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Here is a copy from the responsibility section of my 1996 book. (Slightly edited)
S. Hein



One of the empowering decisions we can make is to take responsibility for our feelings.

The issue of responsibility is not often associated with emotions. To be self-reliant and responsible, however, it helps to take responsibility for our own well being, including our own mental and emotional health. In addition, our emotions motivate us to make choices which lead to our actions and behavior. To take responsibility for our lives, then, means we must take responsibility for our emotions. More specifically, we must take responsibility for our actions which are largely motivated by our thoughts, our values, our fears, our desires, and our beliefs.

Responsibility for Our Actions

Taking responsibility for our actions involves examination of our motives. Some of these motives are our fears, our desires, our values, our beliefs, and our resulting thoughts. Let's take a look at each of these to see how they each affect our feelings, and how we can take more control over them.

Fears and Desires

Virtually all of our actions are motivated by one of two basic emotions: fear or desire. See if you agree after looking at the lists below:


Fear of disapproval
Fear of rejection
Fear of failure
Fear of losing control
Fear of dying
Fear of losing our jobs
Fear of offending others
Fear of being alone
Fear of pain
Fear of uncertainty


Desire for wealth
Desire for happiness
Desire for success
Desire for acceptance
Desire for approval
Desire for security
Desire for certainty
Desire for pleasure
Desire for power
Desire for growth

The relative degree to which we are motivated by each of our fears and desires depends largely on our individual values. For example, if we value security, we will be more afraid of uncertainty, failure, rejection, and disapproval. As a result, we will take fewer risks and stay closer to home. On the other hand if we value freedom, we will take more risks, be less concerned with acceptance, and venture further from our roots.

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Our values also affect our motivations and our feelings. What we value tells us what is important to us. When something is important to us, we want it, and if we don't get it we are either upset or afraid.

Here are some of the things we may value:



Social Values

Since our personal values are strongly influenced by the values of those around us, it is useful to take a close look at your social values. One quick way to do that is to examine how people in your society or social circle spend their time and money. For example, do they spend it on personal development or impersonal distraction? Do they go to natural parks or amusement parks? Do they go to the library or to sports events? Do they spend time developing meaningful relationships or insulating themselves from other people? What kinds of books do they read? What kinds of movies do they watch? What kind of TV shows?

When I look at the western world, I see people increasingly spending time and money on cars, clothing, cosmetics, appearances, material goods, electronic gadgets, video games, and every type of entertainment imaginable. All of this, I am afraid, comes as much from our emotional impoverishment as it does from our financial enrichment.


We each are unique in what is important to us. This is one reason our feelings vary so greatly among us. Another reason our feelings differ is because of the differences in our beliefs. For example, if you believe it is wrong to lie, you will be more upset with dishonesty than will someone who thinks lies are just a part of life.

One reason values and beliefs are so important is because they are underlying influences on our thoughts and feelings. We may not always consciously realize that we are operating from the basis of a belief or a value, but generally that is exactly what we are doing. Consider this seemingly simple question: Where do you want to go eat? The answer to this question depends. It depends on, among other things, your values and beliefs.

For instance, if you value healthy food, you will avoid certain type of restaurants. If you believe that eating meat is immoral, this too will affect your decision. If you believe that a certain chain of restaurants is unsanitary, you won't patronize them. You may also believe it is good to patronize local restaurants. Whether you value speed, atmosphere, service, taste, or price, they each make a difference in your choice.

We can see, then, that actually there are many factors affecting your decision. It is unlikely that you are aware that you are subconsciously processing all this information--but you are just the same. If you know yourself well, i.e. if you know what is important to you and what will feel good to you, your decision is much easier. If you don't, you will either make choices you regret, or you will be stuck in indecision.

If we have never examined our beliefs, we don't really recognize their impact on our feelings. If someone questions our beliefs, for example, we may get angry. We may mistakenly think that they caused us to get angry by their impertinence. What we don't realize is that we are actually afraid of our belief being shattered.

To many of us, the thought of our most fundamental and sacredly held beliefs being questioned is extremely threatening. The less secure we are in those beliefs, the more threatened we feel. At any rate, to really take responsibility for our lives, we must take responsibility for our actions, the feelings that motivate the actions, and the beliefs and values which prompt the feelings.

Each of us has undoubtedly picked up some, if not many, beliefs which are hazardous to our mental health. Such beliefs are dysfunctional beliefs. They are counter-productive to our goal of being happy because we waste so much time and energy trying to reconcile the real world with our world of make-believe. (The term make-believe is an appropriate one, since adults often literally make children believe things that no amount of observation, experience, or reason could ever substantiate.)


Our thoughts also have a major impact on our feelings. For instance, most of us can make ourselves angry merely by thinking about something which really bothers us. Likewise, if we think of pleasant things, we feel better. Many people, though, think they have no choice but to react the way they do. They think events cause their reactions. In other words they think this is how things work:

Event (A) causes Reaction (B) A----------->B

Instead, what actually happens is more like this:

Event (A) triggers Thoughts, Beliefs, Values, and Emotions (B) which cause Reaction (C).

