Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim
The End of All Anger, Blame and Resentment, Taking Insult and Offense, Leaning Into Hurt and Abused Reactions
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find
each other, it’s beautiful
If not, it can’t be helped.
—Frederick S. Perls, “The Gestalt Prayer”
Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (1969, page 4)
I am not angry with you because I am not in a bondage. I have not been angry with anybody for years because I don’t make anybody responsible. I am free, so why should I be angry? …freedom cannot be angry. Once you know that you are your world, you have penetrated into a different kind of understanding. Then nothing else matters-all else are games and excuses.
—Osho, Above All, Don’t Wobble (1977, page 215)
What does this one know? You can’t help but notice that almost everyone is signing up and expecting everyone else to be and do what he or she wants. In the lyrics above, singer songwriter Bob Dylan apparently noticed the same with someone he was dating expecting what he wasn’t signed up for. See for yourself. Parents, teachers and authority figures sign up and expect children to take increasing responsibility, and children sign up and expect nothing less from them, often more. Bosses, managers and supervisors make their employees responsible to do their jobs, and employees expect much from their employers. Policemen and judges sign up everyone to obey the laws, rules, jurisdictions and rights of way in life, and get mad as the dickens when this doesn’t occur. John Q. Public signs up politicians, elected officials and appointed office holders to address societal issues and find effective ways to resolve them, and again angers himself, get disheartened and cynical when it doesn’t happen. Even young children, older children and adolescents want to make their parents, siblings, and friends responsible, and tick themselves off when it doesn’t happen. What is all this interfering and budding into other people’s lives and businesses? Who appointed anyone God’s sheriff? It must have been them! It’s most curious indeed.
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What is all of this? Most everyone appears to act in accord with the unchallenged belief that it is somehow fitting and appropriate to make others responsible. Well, is this so? As a child there was much that was not available for us to do given our physical strength, size and development, so we had to rely upon others for help. This is perfectly normal and understandable. Most parents want their children to grow up to be able to take care of themselves. As the child is able to do for him or herself, the supportive parent encourages increasing autonomy, self-reliance and self-efficacy. It’s a truism that the more one can do for oneself, the more one can do and succeed in life. Forward momentum begets more of the same.
The healthy process of taking progressively more age-appropriate responsibility, variously called individuation, maturity or growing into adulthood, is a means or method for creating fine upstanding citizens. Own being responsible? Absolutely. Being responsible, that is “response-able” or the ability / capacity to respond and choose in life, this one suggests is the defining characteristic for being an adult. Relationships, especially the closest ones with parents, siblings, extended family members, spouse, children and work associates, function and are satisfying to the degree that both parties show ownership, self-accountability and self-responsibility, and do not work, are splintered, dissatisfying and alienated, often with much drama and abused reactivity, when this is absent or lacking in demonstrated actions.
When anyone does for another, whether it is a child, adolescent or so-called grown up, and this one is fully able and needs to do for him or herself, this is usually experienced not as supportive or loving, but as undercutting and crippling. What does rescuing another, when it is their responsibility, teach this being? Does it teach one to rely upon their own apparent choice, capabilities, intelligence, feelings, research, actions and wherewithal, or to rely upon others for their life to turn out? Does it teach empowerment in counting on one’s own authority in healthy independence, or does it deepen a self-doubting insecurity and unhealthy dependence? Does it teach one that he or she is strong, capable and intelligent, fully able to engage their initiative and resourcefulness no matter what the challenge is one is facing, or to judge him or herself as weak, incapable and dumb, a failure and unable to size up and resolve life situation that arise? Soooo…. Make others responsible for your life? You must be kidding!
