In my work over the years I have watched countless individuals struggle with accountability. I’ve watched men and women alike defend, justify, deny and rationalize their poor behaviors time and time again. I’ve even watched people blame their poor behavior on others. What is evident after working with so many individuals and couples over the years is that many people struggle with fully taking responsibility for their actions and simply being accountable.
It’s as though people have been told that if they admit to anything, there will be hell to pay. The hell to pay is not always from the other person though. Sometimes, the hell is within the person. If they acknowledge their humanity even in the slightest bit, they begin to feel a huge internal struggle. Often this internal struggle stems from childhood. If there was pressure on them to succeed, thrive and be perfect then acknowledging any mistake leads them to feel less than perfect and ultimately flawed. If they were raised in an aggressive family then admitting to one’s mistakes could’ve meant harsh punishment. In aggressive families, it was therefore best to keep your mouth shut and not admit to anything. In other families if someone admitted to doing something, others may have retaliated or hold their admission against them endlessly. The set up for a lack of accountability could show up in many ways, however the bottom line is this set up truly harms relationships.
We all will benefit from learning to just say, “My bad. I’m so sorry.” Too often our reluctance to saying we screwed up makes the original screw up magnified by a hundred. The truth is none of us is perfect, all of us make mistakes and every single human being on our planet will continue to make mistakes. Trying to cover up these mistakes though is the worst thing we can do. Usually people know when we’ve made a blunder and our denial, defensiveness or counter attacks, do not change what they know. Our pull to self protect by denying what we did only buries us deeper. When we finally dare to be honest about our mistakes, to be accountable for our behavior and to attempt to repair any damage we may have caused, we can actually become more freed up from shame than ever before. Once we accept our humanity and stop hiding behind a veil of defensiveness and denial, we can relax into our life—warts and all.
Honing the skill of being accountable is one of the most life-changing skills I’ve learned. It has allowed me to have more compassion for myself as well as others. What a gift. The pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect, have it all together, show no flaws etc., is a heavy load to carry. Letting go of perfection and looking “good” is like releasing a hundred pound weight from our shoulders. Being accountable is worth the effort…and it deepens relationships.
Challenge: The next time someone tells you they were hurt by something you did or said, listen for the truth in what they’re telling you. Pause for a moment before responding, breathe and then step in being fully accountable. Own what you did, apologize for it and repair it if possible. Do this with no defending, rationalizing, minimizing or justifying what you did. Pat yourself on the back when you are able to do this. Well done.