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The Double Edged Sword of Taking Responsibility

June 5, 2019  | 

{3:30 minutes to read} In a previous post, I wrote about the enormous impact that a sincere apology could have on another person. There is, though, a very significant step that must come first.

Taking Responsibility for Our Actions

Sometimes, the intentions behind the words said or the actions taken are crystal clear, and it is impossible to say with any semblance of credibility — “I didn’t mean to do that.”
 
More often, though, it’s a situation in which you may not have intended the consequences that resulted from the words said or the actions taken. And you also may not feel that you should be blamed by the other person. But whether we intend them to occur or not, consequences can result from what is said and done, and accepting responsibility for those actions is a necessary step before you can give, and hopefully reap the benefits from, a meaningful apology.
 
Clearly, the stakes are so much higher emotionally when it involves a soon-to-be ex-spouse. And that only makes it even more difficult to admit a wrong, accept responsibility, and avoid adding that “but” to “yes, I did that.” 
 
It’s Not All the Other Person’s Fault 
 

While it’s true that many actions taken are in reaction to something someone else did or said, that doesn’t automatically give you a pass to behave badly. For one thing, you may have acted under a misinterpretation of what the other did. And, to channel my mother, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” While It’s understandable to become focused on the fault of someone else, you are still responsible for what you do. 

Keeping in mind that it’s a pretty rare situation in which one person is 100% at fault, it will make it very difficult for you to be willing to compromise at all if you feel you are totally blameless. And that will make for a problematic mediation.

It’s Also Not All Your Fault

As important as it is that you accept responsibility for your actions, it’s also important that you have an objective point of view as to what is not your responsibility to assume. It’s not helpful to lay all blame on yourself, and when I see a client doing that and giving in to the other’s demands out of guilt for an actual or perceived wrong committed, I’m concerned that down the road there will be resentment over the concessions the client made.

I have had clients who were so consumed with guilt that they made poor choices. As the mediator, I can reality test and point out the ramifications of accepting terms that will have serious financial consequences in the future, and have a discussion as to why they are agreeing to those terms — but the choice is always the client’s.

If you recognize that you may be accepting either none or all the blame in the relationship, you can then work on assessing what truly is your fault. Sometimes talking to someone else can help. Once that is established, you can make and accept proposals that are not based on wanting to punish the other or relieve your own guilt.

Clare Piro Attorney and Mediator

Attorney & Mediator
500 Mamaroneck Avenue | Suite 320
Harrison, NY 10528
Tel: 914.946.0848

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