A--------> B -------->C

Let's use the example of you coming out of the store to find your new car dented, with no note in sight.

Thought: Oh, my God! Oh, no! This is terrible. My brand new car! This will cost a fortune! I don't have time for this now. I can't afford to get this fixed. I don't know if this is going to be covered. I am afraid I let my insurance run out.

Values: The appearance of the car, the cost of fixing it, the principle of taking responsibility for denting someone else's car.

Beliefs: It is wrong for someone to dent a car and drive off. People should leave notes on cars when they dent them. People should be more careful. Cars shouldn't have dents in them.

In situations like this, what you think definitely affects your feelings. By applying a little EQ, you acknowledge your feelings and use your upper brain to soothe your emotions, rather than to work yourself up. You literally select your thoughts based on their effect on your feelings. If one set of thinking is just making you feel worse, you take another approach (assuming it is still based on reality).

If you can apply EQ to regulate your thoughts, select your values and beliefs, and regulate your emotional state, you are going to be in almost full control of your reactions. This gives you a tremendous feeling of being in control, and helps free you from the rut of your outdated patterns of thinking and responding.

Our thoughts also cause us to blame others for our emotions. Often we think that other people "shouldn't" do the things they do, so we blame them for our feelings. Consider the following common expressions. In each case we are avoiding taking personal responsibility for our emotions.

She made me so angry. He makes me so jealous. He hurt me so much.

In each case, we are focusing our attention and our thoughts on the other person. In so doing, we are avoiding looking at ourselves to see what it is about us that causes us to be so upset. Without fail, when we are hurt, angry, upset, etc. there is something important to us which we believe has been compromised. To take responsibility for our feelings, instead of focusing our thoughts on other people, we look only at ourselves to try to understand the cause of our reaction. (An exception to this general statement is if we are physically hurt by someone.)

When we do this, we learn about ourselves. We find out what beliefs and values we hold sacred. Most of these were probably instilled upon us as children. When we were young, we generally either were not permitted to adopt our own beliefs and values, or we never considered doing so. But part of our responsibility as adults is to examine our beliefs and values to see which are causing us unhappiness.

By examining ourselves, we open the door to making changes which will make us happier. If we only focus on those outside us who we erroneously think are "making" us feel what we feel, we will get caught up in trying to change them. We will try in vain to hold them responsible and them accountable for our feelings. Such an approach is sure to bring frustration, as all of us who have tried it can attest!

Taking personal responsibility for our feelings, on the other hand, is tremendously empowering. When we take responsibility, we take control. We acknowledge that we are in charge and that others don't make us do or feel things. Instead, we see that everything we do is a choice based on our needs, our beliefs, our values, our fears, and desires.

Taking Care of Our Emotions

Another aspect of responsibility is to nurture our own emotions and mental health. By taking care of our mental health we raise our level of happiness and lower our likelihood of physical illness. Besides that, by taking care of ourselves, we are actually in a better position to help others. If we are miserable, for example, we can be of little help to anyone seeking happiness. Likewise, when we are unhappy or unhealthy we are a burden to others. Therefore, we must take care of ourselves. The three primary ways we do this are by:

1. Not hurting ourselves

2. Accepting our feelings

3. Setting our boundaries

1. Not hurting ourselves- A simple, but often overlooked, responsibility in caring for ourselves, is to not hurt ourselves. The truth in the saying that we are our own worst enemies is a sad reflection of pervasive low self-esteem. Many people needlessly go through life at war with themselves. On one hand they say:

I have to... I should... I am expected to ... I have an obligation to... I am supposed to... I must... It's my duty to...I need to...

On the other hand they are saying and feeling:

I don't want to... I hate... I can't ...I resent having to... I feel obligated... I feel trapped... I feel guilty... I feel forced...I mustn't... I shouldn't..

If we are benevolent caretakers of our own emotions, we learn to become our own best friends rather than worst enemies. But how does one treat a friend? A good starting point is found in the physician's Hippocratic oath:

First, do no harm.

The vast majority of us, however, violate this rule in these five ways:

1. Judging ourselves - That was a stupid thing I did. - I am too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short. - I shouldn't feel this way.

2. Questioning ourselves & regretting our choices - Why didn't I think of this sooner? - How could I have been so dumb? - What is wrong with me?

3. Labeling ourselves - I am a loser, a failure, an idiot, a klutz, a disaster

4. Limiting and imprisoning ourselves - This is just the way I am. I could never ... - I'll never change.

5. Discouraging ourselves - There is no point in trying. I'll probably fail.

All of the above is beating yourself up, i.e., self-abuse. You wouldn't do that to someone you really cared for...would you?

2. Accepting our feelings - Accepting our feelings means simply allowing ourselves to feel what we feel without judging, ignoring, defending or denying our feelings. Whatever we feel is real to us at that moment, and it is always smart to accept reality rather than try to fight it.

Accepting and acknowledging our negative feelings, for example, immediately triggers our upper brain to work on possible remedies. This may occur at the subconscious level, but it does occur, so long as you acknowledge the feeling. Accepting your feelings is a big part of self-acceptance; and self-acceptance is universally proposed as a first step to all personal growth.

