Taking Responsibility

By Esther Veltheim

The work we do in BreakThrough is focused on taking responsibility for reactionary behavior as a means of living a more healthy, conscious life. Whether you are familiar with Breakthrough or not, you might find the following helpful as a means of seeing through some of the limiting connotations we have for the concepts of reacting, over-reacting and taking responsibility.

Reactions and over-reactions:

One definition of the word reaction is that it is a spontaneous, non-volitional response. That is, at the moment of a true reaction the sense of being an individual ?having? an experience does not occur. Afterwards, or retrospectively, there might be amazement at the reaction, at which point the reaction is being personalized. One might say that this kind of behavior is then an over-reaction of sorts. But, if we do not dwell on what has happened and take credit or direct blame, then this kind of over-reaction is certainly less damaging than more common reactionary behavior.

A reaction might be one of anger, fear, grief, sadness or joy. And these emotions can, in the moment, be very strong. When they arise as true reactions, they are simply the movement of energy that occurs when the senses meet an object (sight to image, etc.). That is, the reaction is the result of a spontaneous evaluation of the event. The meeting of the senses with their object and the feelings that this evokes are what give us the ability to assess value to an experience and respond accordingly.

A reaction might arise in relation to a memory of a similar event but, in the case of a true reaction, the sense of individuality that went along with this preconditioning is absent. For example, the slamming on of our brakes might happen when a car stops abruptly in front of us. The preconditioning is then a learned response (a memory), but one that evokes spontaneous behavior. We might experience a reaction of momentary fear because we have had a similar experience but, in a reaction, the energy of fear motivates a practical response.

An over-reaction can also occur when the senses meet their object. E.g. the seeing of a charging tiger might evoke fear; the hearing of a certain piece of music can evoke sadness or grief. As is the case when a reaction happens, this expression of emotions might arise in relation to a memory. However, when an over-reaction occurs it is because the evaluation of this experience is colored by personalized memories. Over-reactions are always the result of preconditioned expectations of what might happen, based on past experiences.

In the case of a charging tiger, when there is an over-reaction it might be because we have seen a tiger maul someone in the past and, recalling this event, evokes personal fear that keeps us frozen in place. Practical action cannot take place because the reactionary, defensive mind puts us in a state of paralysis. Over-reactions are always defenses against fully experiencing what is as it is.

In the case of hearing a certain piece of music, if we recall a previous event that happened at the time of hearing this tune and the emotions it evoked, the sense of an individual having ?had? this experience before can give rise to a similar emotion. For example, we relive grief or joy, which is dwelt on as an individual.

In other words, over-reactions occur when the experience of an individual ?having? the experience comes between the senses and their object. When this happens we are incapable of responding to the newness of an experience. Over-reactions are always motivated by the past. This means that our mental defensiveness prevents us from truly experience what is happening in the present.

When our personal past eclipses a present day experience there is always a distortion of perception. An over-reaction is the reliving of an event that is defined as a personal experience. Practical, natural, spontaneous evaluation of what is being experienced/sensed in the present day is then clouded and distorted. When preprogrammed, learned memories are linked to self as an individual, there is always an over-reaction.

In summary: when the senses meeting their objects (sight to image, hearing to sound, smell to odor etc.) the senses provide information with which an evaluation can be made. When this evaluation is made in terms of an individual having personal feelings and thoughts about the experience, the evaluation always gives rise to (over) reactions that are impractical, excessive and non-constructive or non-beneficial. An over-reaction is always emotionally excessive and non-commensurate to what is being experienced/sensed.

When the senses meet their object and the experience is not personalized, a spontaneous reaction occurs as the result of spontaneous evaluation. No personal need to control impedes such spontaneous behavior. Then actions are practical, centered, and commensurate with what is being sensed. When the emotion is very strong, such as anger that arises as a reaction to someone threatening us, the energy of anger might express itself in hitting the person.

If the emotion and the physical response aren?t interpreted as ?somebody? feeling threatened, the physical response will still be practical. This isn?t to say that the reaction is always appropriate. It could be that the threat is misjudged and that the other person swings a bat unintentionally at our head and hitting them was not necessary. But as long as the hitting did not occur from the standpoint of an individual, hitting is still a reaction and not an over-reaction. This means that reactions are sometimes faulty ? the evaluation is incorrect ? but because individuality does not come between the senses and their object the ?decision? to hit is still a reaction.

?Taking responsibility? for our behavior:

In the Steps process we do in BreakThrough the protagonist in a conflict is put into perspective as the catalyst and not the cause of our experience. The whole focus of the BreakThrough Steps process is to put our role in conflict into a clear perspective so that we can divest self and the ?other? of blame and take responsibility for both our experience and behavior.

Even when we experience a deep ahah and find ourselves saying that we can now fully take responsibility for our behavior, essentially, these are just words. One might say that seeing (our role in a clearer perspective), understanding (that the other is just a catalyst and their behavior a reflection of our own), accepting (that the other is not responsible for our experience), deciding (to behave differently) are not a real indication of taking responsibility, but rather a precursor to it.

Perhaps, taking responsibility might best be explained as the spontaneous transformation of a way of behaving ? from reactionary to responsive. In general, first there is a shift in perspective; then an understanding, then acceptance and then a decision to behave differently. If, as a result of these factors, reactionary behavior gives way to a healthy response, it is in the moment that this response occurs that taking responsibility really happens.

To explain this in another way:

The precursors to taking responsibility are seeing (insight), understanding, accepting, deciding.

Seeing: The experiencing of an insight or clearly seeing (what is really happening in a conflict) is non-volitional. That is, we cannot volitionally cause an ahah or shift in

Understanding: The understanding (that the other is merely a reflector of our own behavior and thinking) cannot be forced into fruition. Understanding only ever happens spontaneously. We might have done a great deal of work, trying to understand, but the act of understanding is always completely non-volitional.

Accepting: Acceptance never happens as the result of a decision. A decision to accept might be made, but it is impossible to volitionally bring about acceptance. We cannot force ourselves to accept. To do so is not acceptance but resignation (victimhood). Acceptance is always spontaneous and non-volitional because even if we want to accept, accepting doesn’t happen because of a personal want. Acceptance happens in the moment the sense of a ?me? wanting or needing to accept is absent.

Deciding / choosing: Deciding that our behavior needs to change happens despite us; non-volitionally. This is because the precursors to deciding, or choosing to change our behavior are non-volitional seeing, non-volitional understanding and non-volitional accepting. In other words, there is really no choice as to how to behave once real acceptance happens.

Responding: Reacting healthily, or responding (taking responsibility) is non-volitional. This is because a healthy response cannot happen unless it is preceded by the aforementioned non-volitional factors.

Over-reacting: Clearly, an over-reaction is itself non-volitional. Seeing, accepting and deciding, at some point in life, that certain beliefs merit defensiveness happened despite us. Defensive behavior and its underpinning beliefs are only ever adopted non-volitionally ? quite despite anything we do. Usually, these defenses are adopted in very early childhood as a means of controlling the external and our experience of it.

If we use these philosophical understanding as an excuse for inappropriate behavior it is an indication that the understanding is superficial at best.

To give lip service to such philosophical understandings, using them to make excuses for inappropriate behavior, is the surest way to avoid ever truly taking responsibility.

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