Beyond enabling and rescuing another, so common in families with an addicted parent or teenager, is one person simply telling another what to do, when to do it and how to do it. With most men, and more and more women, lo what is told is not done. This message is usually not appreciated and can act as a trigger for anger, resentment and resistance, often prompting a power struggle and an argument with no winners and only losers. For example, tell your adolescent son or daughter to clean their room and see what ensues, which is typically nothing. So “reminding,” also known as nagging, comes next to make it so. This is met with all the respect and compliance it deserves-nothing being done. What about demanding your wife to pick up her clothes off the floor or insisting your husband pick up his dishes from the family room? Again, little occurs. Respect earns respect, and vice versa.
One slice into this pie of expecting, signing up others and making them be responsible is using a broad range of manipulative passive-aggressive strategies to sneakily gain compliance from another. For example, someone feigns great exhaustion and stress, saying how badly they are feeling, in order to have you feel badly and guilty that you are somehow not sufficiently helping out and pulling your weight. Out of guilt feelings for your family member or co-worker, you volunteer to help out in some way. Or your spouse is upset with you for not helping out enough around the house and punishes using the silent treatment until you help. Days go by, and it is so uncomfortable you finally cave and help just to have some peace. The price paid may include anger, hurt, acting out, frustration, withdrawal and giving up.
Another angle on making others be responsible is to force another to do your bidding. Many authority figures have no interest in forcing others to do what he or she wants, perhaps out of avoiding conflict and confrontation. Force and true power are not the same. The former is one pushing their program or agenda onto another without mutual respect being invited, while the latter is enlisting another by helping get their “buy in” by engaging in a respectful dialogue that includes seriously asking for and listening to another’s input and feedback. Over time and with many pressing things, frustrations and stress may grow and the authority figure begins to lean, push, put pressure, giving threats and ultimatums, and just force them to do what you want. Is this mutual respect, or fear-driven bullying?
Take a situation showing force in action: in anger over not finding a time to get together recently, you tell your boyfriend or girlfriend that if he or she doesn’t completely rearrange their evening to spend time with you, you don’t want to see or hear from them. Would you care to be treated in this fashion? Even if compliance occurs, isn’t the price a loss of respect for the person and doing damage to the relationship? Is it worth winning the battle if you lose the war? Is it worth crossing a bridge to burn it?
Still another angle on this patterning is when one assumes another will just do what he or she wants or expects, often with an attitude of entitlement. Assume the kitchen to be cleaned up after lunch by your teenagers, and then discover the kitchen is still in complete disarray before dinner. Or assume an assistant will remind you of an upcoming meeting with plenty of advance warning, and either he or she reminds you at the last minute or doesn’t remember to do it at all. There is also signing up another with the use of prescriptive pressure words, like should, must, ought, must, have to, got to, as well as their negatives. Take the statement, “You should have this work done by now!” Isn’t the speaker expecting, signing up and making another responsible for having the work done and laying a guilt trip as well? Also notice the impact of what you might call second-guessing words, such as would, could, might, if only, if then, and their negatives. Saying, “You could have done this paper if only you had only put in more effort,” is expecting and signing up another to do the paper as a hypothetical that never really took place, and again tossing in guilt as a bonus. Aren’t these again making others responsible for your life?
Additionally notice when people speak as if they are objects being acted upon, what can be called the dreaded “to me’s”, “at me’s”, “on me’s”, “upon me’s” and “made me’s. Each indicates taking something P-E-R-S-O-N-A-L-L-Y. What is there to take personally? From a nondual perspective, there actually is no person or one present, some imaginary sense of self or ego. What happens typically doesn’t happen directly “to me”, it just happens. You are simply here and present to experience it. This fits what could be termed the billiard ball theory of causality and claims that each of us is a billiard ball being smacked around the billiard table of life by circumstances happening “to” us. Does life really work this way? Of course, this is ridiculous. When a person leaves or rejects being with you, doesn’t reality feedback tell you that they just left, not left “you”; rejected themselves, not rejected “you”? At times nearly every one is victimized, yet the role of being a “victim” of circumstances, situations and other people is largely optional. Once beyond the age of reason, approximately 9-years-old, and with the exceptions of criminal actions or catastrophic natural circumstances, life simply doesn’t work this way.
