or responsibility of the person who upset you. When you say, “I wouldn’t act this way if you didn’t. ______,” then you are likely not taking responsibility for your actions and emotions. For example, if you are angry that Jake wrecked your car, you may see it as his fault that you hit him. When your friend tells your spouse you weren’t at the garden club meeting, you may see it as your friend’s fault that your husband is angry with you. After all, if she hadn’t told him he wouldn’t be angry, right?

In general, though others may have contributed to the way you feel, your decisions and your emotional reactions are your responsibility. So your daughter tells you that you are the worst mother in the world. That’s tough. She’s responsible for her words, but your behavior is your responsibility. You may feel sad. That’s understandable. But going to bed and staying there because you are sad is your responsibility. Losing your job because you missed work or couldn’t concentrate is your responsibility. It’s your responsibility how you cope and your choice about how to react to the situation.

What do you do when someone says something that is hurtful? One option is to consider, is there anything I can learn from this?  For example, if someone says that you need to talk more quietly in restaurants, that can be hurtful.  Even though the person may not have expressed herself well, evaluate the feedback. Is there any truth at all in what she said? Do you talk loudly? Or is your friend just uncomfortable with a normal voice tone–maybe she tends to talk in a whisper and to her anything else is yelling. Is there anything to learn from her feedback?

Another part of taking responsibility is coping with what is said. Of course you may be sad, hurt, and/or angry if your daughter you are the worst mother in the world. It’s a harsh thing to say. How you act on your emotions though is your responsibility. It’s not her fault if you break all your dishes or throw her clothes out the window.

Maybe you are a person who starts to berate yourself. If your boss criticizes your work, maybe you lash out at yourself, calling yourself “stupid,” or others names. That’s actually not taking responsibility either. You may be hurt, but taking responsibility is saying, “You’re right, I’ll work on that,” or “I’m not sure I see what you’re saying,” or “Thanks for the feedback and I’ll think it through how I can improve in the future.”

Coping may mean learning how to experience the emotions without acting on them. Learning to soothe yourself can help. You probably have ways of self-soothing that work for you but you may not think of them when you are upset about something that someone else did or said. Listening to music, exercise, deep breathing and having smells you enjoy are all ways that can help you manage difficult emotions, even when other people may have triggered them!





Who’s Responsible?

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2020). Who’s Responsible?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Feb 2020
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