A friend of mine returned home after a week away on a business trip. This friend has a teenage son, who was going on a school camp the next day. As a responsible parent he asked the 15 year old if he had packed for the camp. My friend also asked his son if there was anything he needed to take on camp that they should buy at the shops. The young man assured his father that he had it all under control. After dinner the father offered to do a quick audit of the son’s camping gear and it was then that the teenager told his dad that he hadn’t actually started packing.
My friend – the father – was less than impressed. They went up to the boys room and quickly tried to get his clothes and camping equipment together, then the boy declared that he couldn’t find his rain jacket and the forecast was for a week of rain. For hours they searched for a rain jacket but it was nowhere to be found. The father did admonish his son for leaving the packing to the last minute. At this point the son turned to his father and declared that this was his dad’s fault because he must have moved the rain jacket! The 15 year old refused to take responsibility for his mistake and tried to deflect his shortcomings onto someone else. In many ways this boy’s behaviour was typical of a teenager, who is becoming an adult and still coming to terms with adult responsibilities, but there are people out there – adults, who never take responsibility for their own actions. They spend their whole lives blaming other people and walking away from the messes they’ve made.
Blamers refuse to accept responsibility for their behaviour
In a recent article on coaching, I quoted a Forbes survey which found that coaching cannot ‘fix’ badly behaved individuals – “blamers, victims, and individuals with iron-clad belief systems don’t change.” Blamers are people who refuse to accept responsibility for their own behaviour. Have you come across these people at work, socially, even in your own family? How do you deal with them? The Bible tells us very clearly that we must accept responsibility for our actions – Galatians 6: 7-9, “You reap what you sow”. Unfortunately some people don’t live by this. They are emotionally reckless. They fall in love, even have a child with someone and then declare it’s not for them and walk away. Other people run up big debts with no intention of ever repaying them. It’s easier to declare them-self bankrupt and hang their creditors out to dry. Other people keep making the same mistake again and again. They get a casual job, never arrive on time, are rude to their co-workers and find their shifts dry up then they feel hard done by and indulge in self-pity or play the victim. Eventually they get another job and repeat the cycle.
Children must be held responsible for their actions
It’s difficult to understand how people can behave like this, especially if you’ve always tried to do the right thing and you are a responsible adult. Sometimes people have been raised to behave this way. They have had a mother or father who constantly stepped in and saved them – made allowances for their awful behaviour, paid all their bills, apologised or bought off those they had hurt. The parent wanted to shield the child from the harsh reality of their actions, but as a consequence the child never learnt their lesson and was never taught to reap what they sowed. I wrote about this recently in my article on people pleasers. A person who continually saves a spouse or child from facing the consequences of their actions is a ‘co-dependent’. Most people with co-dependent personality disorder can’t stop protecting the other person or don’t know how to stop. They are afraid to confront the irresponsible person often because they fear abandonment.
Irresponsible people feel no true remorse
If you work or are related to someone who refuses to take responsibility for their actions confronting them may prove ineffective. Remember that this behaviour pattern is often deeply entrenched and stems from a dysfunctional childhood. The irresponsible adult has had years of practise making up excuses and deflecting responsibility. If you confront them they will try very hard to wiggle out of the situation. Once in a while (if there is no escape) they have to admit they behaved badly, but their remorse is rarely genuine and doesn’t last very long. Essentially these people often believe they are ‘special’ and should not have to behave like other people.
Ideally you need to rid your life of people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. They will never change and they will only use you. If you are forced to work or are related to someone like this, you need to set very clear boundaries and always be on your guard. I strongly suggest that you never succumb to their charm, never do them any favours.
Personal accountability is at the centre of healthy relationships
At the core of every healthy relationship is personal accountability or responsibility. People who won't accept responsibility for their actions lack self-awareness, a real sense of self, apathy for others, maturity and courage. Often people with drug, alcohol or gambling addictions have this mindset, always making excuses for their actions. "I drink because work stresses me or I had an unhappy childhood”. Another personality type that refuses to acknowledge shortcomings is narcissists. It is impossible for me to stress how dangerous and hurtful narcissists are. Narcissists will never accept they are at fault and will actively work to blame you for the problem, or even frame you! Watch out if you ever have to work with a narcissist. They are extremely damaged people. Narcissists are incapable of feeling empathy for others. In some respects they are like working with an evil robot. It is essential to recognise narcissists and protect yourself. Again, establish firm boundaries. Narcissists can be very charming and clever so do not succumb to their charm – keep your distance.
Responsibility means owning up to your mistakes
Personal responsibility means always owning up to a problem you caused or contributed to. It means having the guts to try to fix what you did, either by asking for help or being disciplined and changing your behaviour. It also means being big enough to say sorry. It is very sad that some people will never reach this stage of development and will always be ‘broken’, but if you are a fully realised adult you must be able to recognise your flaws, speak about your regrets and learn from your mistakes.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.