There are “set-ups” in life, that is, you are lead or expected to say and act in the way the other party wants. Manipulative examples include someone using guilt, obnoxiousness or anger to be right or get their way. How you behave in the face of set-ups always remains up to you, not another or any set of circumstances. Even in severe circumstances, what happens is simply what happens and the attitude you bring or the mindset or cognitive frame you put around or hold circumstances is completely yours. Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl eloquently wrote that what attitude anyone brings to any situation, even the most hellish and extreme, is completely up to that person.
What is the true price and cost for believing someone else will take on a responsibility and do it on your behalf? Don’t you put yourself into a sort of bondage, slavery and prison when you expect or sign up another, and make others responsible? Don’t you block your own growth by holding this belief and the actions issuing from it because another is taking responsibility for your life? How many people are waiting on another for their life to turn out and be what they want it to be? How many people are awaiting the return of a spiritual figure or expression of Divinity to make the world right again?
At this precise moment, so long as you are counting and depending on another to make you happy, satisfy and fulfill you, don’t you enter into a less than holy and honorable agreement, one in which you sign away and sacrifice your true freedom and integrity to simply be yourself, who you truly are, and its expression in actions? Is anything worth doing such a thing? Is it our place in all honesty and respect, integrity and decency, to interfere and intrude into other people’ lives? Is making others responsible even in the realm of possibility? Aren’t the answers inherent or obvious in these questions?
No one can make another’s life happy or satisfied, fulfilled or awakened. This relative world appears to be so designed that it is simply not possible to do for another and have that being authentically develop strong internal resources and feeling capacities. Only the being can do this, and no one else. No one else can save you, redeem you, or awaken you, since how can anyone else be responsible for your capacities and life. So, only you are capable of saving yourself since you are the one capable of not saving yourself. Only you are capable of redeeming yourself since you are the one capable of not redeeming yourself. Only you are capable of awakening yourself since you are the one capable of falling asleep. These illustrations point to one undeniable truth-Life is an inside job! Can we own showing up?
Another permutation on making others responsible is when this is ruthlessly applied to oneself. While taking responsibility for oneself is healthy adult behavior, when carried to the extreme of holding perfectionist or super-perfectionist standards for oneself and repeatedly languishing in guilt and shame, anger and disappointment, is this only setting up exploded expectations, hurt, anger, resentment and revengeful behavior? How is this fundamentally any different? It often can be accompanied with ruthless self-punishment, whether in the form of self-deprecation, rampant negativity toward oneself and others, escapist behaviors, self- and other-abuse, and enlisting others to hurt, abandon and punish you.
One speculation on a possible root of this whole pattern of expecting, signing up and making others be responsible points to the ego-mind’s preoccupation, addiction and attachment to control the world, including other people. Our ego-minds dream up or make up the story of having life turn out as it wants and hopes to maximize its seven ego desires-security, money, sex, power, pleasure, fame and pride-and avoid what it dislikes and fears to minimize pain, misery, loss, lack and suffering. Most prominently missing from the list of ego desires is all that is of the Divine and the Absolute-Love, Being, Presence, Faith, Truth, Natural Happiness, Original Sanity and True Self or who we all truly are. The ego-mind’s clinging to control of everything and everyone, along with fear and negativity, seems to be its major strategy for its survival, self-preservation and keeping you under its forceful thumb. So long as one remains unaware and asleep to being attached to the ego-mind’s desires, the ego-mind appears able to endlessly manipulate everything and everyone in its environment to derive its wanted outcomes. Of course, all of this is seen as complete nonsense when you inhabit presence and see the reality of “what is.” In fact, non-attachment to outcomes remains at the heart of equanimity, effectiveness and happiness.
