“It’s not my fault.” The battle cry of the guilty. Twenty-five years of counseling couples has made me somewhat of an expert on the blame game. I have never seen blame or guilt produce a favorable outcome. The focus becomes condemnation and tearing down of character. Responsibility is the key. No judgmental overtones, just statements of fact. In any given situation you are either responsible, not responsible, or irresponsible. To be responsible is to faithfully carry out those duties which are yours. like brushing your teeth and paying your bills. To not be responsible is to have no control over a situation such as the weather or someone else’s mood. To be irresponsible is to shirk the duties that should rightfully be yours, such as being late or not keeping commitments.
For some reason these categories are regularly confused. For example: you come late to an appointment and say “Sorry, the traffic was horrible.” The implication here is that you are not responsible because you have no control over the traffic, but you do have control over how early you leave in case there is bad traffic. A more appropriate statement might be, “Sorry I’m late. I was irresponsible and did not allow enough time for traffic.” You’re not a bad person, you are just irresponsible. All of us are at times. Admitting our irresponsibility will not result in others thinking less of us, but rather they will be impressed with the fact that you are aware of your own brokenness.
On the other extreme is the “overly responsible” person. I don’t think you can be overly responsible. You can take responsibility for the wrong things, but you can’t over do responsibility on your own stuff. What typically is thought of as overly responsible is usually a person with poor boundaries. They invite me out to dinner then apologize because the restaurant over cooked my steak (it’s not possible to undercook a steak). They have no control over the behavior of the chef, but feel stressed and responsible. “I’m sorry” is the favorite phrase of these folks.
How much simpler would life be if we all just tended to our stuff and left others alone?