The ‘R’ Word
I went public with my recovery work about three years ago. During those three years, I have learned a thing or two about what makes survivors cringe and what doesn’t. Honestly, as a survivor, I already know what makes me cringe. And there is nothing that will divide a survivor community more quickly than the word – responsibility.
There is so much tied up in that word. We are already trying to fight our way out of a sea of blame, shame and guilt our abusers placed on us. Even if we have largely removed any self-blame from our adult cognition, it is still creating difficulties for us beneath the surface on the unconscious realm. So when we see an image on Facebook that indicates we are responsible for our lives and our happiness, we want to throw the computer, tablet or phone out the window.
I get that. I really do. I have some amazing friends building businesses in the personal growth sector. I love them dearly. But sometimes, I want to scream from the rooftops that trauma recovery doesn’t work like those traditional images say it does. We can’t just wake up one day and make a decision to be happy, rich, successful or even compassionate. We are up against a little more than our conscious thoughts. We have to dig deep. We have to find all those unhealed parts beneath the surface and heal them too. Otherwise, those decisions we would love to make ain’t gonna happen.
Even with my extensive knowledge about this, I have touched a nerve with that word – responsibility. There is a problem with that word in the survivor community. We will never take responsibility for the abuse we endured. And we never should take responsibility for it. When we were children, we went through hardships at the hands of people who claimed to love us. And NONE of it was our fault.
But there is a subtle difference between blame and responsibility. And to be very honest, subtlety is not easy for trauma survivors. We can be a bit “all or nothing”. Discernment gets stuck with the inner child. So when I say we need to take responsibility for our current lives, I get an earful. I am accused of victim-blaming, oversimplifying and asking the impossible. And I get where it’s coming from. But when it comes to this word, I am going to stand my ground. And here’s why.
One of the biggest moments of relief in my own trauma recovery journey came when I realized I had control over my life. No. I am not talking about control over the small things. I was great at controlling schedules, finances and the general condition of the house. I am talking about the big things. No. I am not talking about tornadoes and earthquakes. We must stop blaming ourselves for that stuff. I am not talking about another person’s violent behavior. Again, that is not our fault.
I am talking about my response to life. I am referring to my actions. I am talking about my choices. If you are not a survivor, you may be thinking, “Well, duh. Of course, you control that stuff.” If you are survivor, you may be thinking, “Are you sure?” When I was growing up I didn’t get to control my responses. I didn’t get to act for my own well-being. I didn’t get to make the choices that worked best for me. And when those patterns were wired in to my brain, it was hard to shift it.
But it is that shift that defines responsibility in my book. If we can allow ourselves to set boundaries, say no to what we don’t want, say yes to what we do want, and take actions that are best for us and those we love, we are taking responsibility. It is these changes in our behavior that bring about changes in our lives. We will never be able to change our abusive past. We will never be able to stop Mother Nature or control another person’s behavior and decisions. That’s not responsibility. That’s controlling. I know. I’ve tried it.
But we can take responsibility. We can take back what is ours to control. And while responsibility comes with some pressure, it also comes with freedom. And freedom brings joy.
So don’t hate me for that word.
I am not blaming you for anything.
But I know what you’re capable of.
And I’ll be right here reminding you of it.
If you are looking to take more responsibility for your recovery, I offer one-on-one survivor guidance sessions to help you build awareness in your life.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW
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