Another educated guess on a conceivable root of expecting, signing up and making others be responsible is the pervasive, highly intrusive ego defense called projection, the crowning jewel of analyst Carl G. Jung’s theorizing. Whatever cannot be faced, accepted and digested within us is commonly thrown or projected at others, whether positive or negative. When we throw positive projections at others, we cannot bear owning our affirmative, uplifting and virtuous qualities, or giving appreciation or praise to oneself. More typically, negative projections get thrown at others when we cannot face or take responsibility for our immaturities, blind spots and challenges. It is easier to send packing what we cannot accept than to acknowledge them in ourselves. Projection is pervasive. Look at therapist Fritz Perls, who rumor has it said these last words on his deathbed: Everything is projection.
In the context of making others responsible, the ego defense of projection fits perfectly. So long as I sign you up to be a certain way and take on specific responsibilities I’m unwilling and/or incapable of facing me, whether positive or negative, then I not only skirt being accountable for my life, but I also get to hold your feet to the fire for being responsible over what I signed you up for! Talk about being intrusive, presumptuous and extreme gall! On occasion my father would tell an unnamed relative who was pushing herself into another’s life to, “Bud out!” Jung along with Perls recommended taking back, owning and embracing all of our projections in welcoming back all disenfranchised facets of ourselves, our strengths and our woundedness. This would be therapeutic and enhance healthy development and individuation. Alternatively, simply ask, “Who projects?” or “Who is pitching?”, and the answer-the fictive ego-mind-is self-evident. Herein the defensive of projection collapses like a house full of cards.
A third possibility to help understand this phenomenon is the ego-driven fear of loss and lack, death and annihilation. When fear is triggered by past conditioning, resulting from unfinished traumas, unworkable survival decisions and other untrue beliefs, false identities, misguided roles and dreamed up stories, the impetus to escape fear is compelling. While avoidance and denial are hugely popular ways to escape fear, equally popular is to make others be responsible for some facet of reality you don’t care for.
Ensuring that others are responsible is not your job. Our job is to live an honorable life. So what are some healthy constructive alternatives to expecting, signing up and making others be responsible? What about first cleaning up your own backyard in making amends, refuse to act as a hypocrite, and live honestly by operating from a place of ownership? Consider requesting what you want without expecting, signing up others on your agenda, or making anyone responsible for anything, beautifully portrayed in the Gestalt Prayer by master therapist Fritz Perls at the start of this paper. We can give people choices with clear natural and logical consequences. Without using manipulation or illegitimate means, passive-aggressive or aggressive strategies, you can build in incentives for pro-social behavior and disincentives for anti-social behavior. You can honorably press, not push, all to take care of tasks, whether projects, homework, chores or promises, in a committed way. You can request commitments, that is, a public statement of intention, a time /date for beginning /completing, and actually doing what you sign up to do.
Is it a contradiction to be taking ownership, self-responsibility and self-accountability, and not expect, sign up others and make others be responsible? Or, are these two statements both true, making them both accurate and a bit of a paradox? For example, you can be totally responsible for fulfilling the letter and spirit of your job in daily actions, give encouragement to co-workers to do the same, and stop short of making them responsible since this is clearly their business / domain, not yours. As is evident, self-responsibility without making others responsible is not contradictory in daily life for anyone.
The big return or payoff for one being congruent with both being responsible and not expecting, signing up others and making others be responsible (or yourself with sky-high perfectionist standards), while simply witnessing everything in authentic equanimity beyond the ego-mind, is extraordinary. Ask yourself: this being the case, would anger, blame and resentment come up? Living inside this perspective, would anyone take insult or offense? Standing inside this view and seeing through these lenses, would you lean into hurt or act out abused reactivity? None of these would occur so long as you simply lost interest in making others responsible! Thus, without making others responsible, isn’t this the end of all anger, blame and resentment, taking insult and offense, leaning into hurt and abused reactions? How sweet! Come on now. It’s enough to own your own life. If you find a better deal, take it!
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