Owning the Problem Is the Nature of Personal Responsibility

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If we don’t work on ourselves to understand our true nature, we will never understand human nature in others

Personal responsibility is the practice of managing our ego and recognizing that not doing so is a lack of self-awareness, and thus limiting of one’s personal growth and social well-being. When you realize that the ego prefers excuses as a way to shift responsibility onto others, then you will see why the ego — left unchecked — creates a “me versus you” or “us versus them” binary construct.

When you over-identify with something you abdicate personal responsibility in the form of blindness to the infinite variety of all things.

The more we defend who we are, the more we create a tension of binary opposition and opposites. The more you tell a narrative of your own life that takes place outside of yourself, the more you create a story that details the ‘who’ and ‘what’ that made all of this happen to you, supposedly without will or consent.

The more your story spirals away from the centre, the greater your web of excuses becomes for your past actions and behaviours, and why your life is the way it is today, why you still can’t get what you want, and why you simply cannot change.

Wow! Do you feel that? Does it feel like I’m laying the blame for the circumstances of your life square on your shoulders?

If it does, just understand that I’m not blaming you, but you are now starting to wake up to the truth that’s inside of you, the one you haven’t owned up to. By ‘owning up to’ I mean that when you own your truth you’re taking personal responsibility for every part of your life.

Admittedly, this sounds complicated. I am not saying that you are individually responsible for horrible acts that someone did to you in the past No, that’s not what this means. We cannot control the actions of others. Instead,

Personal responsibility is the awareness, recognition, and acceptance of owning the problem.

Another way of saying that is: only you can make your own life-defining choices to live authentically, to live truthfully, and to make a difference in the world. But that can only happen when you accept everything that has ever happened to you as, ‘what is’ and nothing more.

This may feel like a difficult pill to swallow, but I think it’s a core way of thinking and looking at the world as queer people. The only way we are going to improve our place in the world is to be agents of change and that starts with personal responsibility. That is what will make us leaders of evolutionary change.

Personal responsibility is the ultimate self-love

Love of the self is not about blame. It is certainly not about self-blame or blaming others. Self-love is ego-less and allows others in; it allows us to accept and love others for who they are and not for what they did or what they might do. Love of the self leads to a greater connection with others instead of opposition and defensiveness.

Think about it: what has happened cannot be changed. What can change is what you do at this moment to free yourself of the constraint of the ego that has chained you to past events, be that something you did, or something someone did to you.

I have a personal philosophy that I have held strong for the last 25 years: I am fully and completely responsible for all of my actions and choices. Where and who I am in my life right now is a product of all of my decisions. I cannot blame anyone or anything for my circumstances. Nor can I blame myself.

The last statement is something of a mind-twist: If I blame myself then I am a victim and thus I would not believe in personal responsibility. I believe that this is a philosophy the world needs to adopt at an individual level to affect social change in the area of more loving-kindness.

Self-love offers certainty without a defensive posture.

It is a form of acceptance, connection, and care with the neutrality of being that others see and feel. It’s like a kind of energy that takes others off their guard and lets them feel safe enough to remove their egotistical defence shields.

”So somebody comes along and gets to me. They get me angry or uptight or they awaken some desire in me, wow am I delighted. They got me. And that’s my work on myself. If I am angry with you because your behaviour doesn’t fit my model of how you should be, that’s my problem for having models. No expectations, no upset. If you are a liar and a cheat, that’s your Karma. If I’m cheated, that’s my work on myself.”

Ram Dass

This work is arduous because other people exist in the world who don’t understand the value and importance of personal responsibility. Likewise, they may have never felt the liberating freedom of personal responsibility.

Wait! What? Isn’t that a paradox? How can self-work be freeing? How can owning my problems be liberating?

The answer is simple: the ego is a container, a constraint, and a prison.

The more you feed it, the bigger and stronger it becomes; the taller and thicker become its walls. The more we create an “us versus them” — a “left versus right” or a “normal versus degenerate” — worldview, the more society becomes a monster of collective, defensive tribal egos.

Personal responsibility is freedom from the status quo — the egotistical container — be it at the level of the self or sitting wholly liberated within the confines of an ego-constructed societal box.

We do care about what other people think about us, but we care most about the opinions of the people we care most about. We cannot detach ourselves from that very human fact but we experience greater personal responsibility when we focus our energy on caring first for ourselves to allow others to more easily care about us.

The brain has developed so that we care about what other people think of us.

Anyone who tells you, “I don’t care what other people think of me,” is simply ignorant about human behaviour. The anterior cingulate cortex, also referred to as our mammalian brain, helps us create feelings for what matters most to us, to feel a connection to others, and to feel accepted and cared for by those we care about and love. This process begins at birth through inherent behavioural patterns developed between mother and child during child-rearing.

Imagine two scenarios. In one, the mother or the parental unit attend to the needs of the newborn in the most loving ways possible. The infant learns to trust the parents and feels safe, cared for, and bonded to and connected with its care-givers. Over the longer-term of childhood and adolescent development, if this type of loving care and connection continues, imagine how emotionally secure that child will become.

In the opposite scenario, the child is neglected, unloved, and suffers from a lack of caring touch, and emotional support. If that continues over the child’s life, the child will grow up fearful and constantly seeking acceptance and connection with others to fill a void.

What does personal responsibility have to do with all this?

Personal responsibility is the product of our thinking or human brain known as the pre-frontal cortex. This is where we can reason, think about the future for how we can improve our lives and come up with creative solutions to make our plans a reality. The more we were loved and supported, and developed emotional connections with our caregivers and those in our family unit, the easier it is to respond to the world around us with logic instead of reacting at the level of our “animal” brains.

Personal responsibility within this framework is a product of our human thinking brain that helps us to accept and understand our upbringing, how that plays out when we are in reactive mode, and how we can manage our “unconscious” needs.

If you grew up with very little love and emotional connection, or felt completely disconnected and unaccepted by others, your default brain state will be much more reactive. You might think people are always out to criticize or judge you and you will spend more time “out of your human mind,” stuck in the behavioural patterns of the mammalian brain which is trying to satisfy its need for security, comfort, and social connection.

What I have come to understand about myself, and what I have come to witness when other people viciously attack someone else on social media, or in comments to an article, as a simple example, is that they are coming from a place of little or no personal responsibility.

Personal attacks based on the idea of, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” are manifestations of an unchecked ego.

Without a strongly developed sense of personal responsibility, you will always struggle with your unconscious programming to defend your need for acceptance, connection, and personal safety. When someone says or writes something you disagree with you fly off the handle and attack.

Been there, done that! Which is why, in part, I know of what I speak.

Learning to become aware of your true nature as a human being is part of the liberating process of personal responsibility.

You can rewrite your past programming with the awareness of what you want to change, a strong enough intention — or importance — to manifest that change empowered by emotions (to increase the level of importance), and enough repetition over a long enough period to create the new patterns and behaviours that will improve your life, your connection with others, and ultimately your happiness, joy, and contentment.


Imagine leading from your difference — from your queerness — to create a more loving and accepting world.

You have within you the knowledge and wisdom to overcome personal struggles and inequality. Learn how to love and accept yourself without conditions and you will be loved, appreciated, and respected by others. Find out more about my personal liberation coaching here.

Image credit Sean MacEntee

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Darren is a leadership coach in Toronto, Canada who helps his clients to connect and embrace their uniqueness and freely create the life they want. He writes and podcasts regularly about Queer Leadership.