(Reprinted from a now defunct web site of mine. Originally released October 11, 2011)
I started learning a lesson back in my twenties that has stayed with me through several decades. That lesson has to do with taking responsibility for our own actions and decisions in life. I was first exposed to this basic concept while I was working in an emergency shelter for teenage girls. It was a temporary shelter where the girls who had been brought there by county social workers were supposed to transition out of our facility within thirty days. So I met and bonded with hundreds of teenage girls during the years I worked there. Most of these girls had been removed from their homes because of abuse--physical, sexual, emotional--or the threat of it. Some were taken from homes where they had been greatly neglected. A few of the girls were considered status offenders, usually because they had run away from home to get away from the abuse they had been experiencing.
If anyone had a "right" to blame others for their lot in life, these girls certainly did, and yet I started learning then that the best way to help them (and myself too) was to encourage them to take responsibility for their own actions. That's when I started on that path, but somewhere along the way, I slipped back into old ways of thinking that someone else was to blame for at least some of the difficulties I was facing in life. While blame could certainly be attached to my father for giving my family a difficult start in life, now that I am an adult, I have to let go of that, heal it, forgive him, and make my own way. I have done this over and over and over again. That's the way it is with taking responsibility. You have to own up to your life and the events in it, and not just once. As many times as it takes, daily even, until you truly get it. Sure, there are a few things you might not be able to control or change, but most things you do control, not by controlling others but by acknowledging that you are the one who is drawing all your life experiences to yourself.
You may not be able to control the fact that someone in your life is an abusive person, but you do control whether or not you stick around for the abuse. If you stick around, you might as well be signing an approval waiver for that person, and anyone else for that matter, to treat you badly. If a person is so abusive that you feel that your life or the life of your child is in danger, then run to whatever helping hands are available to get yourself and/or children out of the danger zone. It's not your job to make someone else take responsibility for themselves, but it is your job to take responsibility for your own life and those who are in your charge who are incapable of defending themselves--children, pets, or invalids in your care. Get out and get to safety. Then you have to begin the task of building a life for yourself and your dependents that will better reflect what you truly want in your life. If you don't know what you want, then start by wanting the negative parts to change for the better. You'll figure out soon what "better" means to you. Then you have to own the power you have to change your world. Don't worry about the rest of the world in the beginning. Get your own life to a better place before you start to try helping others get there. You will inevitably get to that point, but wait until you and your family are in a place of safety before you reach out a hand to help someone else. Otherwise you'll end up repeating the pattern of putting yourself last, which is how you got to a place of danger in the beginning. First get yourself and your family established then you can reach out to help the next person behind you.
So that's where you start. That's where we all start. We open our eyes to all the bad stuff, and good stuff too, in our lives and realize that we have the power to create something better than what we have. Once you became an adult (sometimes earlier), you were given the keys to freedom, whether you took them or not. They were there in your hands. The next part of your life is figuring out which key opens which prison door. That's where the responsibility kicks in. You can stay in your family-made, religion-made, society-made, or self-made prison, or you can choose to use the keys to freedom that are in your possession. Start with one key at a time until you find the right key to unlock the corresponding locks on your prison doors. You may have to try more than one, but one of them will fit and will help you walk into the freedom that awaits you. What are you waiting for? Now is the best time to start owning up to your participation in your imprisonment. Now is the best time to start figuring out what it will take to get yourself to a better place. Take responsibility for yourself. Let go of blame. Let go of shame. Take aim and go.