06 May The responsibility | Part A’
We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them. This statement may seem idiotically tautological or self-evident, yet it is seemingly beyond the comprehension of much of the human race. This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying “It’s not my problem.” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.”
But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem.”
The extent to which people will go psychologically to avoid assuming responsibility for personal problems, while always sad, is sometimes almost ludicrous
Neuroses and Character Disorders
Most people are suffering from what is called either a neurosis or a character disorder.
Put most simply, these two conditions are disorders of responsibility, and as such they are opposite styles of relating to the world and its problems. The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough. When neurotics are in conflict with the world they automatically assume that they are at fault. When those with character disorders are in conflict with the world they automatically assume that the world is at fault. The two individuals just described had character disorders: the sergeant felt that his drinking was Okinawa’s fault, not his, and the wife also saw herself as playing no role whatsoever in her own isolation.
A neurotic woman, on the other hand, also suffering from loneliness and isolation on Okinawa, complained: “I drive over to the Non-Commissioned Officers’ Wives Club every day to look for friendship, but I don’t feel at ease there. I think that the other wives don’t like me. Something must be wrong with me. I should be able to make friends more easily. I ought to be more outgoing. I want to find out what it is about me that makes me so unpopular.” This woman assumed total responsibility for her loneliness, feeling she was entirely to blame. What she found out in the course of therapy was that she was an unusually intelligent and ambitious person and that she was ill at ease with the other sergeants’ wives, as well as with her husband, because she was considerably more intelligent and ambitious than they. She became able to see that her loneliness, while her problem, was not necessarily due to a fault or defect of her own. Ultimately she was divorced, put herself through college while raising her children, became a magazine editor, and married a successful publisher.
Even the speech patterns of neurotics and those with character disorders are different. The speech of the neurotic is notable for such expressions as “I ought to,” “I should,” and “I shouldn’t,” indicating the individual’s self-image as an inferior man or woman, always falling short of the mark, always making the wrong choices. The speech of a person with a character disorder, however, relies heavily on “I can’t,” “I couldn’t,” “I have to,” and “I had to,” demonstrating a self-image of a being who has no power of choice, whose behavior is completely directed by external forces totally beyond his or her control. As might be imagined, neurotics, compared with character-disordered people, are easy to work with in psycho-therapy because they assume responsibility for their difficulties and therefore see themselves as having problems. Those with character disorders are much more difficult, if not impossible, to work with because they don’t see themselves as the source of their problems; they see the world rather than themselves as being in need of change and therefore fail to recognize the necessity for self-examination. In actuality, many individuals have both a neurosis and a character disorder and are referred to as “character neurotics,” indicating that in some areas of their lives they are guilt-ridden by virtue of having assumed responsibility that is not really theirs, while in other areas of their lives they fail to take realistic responsibility for themselves.
Fortunately, once having established the faith and trust of such individuals in the psycho-therapy process through helping them with the neurotic part of their personalities, it is often possible then to engage them in examining and correcting their unwillingness to assume responsibility where appropriate.
The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence. It is never completely solved; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events. Nor is this assessment and reassessment painless if performed adequately and conscientiously. To perform either process adequately we must possess the willingness and the capacity to suffer continual self-examination. And such capacity or willingness is not inherent in any of us.
In a sense all children have character disorders, in that their instinctual tendency is to deny their responsibility for many conflicts in which they find themselves. Thus two siblings fighting will always blame each other for initiating the fight and each will totally deny that he or she may have been the culprit. Similarly, all children have neuroses, in that they will instinctually assume responsibility for certain deprivations that they experience but do not yet understand. Thus the child who is not loved by his parents will always assume himself or herself to be unlovable rather than see the parents as deficient in their capacity to love. Or early adolescents who are not yet successful at dating or at sports will see themselves as seriously deficient human beings rather than the late or even average but perfectly adequate bloomers they usually are.
The Road Less Traveled
Image: comedian Marc Maron, image by Seth Olenick