The Unmarked Road

Life On The Other Side Of Mental Illness

Taking Responsibility For Our Reactions

We often get upset or offended by things other people say to us. Sometimes it’s justified, but sometimes we overreact, which says more about our own insecurities than about the offender’s intentions. In fact if we’re completely honest with ourselves, more often than not do we attach all kinds of hidden meanings and ulterior motives to the thing that has offended us, and rather than take responsibility and ownership of the arising negative emotion, we feel victimised and lash out externally. We project whatever insecurity has been stirred within us, on to the sometimes innocent offender .

I was once someone like that. I felt like bad things and bad people were happening to me. I blamed others for making me feel in a negative way because of things they said or did to me. And it felt like this was happening ALL THE TIME. But it was out of my control right?

Well I got sick of wallowing in self-pity, no matter how justified my feelings were, and so I started to look at the common denominator; and it was me. I decided I no longer wanted to be a victim. I wanted more say over my life and how I was feeling over the things I had no control over. Blaming others for how I felt may have been easier, but it wasn’t making me happy, and I realised I needed to start taking more responsibility for  myself. I knew  I couldn’t control what people said or did to me, so what could I do?

Looking inwards, changing; these are painful processes. But only by being brutally honest with yourself can you start to change. Like I said; you will never be able to control most of what happens to you. So what can you control?

The first thing we have to do is recognise and understand that we are all 100% responsible for our lives and how we experience it. Note that responsibility is not the same thing as fault. It is only when we learn to do this (and I still find it hard at times especially when I feel someone’s done me wrong!) that we can start to engineer the outcomes that we want in spite of anything negative going on around us. You can either allow things happen to you, or you can start to make things happen for you. Of course you cannot control what people say or do. Hard as we try, we cannot even control how we feel.

The only thing you have power over is yourself and how you react to things. How will you use what’s happened to your advantage or at the very least not let it ruin your peace of mind!

Of course I am not perfect. I have insecurities which I succumb to. Let me give you an example of what I mean with something that happened not two weeks ago:

Hubby and I were walking through the park and I, as usual, am complaining about my thighs (we were in Sydney where everyone is super fit and healthy!) Now this particular time I was agonising over the fact that, even when I lose weight, it never shifts off my bottom and legs, and how different that was to 5 years ago – the joys of turning 30. Hubby turns and says innocently, “Well that’s because you haven’t done anything.”

Immediately I’m cross and stomp off. Hubby looks on confused and hurt.

Of course I know he didn’t intend to hurt my feelings, but I’m stung none the less. Doesn’t he know how much I’ve done in the run up to the wedding?! How I didn’t stop! How dare he say I’ve not done anything!

In one fell swoop I had attached my insecurities  – my negative emotions – to a statement that was in fact not far from true and certainly not loaded with hidden meaning and intention that I had decided to bestow on it.

Was it an insensitive comment? Maybe. Did my husband mean to hurt my feelings? Of course not! And that was what was important. The intent; something which can mean the difference between murder and manslaughter in a court of law.

Once I explained my reaction – rather than expressing it by sulking further  – he was of course mortified to have upset me, and I in turn felt foolish for having got upset.

In the past, I may have blamed him for my being upset for the rest of the day, thereby ruining it for myself over something that was a silly thoughtless comment. And that would have been my own doing. I am able to choose how I react and I wanted to enjoy my day out with my  husband.

And aren’t we all guilty of being insensitive at times? How often do we actually intend to hurt someone? Lack of intent doesn’t make us less guilty but we are just as responsible for our reactions as our actions. Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes can help give a situation objectivity that is often clouded by negative emotions which do not serve us at all.

Had there been an intention to hurt my feelings – well he wouldn’t be my husband. Anyone who intends to harm me isn’t worth my time and energy and actually, acts of unkindness say more about the person doing/saying them than who they’re aimed at.

So next time, before you react to something or someone you feel has done you wrong, ask yourself if there is truly an intent to offend, or are you projecting your issues? Are you in danger of overreacting? If like me you do succumb to a little overreaction (and we’re allowed, we’re only human!) then always be humble enough to apologise. I have the utmost respect for people who are able to not just recognise their own faults, but are man enough to hold their hands up and say “I’m sorry.”

If you truly believe that someone intends to offend you, are they really worth getting upset or angry over? Hopefully you have not got people in your life who truly try to hurt you. One of the hardest things in life is to remove toxic people, to know you deserve nothing but kindness and love from those you choose to let in your heart.

But it ultimately comes down to one simple decision you have to make for yourself. You can either forever blame others for feeling crappy, or you can start taking ownership, rise above it and be in the driving seat of your existence instead of just a passenger or victim of your emotions.

Still not convinced? Try to remember the last time you got really upset by something someone said or did to you. How much did your reaction effect  them? How much did it effect you?


  1. I get upset, but I try to move on. Cold fries though suck… 😉

  2. Wow! You’ve come an incredibly long way in a very short time from when I used to tell you that everyone is responsible for their own thoughts and actions and you’d jump in my face for that! I am SOOO impressed because not only have you grasped the main idea of being finally grown up (and it is so hard to not only understand this important mindset but to actually put it into practice), but you have also put it into understandable words and have added examples so other people can understand it and may be able to use it so it may help them. It is the ONE important thought to live by as a mature and adult person and I was told this a long time ago by my Prof. at university – and I haven’t always been able to follow it through to its conclusion myself, not by a long shot. It is very hard to live by because you really have to take responsibility for your own life in its entirety and it’s so much easier to blame others, as you have yourself found in the past. I’m very proud of you because you have obviously internalised it (much farther than I have probably) and if this can help other people to take responsibility of their life as well, we will become a better world!

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