The Terror of Responsibility
Responsibility terrifies me. It always has. I viscerally fear it, and yet I bring as much of it into my life as possible. I’m about to embark on a new chapter of undoubtedly the greatest level of responsibility and leadership I’ve taken in my life. It’s worth freaking out about, and completely natural to fear responsibility.
First, let’s define Responsibility:
- the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management.
- the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.
- the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone.
Why does responsibility invoke fear?
Why not anger? Why not apathy? Excitement? Confusion?
That which invokes fear invokes threat of death or injury. That’s how our neural-circuitry is wired. That’s what I believe may be at the root of my own fear of responsibility.
If I am responsible for my own life, and nobody is coming to save me, that’s a terrifying reality to confront if I have not yet confronted it. There is a binary state of awareness of this fundamental truth. Either we see it and come to accept it, or we live in ignorance of it. To live in ignorance of that truth is to cling to childhood unconsciously.
Taking responsibility for myself, my actions, my thoughts, and my values signals a death of childhood to my nervous system. I am no longer able to rely on my parents to take responsibility for me. And so every incremental step I take to adopt more responsibility floods my nervous system with the same fear. Taking responsibility kills off the past self, such that the higher self can emerge.
That’s why I fear it. I’m afraid of confronting my human potential, which I know I don’t measure up to. I’m afraid that I’m not worthy of even reaching for it.
A Simple Remedy: Exposure Therapy
Each time I have voluntarily confronted my fear of responsibility by adopting more of it, I have become stronger. I have become more confident in my capacity for responsibility. I have stretched, grown, and become more mature in my understanding of life.
I’ve also self-sabotaged hundreds of times, have damaged my self-esteem and my relationships, have failed myself and others, have acted directly against what I claim to be my values, and have withdrawn from responsibility out of sheer terror.
Still, the overall trajectory has been positive.
The more self-aware I become, the more self-accepting I am, and the quicker I am to forgive myself, the less harmful each pitfall in my journey to adopt responsibility becomes. I fear it less and less. Terror becomes rare. Fear becomes less intense. I’m even able to feel grateful (on rare occasions) for the responsibilities I have today.
It’s been an on-going process. It was never easy, and still isn’t.
Exposing myself to responsibility voluntarily by taking on a management position in my career, or quitting drugs and alcohol, or moving to a new city is precisely what has helped me grow accustomed to responsibility.
Each time it’s still frightening. But it’s less frightening with time. I am seeing a light at the end of the tunnel where my default reaction isn’t terror. Perhaps instead gratitude will take root. Sounds like a long shot, but we’ll see.
A Word of Caution
Do not take on too much responsibility at once, particularly early in your journey, unless you have damn good reason to expect you can handle it.
5 months ago, I ended a romantic relationship, quit my job, started a company, and started sobriety – all at the same time.
That was too much for me. I changed too many variables simultaneously. Suddenly I found myself with no concrete schedule, no clear direction, great emotional turmoil – without a good source of emotional support I’d grown accustomed to.
When you take on new responsibility, and you know it’s going to challenge you, take it one step at a time. You don’t have to change everything all the time. You have permission to take baby steps. An incremental improvement each day over the course of 365 days can create exponential growth in your personal life, spiritual life, finances – you name it.
Just be careful, trust your gut, and give yourself a little grace the next time you fuck up.
That’s all. Hope this helps someone.