This post is part 4 in the series 31 Days of Lessons I Learned in Therapy.
I don’t know about you, but personal responsibility means a lot to me. Sure, sometimes I fear the consequences if I own up to my actions, but most times I choose to embrace responsibility and accept those consequences.
However, during therapy I discovered that I’d come to believe a lie regarding the extent of my responsibility.
I believed that my personal responsibility included everything that went wrong with anything in which I was involved.
It didn’t matter if I wasn’t really responsible for what went wrong. In my mind, if I was involved, and a problem occurred, the problem was completely, 100% my responsibility.
Once I’d unearthed the lie, I needed to trace it back to its source.
The source of this lie was easy for me to locate, for its roots lay within an event that so strongly marked me that I wonder if I will ever forget it.
In 7th grade, I attended a tiny Christian school. I felt awkward, ugly, and out of place. My intelligence made me special [I felt], and getting 100s on tests made me feel happy and like I was worth something.
On this particular day, I took a spelling test.
Spelling has never been difficult for me, and I knew all of the spelling words. The only problem was that the teacher giving me the test had a thick Spanish accent coupled with what I now believe to be some sort of speech impediment. She pronounced a particular word, and I could not understand at all what she said. So I asked her to repeat the word. She did, and I still did not understand it.
I was too shy and embarrassed to ask for further clarification so I wrote down the word that I understood her to say. When I got the graded test, that word was the only incorrect answer on the whole test. I had spelled correctly the word as I had understood it, but what I understood was not the word the teacher was saying.
Upset that I had not gotten the grade I deserved, I found enough courage to speak with the principle teacher, who was also one of the founders of the school. With great internal fear and trembling, I explained the situation and was devastated by the teacher’s response. He angrily told me that he would not change my grade or give me a chance to demonstrate that I did know how to spell the word. I went back to my desk mortified and hurt.
But the worst was yet to come.
A week or two later, the founder/teacher who refused to listen to my plea spoke in chapel. He spoke about pride and arrogance. Then he gave an illustration of a student who had missed one question on a test and was so proud that she was certain she could not have made a mistake. Instead, he said, she blamed her error on the teacher, making excuses for why she didn’t really make that mistake.
No one else knew he was using me as his illustration, but I knew. I felt humiliated, hopeless, helpless, beaten, discouraged, misunderstood, scorned, worthless, and more. At that moment, something in me broke. I determined that I would not ever again speak up for myself or try to explain my actions. I’d take full responsibility for anything that went wrong and would accept any assessment as my due, whether or not it rightfully belonged to me.
I’ve recognized the lie and its source, but I have not conquered yet.
So far, there’s no happy ending to this story. I still find it difficult to stand up for myself when I am misunderstood or blamed for something that is not my fault. In such times, I still revert back to the shy 7th grader who fought hard to find the courage to speak up for herself but found condemnation instead of love.
How about you? What left such an impression on you that your behavior was changed from that point on?
Hope & Love Via Email