Principle #5: The Principle of Responsibility as Empowerment

Principle #5: The Principle of Responsibility as Empowerment

Everyone who has been on a personal growth path for any length of time has been told that “you are the creator of your world” or “you are not a victim” or some variation thereof. Most would agree to both statements if asked. However, when in a real-life situation where something happens we don’t like, even those who “have been meditating 75 years” or “knew Werner Erhardt personally and helped design all his trainings” or who claim to have taken every personal growth course and read every self-help book on Earth (twice), begin blaming something outside of themselves for what has happened.

Giving lip service to these principles is not going to be helpful to you. Intelligent and sophisticated rationalizations to convince yourself and others that you are not responsible for what is happening are not going to help you, either.

Why? Because until you realize that you create your experience of your world, including every happiness and every suffering, you will be at the “effect” end of the cause and effect process. You, and your experience of life, will be controlled by and at the whim of whatever is happening around you. Your only chance for happiness will be to find perfect circumstances and to find a way to keep them that way. And you know, if you think about it, how likely that is.

The truth is, you are responsible for every feeling or behavior you have, in the sense that it is either your chosen response to something that happens, or is an automatic unconscious response based on the way your internal map of reality has been structured.

This is very different from saying you are to blame for every feeling or behavior you have. Taking personal responsibility is not about blame but rather about personal power. If someone or something outside of you is the cause of how you feel or behave, you are powerless – a victim. If you, or at least your unconscious processes, are at cause, you have power and can do something to change the situation to one that is happier and more peaceful. Things outside of you may be a stimulus for you, but how you respond comes from you, either consciously or unconsciously.

You can live in a world where other people or events cause you to feel the way you feel, but there is a price. The price is that you will feel bad a great deal of the time. Or, you can choose to totally take responsibility for every feeling you have and every behavior you have. Having done so, you suddenly are at the “cause” end of the cause and effect process, where you can choose how you feel and how you behave.

If you are making a choice to feel something or to behave in a certain way, you can of course just make the right choice: to feel something that feels good or to behave in a way that has the greatest chance of having a good outcome. But what do you do with all those feelings and behaviors that seem to come unbidden, automatically? Since for most people, even those who are “advanced” seekers, the majority of feelings and behaviors fall into this category, this is a very important question.

First, you have to begin by accepting the main premise of this article, that you ARE responsible for whatever feelings and behaviors you have, even if you cannot directly see how this could be so. Most feelings and behaviors that “happen” to you are conditioned responses, and somewhere, unconsciously, you have been conditioned to feel or behave in a certain way when you are stimulated in a certain way. Perhaps when your father yelled at you as a child, you felt afraid, then angry. Once this has been set up as a conditioned response, like Pavlov’s dogs salivating when they heard the bell announcing dinner, someone yelling at you will cause you to become afraid and then angry. Then there may be a behavior you choose to deal with being angry.

It seems like these emotions are caused by the yelling. They are not. They are triggered by the yelling perhaps, but they are caused by the conditioned response set up in you by your past. Break the conditioned response and you might have a completely different feeling followed by a completely different behavior.

If the only yelling you had ever heard was Groucho yelling at Chico, you might have a conditioned response to laugh every time you heard yelling.

Therapists often describe this phenomenon of exhibiting a certain feeling as a conditioned response due to childhood trauma going into a regressed state. This means someone yells at you now, but you feel like a powerless child even though you are now a much more powerful adult. Again, this is a conditioned response, and the yelling is not causing the feeling, it is merely triggering it.

How can you tell the difference between something that is causing something and something that is triggering something? If there is more than one response, if different people respond in different ways, the stimulus is a trigger. If there is only one possible response, the stimulus is a cause. Pouring water over your head will get your head wet. The water causes the wetness. Everyone who has the water poured over their head will get wet. Yelling at someone could cause anger, laughter, disinterest, puzzlement, fear, or any number of other reactions, depending on the situation, and the conditioned responses of the person being yelled at. Yelling is a trigger, not a cause.

Even though yelling may make you angry, just knowing that it is triggering some conditioned response in you is a start in taking responsibility for what is happening, and will move you toward being able to break the conditioned response and make a different choice.

You want to be moving toward the point where each response you have to each event in your world is a choice. This means you can do what is most resourceful for you, what makes you happiest, most peaceful, and most productive. As long as you are an automatic response mechanism, you cannot do this and are at the whim of events and people around you.

But until you firmly acknowledge that every feeling and every behavior is coming from you, regardless of what stimuli are coming at you from the world, you cannot make any progress toward this goal.

To be able to choose how to feel, to choose the state you are in at any given time, and to choose how you behave, and do all of this so as to be the most resourceful human being you can be in any given moment, is one of the major components of freedom, and is very worth working toward.

How does the Centerpointe program help this process? As you use the program, what was unconscious and out of awareness becomes conscious. Your conscious awareness of what you are doing and why you are doing it increases. The program develops a “witness” part of you that is able to objectively pay attention to everything without being emotionally involved. This is sometimes called expanded awareness, and it allows you to see your conditioned responses for what they are.

Our culture has gravitated toward the popularization of victimhood over the past several decades. No one is responsible for anything that happens to them. Smokers are not responsible for getting lung cancer, shooters of guns are not responsible for firing them, burglars even sue homeowners for injuring themselves while breaking into a house. Criminals are not responsible for crimes they commit because they had an unhappy childhood, or were under the influence of drugs. Battering husbands (or wives) are not responsible for beating their spouses because the other made them angry, or did such and such to them. These are the more extreme cases, but you can, I’m sure, fill in the details from your own life, if you are honest.