3. Setting boundaries - After you have accepted your feelings, you can use them to help you set the personal boundaries that are right for you. Only you can know what feels right for you and what you feel comfortable with. Therefore, only you can be responsible for setting your boundaries. By clearly expressing your feelings you let people know "where they stand." When you are uncomfortable about something, simply say "I feel uncomfortable about this," or, "I don't feel good about this." If you choose to, explain why you feel the way you do. Be aware, however, that feeling the need to defend your feelings may either be a sign that your feelings are being questioned by someone, or that you feel insecure in expressing them.

Most people will respect our boundaries or try to reach a compromise with us if we clearly express our feelings. It is our responsibility, though, to communicate our feelings rather than expect them to read our minds or just "know" what is acceptable and what is not. Part of EQ is knowing how to express ourselves in an assertive, but not aggressive way. If we do not make our boundaries clear, we are partially responsible if someone crosses them.

At the same time, if we have clearly expressed our feelings and someone repeatedly disrespects them, it is helpful to ask ourselves what kind of relationship we want to have with them. In other words, we ask: "Is this worth it?" Until we have become aware of our feelings and can accurately predict them, it will be difficult to answer that question. But whatever we decide, if we realize that we are making a conscious choice, we are less likely to later feel resentful or bitter. In the same way, if we have bitter feelings about something that has already happened, it helps to look for the ways we contributed to the situation. When we do this we take the focus off of blaming others, and we are able to learn about ourselves to prevent a future recurrence. Accepting responsibility helps us learn. The process of learning not only empowers us, but it helps release the resentment, bitterness, disappointment we are feeling towards others.

Responsibility to Others

Living in a free society requires that we respect each other's needs. The respect for another person's needs is actually not only a responsibility, but it is in our own best interest in the long run. This is because others tend to treat us as we treat them. Additionally, if we treat others irresponsibly, they will eventually band together and restrain us, causing us to lose our freedom.

Do No Harm - The first responsibility to others is the same as that to ourselves: Do no harm. From an emotional standpoint this means to not damage the self-esteem of other people. At the same time, there will be occasions when not saying something is equivalent to allowing someone to hurt herself. In other words, since silence can mean tacit approval, you may be enabling someone's unhealthy behavior by standing idly by while she continues on a course of self-destruction. At such difficult times, compassion, empathy, and other EQ skills will help keep the relationship together while the truth is presented.

There are many ways you can harm someone psychologically but perhaps the most lethal is invalidation. Invalidation is the rejection, repudiation, denial, diminishment, or judgment of someone's feelings. It is so damaging and so prevalent that an entire chapter has been devoted to it. Here, let me just stress that invalidation is extremely harmful to someone's self- esteem and emotional welfare.

Honesty is the Best Policy - Another responsibility we each have to one another is to be honest. Society relies on truthful communication. Without truth, commitments cannot be relied upon, information cannot be trusted, and good decisions cannot be made. Lying and withholding information is manipulative and controlling.

All of this applies to the communication and expression of emotions. If we do not honestly express our feelings, others cannot know where they stand. Thus they are unable to make decisions which are in their best interests.

Not only does honest expression of feelings help others, but it helps us build close relationships, since few people want to associate with those who can't or won't express their true intentions.


To summarize, we act responsibly when we:

  • Do no harm to ourselves or others.
  • Take responsibility for our values, beliefs, and thoughts.
  • Take responsibility for our own emotions.
  • Take responsibility for our own happiness.
  • Do not blame others for our unhappiness.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Validate our emotions & the emotions of others.
  • Communicate our feelings honestly.
On Taking Responsibility for Our Feelings

Quote From Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz

To take responsibility for our lives means making a profound change in the way we approach everything. We do everything we can to avoid this change, this responsibility. We would much rather blame someone or something for making us feel unhappy than take the steps to make us feel better. We even talk about our own feelings as if they were visitors from outer space. We say, "This feeling came over me," as if we were helpless creatures overwhelmed by mysterious forces, instead of simply saying, "I felt that way."

We speak as if our feelings change from sunny to stormy like the weather, over which we have no control. This meteorological view of our emotions is very useful; it takes us off the hook for the way we feel. We diminish ourselves, just in order to push away the chance of choice.

You must be able to see the ways you are pulling yourself down and decide that isn't what you want to do.

From Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz How to Be Your Own Best Friend, page pp 25-26

Do Schools Teach Responsibility?

Notes from my journal April 15, 2012

I met a young traveller from Belgium and we got into a long discussion about schools. He believes schools teach us to be responsible. I am not so sure about that. I think they probably teach more obedience than responsibility and possibly even make us more irresponsible in some ways.

Dave from Belgum - Met in Satun, Thailand 2012

Feb 2015 Note - I am not even sure what people mean when they say "teach responsibility" - it doesn't seem like something you teach. It seems more like love or other emotions.

If a person feels responsible for somethiing... -- I think about what that means or might mean

We can try to make someone feel guilty and therefore "responsible" ...

It seems similar to teaching someone they have to do their "duty."

It seems to me if someone's needs are met they will automatically be "responsible". But it really needs a lot more thought...more than I can give now.

S. Hein