Holding Yourself Accountable is Not the Same as Beating Yourself Up
Reading even one of my blog posts you’d pick up on the fact that I hold personal responsibility as a significant virtue. If we don’t hold ourselves and our family members accountable for our actions, then our chances for having a happy healthy functioning family significantly decreases. Recently I found myself indulging in the great injustice of beating myself up instead of holding myself accountable. I say indulging because our minds trick us into thinking that this mental path is beneficial. It’s actually the opposite; it’s extremely destructive. Needless to say, the next three days were rough.
After I did the extra work of digging myself out of the deeper hole I had put myself in, I started thinking about how often people conflate these two very different approaches when dealing with their mistakes. One of the easiest things to generate after having committed a wrong against your family is the feeling that you should be punished.
There’s something about the “easy” way though that I have never liked. It reminds me of this verse in a song called Follow My Feet by The Unlikely Candidates. It says “The high road’s steady and steep. And the low road’s easy and deep.” I think this means that while the high road might be rough and the low right might be easy, the low road leads to deeper waters.
These two things are not the same and confusing them as such can turn one bad day into a string of bad days. It can turn one regretful decision into several regretful decisions. Honestly, who has time for that? Me, several days ago, apparently.
Breaking each of these things down to examine what they look like can help us to spot the signs and catch ourselves from slipping before we have slid past the point of no return.
Beating yourself up:
Let’s talk about what it looks like when you beat yourself up.
It’s not pretty. You call yourself malicious, monstrous, and cruel. You pray for isolation, which only makes you feel worse. You shame spiral. You tell yourself that you are a terrible mother, or wife. You convince yourself that you are inherently dishonorable. You feel as though you have ruined everything you have worked so hard to keep together up until this point. You tell yourself you are a failure. All of this thinking is done solo because you’re too ashamed to share your thoughts with your family. You might apologize, however, all these other signs are picked up on and everyone knows your heart isn’t in it. Hopelessness comes in like a dark cloud and consumes your entire world. Finally your one mistake is followed by days of repeated poor behavior.
Reading the above, you can tell that this behavior is not going to be helpful to solving your problem. You would never tell a friend who is asking for advice on what to do after she snaps at her daughter that she should isolate and demean herself. Beating yourself up does not help you take responsibility for your actions. When you beat yourself up you actually avoid the responsibility of changing your behavior because your mind is focused on berating yourself. It does not make it easier for you to change your behavior. When you shame spiral you become depressed and hopeless. By definition, feeling hopeless makes it more difficult to have the motivation to change your situation. It does not make your child, or spouse, feel better about your mistake. Naturally, when you are consumed by your own shame you will neglect the needs of your family. Beating yourself up only makes it harder to change your behavior.
Taking responsibility for your actions:
Now, lets talk about what it looks like to take responsibility for your actions.
It sucks at first, right? You admit that you screwed up. You dust off your your muddied lens of reality and remember that you are not perfect. You become humble once again. You sincerely apologize to your spouse and your child. You think about everything but you do not do this alone; you and your family have a conversation about it. You mentally go back to discover where you made a wrong turn. You figure out what it was that fired up your defenses. You are open to constructive criticism. You become aware of the cues that have you responding in a negative way. You then make a conscious effort to make a different choice when you notice these cues. You make sure to be more aware of your actions and reactions in the days that follow.
You have to ask yourself some questions when things are not going right. You have to put a little extra effort in when things are not flowing properly. For example: If you are building something and you find that you have run out of materials, then you have a different agenda for the the day than if you had all the materials that you needed. You have to ask yourself how you got to where you are. You have to ask yourself where you want to go. You have to ask yourself what the best road to take to get there is. You have to talk to your family about the conclusions, or theories, that you have come up with. You have to be willing to hear their feedback.
Pointing the finger at someone is not a solution. In my experience, there is typically a problem on both ends that isn’t being discussed. The issue isn’t that the children are bad or the parents are bad (most of the time). The issue is that the communication is bad. This, of course, is the parents responsibility but this doesn’t mean that the parents are absolutely lousy. Sure, it might mean that you are slacking in an area that should be consistently upheld but you are not perfect. Peaceful parent does not mean perfect parent. We are human and not some infallible creature exempt from error. You only become a rotten parent when you are unwilling to examine yourself and practice the values that you teach to your children everyday.
Personal accountability is not not achieved through shame. Responsibility is achieved through reflection, discussion, and a committed heart. Your mistakes should not escape your mind and, at the same time, they should not consume your every thought. Like most things in life, there is a beautiful balance that must be found. And like most useful skills the struggle comes from trying to master it once it has been found.