In Marsha Linehan’s book Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder she writes about assumptions about borderline patients and therapy. However, these could easily be assumptions about people and the task of living. Assumption #4 states that “Patients may not have caused all their problems, but they have to solve them anyway.” What exactly does this mean? This means that not everything that happens to us is our fault. There may be unwanted and awful things that are done to us or happen to us that are absolutely no fault of our own. However, we do have to take responsibility in how we choose to solve those problems and deal with what has happened to us.
I am reminded of the saying that U.S. President Harry S. Truman had on his desk during his time in the White House: “The buck stops here.” This meant that he did not “pass the buck” to anyone, but rather accepted full responsibility for the way the country was governed. Now, Marsha (and I ) are not telling you take responsibility for a whole country…only yourself.
At some point we must stop passing on responsibility for the things that happen to us and start dealing with them, whether we want to or not. You might be asking, “Why do I have to deal with things that aren’t my fault?” Well, the reason is that taking this responsibility to solve your problems is vital to your mental well-being. Let me explain.
By realizing that we have responsibility to deal with the things that happen to us in our lives, we are acknowledging that we have choice and agency in terms of how we respond to the circumstance we find ourselves in. This position is one of personal power and resiliency. This position helps us from getting stuck in a victim identity, which essentially tells us that we are powerless to the things that happen to us. From this position we have a better chance to problem-solve what can be solved, accept what we cannot change and to work towards building a life worth living. This is a stance of growth, change and possibility. By refusing to take responsibility for solving our problems, we are allowing ourselves to remain stuck, stagnant, and rigid. There is limited potential for change from this position. Now, I ask you, which one of these places seems like it promotes mental well-being? Both positions require work and energy, regardless of whether or not you chose to grow or remain stuck, but only one these offers the promise of change and the opportunity to build a life worth living.