At the same time, it is so easy to say “I can’t do ____. I have traumatic stress disorder, ADD, a cold, alcoholism, no money, don’t read well, my father was distant, my mother was smothering, I grew up in the inner city, I grew up in the country, blah, blah, blah.” In this popularization of victimhood, there is an underlying presupposition that it is somehow easier to be a victim, and that taking responsibility would be onerous, difficult, a struggle, too much work.

I am here to tell you that it is being a victim that is onerous, difficult, a struggle, and too much work. Being responsible for everything that happens and for every feeling and behavior is the easy way to live. It is the way to happiness, to inner peace, and to a productive life. It is a way to end all the dramas in your life.

I highly recommend it.

Be well.

Bill Harris
Director, Centerpointe Research Institute

Postscript: (Don’t) Call Me Irresponsible

As I receive correspondence from people using the Centerpointe program, I am continually struck by how difficult it is for people to apply the fifth of my Nine Principles for Happiness & Healing: Responsibility as Empowerment.

People blame me, the program, their past, their family, their financial situation, their heritage, their race, other people, Republicans, big corporations (a favorite), and many other things outside themselves, for whatever they don’t like about their situation.

If you’ll remember, this principle states that your experience of life, in every detail, is created by you. This means it is NOT created by other people, or your circumstances. These things can be a stimulus, but the response that creates your experience of life comes from you, and only you.

Many people give lip service to the idea of personal responsibility, or the idea that we each create our own reality, but when faced with a specific situation where they do not like what is happening, they have trouble taking responsibility for the fact that their response to that specific person or situation comes from within. It is only in each specific situation that this principle can have any beneficial effect on your life. A general rule unapplied is of no use to you.

Why do some people have so much trouble taking responsibility for their experience, and why do I place so much emphasis on this principle?

First, let’s look at why people blame something outside themselves for their experience of life. The first reason this happens is that most people are responding to whatever happens around them unconsciously and automatically. Based on unconscious programming picked up by osmosis during childhood, people place certain meanings on things and then automatically respond to those meanings as if each of these meanings really were intrinsic to the thing in question (they are not). Being an automatic response mechanism robs you of choice, because by placing a meaning on something, you MUST then respond as if that meaning were real, when in fact nothing really has any intrinsic meaning. This is a recipe for suffering if there ever way one.

Wouldn’t it be more fun to be able to choose the response that created the most happiness and inner peace, rather than having your response dictated by unconscious beliefs you did not choose?

The solution to running on automatic is to do regularly perform some kind of psychological or spiritual practice, one that brings what was unconscious into conscious awareness. Meditating with Holosync does this more powerfully than anything I have ever seen, though there are many other ways to do it. Learning how to be the witness, as I described in the last Newsletter, is another powerful way.

Whatever you do, you must learn to see how and why you respond the way you do, decide whether your current responses give you the experience of life you want, and if not, choose something else.

You cannot, of course, do this if your premise is that things outside you cause your experience. In that case, your only hope would be to change those things outside yourself to be the way you want them to be. Good luck.

The second reason people have trouble applying this principle and exercising choice in their responses is that when you run on automatic it really SEEMS as if those people and situations outside of you ARE creating your response. But things are not always what they seem. That things outside of you causes you to have certain feelings and behaviors is nothing more than a mental illusion and you don’t have to believe it. In fact, believing it is a major cause of suffering. Why would you want to believe something that creates suffering?

Just because you are not aware of where a response is coming from (which happens because the response is automatic and coming from an unconscious part of you) does not mean it isn’t coming from something inside of you. Luckily, you don’t have to evaluate each response, one by one, to see where it is coming from (which would be very tedious), because it’s all coming from you. This simple fact takes all the guesswork out of life!

The third reason people don’t take responsibility for their experience of life is they mistakenly think that blaming something outside of themselves is somehow an easier way to live. Unfortunately for them, the opposite is the case. Taking full responsibility for every feeling, every thought, and every action is the EASY way, and blaming something outside of you is actually the hard way.

Why? Because once you take responsibility, if you don’t like the results you’re getting, you can do something to change them. But if something outside of you is to blame, what can you do? In that case, you’re stuck, just a victim of whatever is happening around you-unless you’ve come up with a way to control other people and the rest of the world (if you do figure this one out, be sure to let me know).

One thing I’ve noticed over the 13 years I’ve been helping people through the Centerpointe program is that those who blame their experience of life on something outside themselves continually experience problems, dramas, and suffering, while those who take full responsibility live lives that are smoother, easier, and happier. Why? Because once you take responsibility for everything in your world, you automatically begin to do whatever is necessary to make things work. As long as it’s not your fault, you just blunder along, bouncing from one drama, one mistake, to another. Not taking responsibility creates suffering. Taking responsibility creates solutions.

So the reason I place so much emphasis on this principle of responsibility as empowerment is that without it you are powerless, and you suffer all the consequences that automatically flow from being powerless (and there are quite a few, none of them pleasant).

On the other hand, when you take responsibility, you are all-powerful, you become creative, and you automatically begin to exercise that creative power to create the life you want.

Do I always create the life I want? Nope, I don’t. I still from time to time do things that give me results I do not want. I don’t do it very often, but I have to admit, it does happen. But whenever it does happen, I instantly know who is responsible-me. And as soon as I note to myself that I created an experience I did not want, I stop doing it, because it really is true that you can only create something that isn’t good for you if you do it unconsciously. In that way, I can only create suffering for myself for a very short amount of time.

So this would be a good time to examine yourself and honestly assess what feelings, behaviors, thoughts, and results in your life you have been fooling yourself into thinking are the result of something outside of yourself. Invariably, these areas of your life will be those that aren’t working very well. This is not a coincidence! Take responsibility for these areas of your life, and things will change, I promise.

Keep listening to those Holosync soundtracks, since by doing so all of these principles will begin to mean something to you on an experiential, not just an intellectual, level.

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