The Difference Between Responsibility & Accountability

For many years, I played the part of goodie-two-shoes. I was good and I did good by others and for this I was very proud because I was behaving like the super responsible girl/woman/wife/mum that I thought of myself as. For many years, I used my upstanding behaviour as a shield. I wanted to continue living in denial of my perfect facade and judging everyone who was less responsible than I was. So adamant about the calibre of good I had to be, there ended up being a whole lot of less responsible people to judge. I was so arrogant and had myself on a pedestal. 

I’ve learnt many lessons over the years, how over-responsibility is just as irresponsible as none at all, is just one. But it’s a very crucial insight for our wellbeing and self-love that I wanted to share and clarify with you. 
 

WHAT IS RESPONSIBILITY?

Essentially, responsibility is the ability to respond to situations and events. Responsibility is a value we adopt in adulthood, which children cannot assume because they haven’t yet developed discernment or their ‘intellectual dimension’ / logic. As children enter adolescence, they separate from the adults responsible for them, they become an ‘I’ and they begin rationalising. Still not able to fully grasp or define the meaning of responsibility, they teeter on the edge of what it means to adopt it as a value. 

The issue is born later on entering adulthood. Today’s society does not offer much education on the definition, importance and boundaries of responsibility, so even as adults we are a-miss, still teetering on the edge even though physically we’ve developed into adults. 

With lacking clarity and information, it’s no wonder that many people misconstrue the definition of responsibility for blame or fault. In reality, taking responsibility is taking ownership. It’s a fearless recognition of one’s actions and acceptance of the consequences that might follow (please note that consequences don’t always equal negative repercussions… I spent much too long assuming this was the case, which perpetuated a sense of paralysing fear in me). 

Official synonyms of responsibility include fault, guilt, culpability and blame. All these words are responsible for the negative connotation attached to responsibility, and might be one of the reasons why we might be quite resistant to taking responsibility. 

In its natural context, taking responsibility is a personal, mature and conscious choice. 
 

  image by  Raechel Romero

WHAT IS ACCOUNTABILITY?

Accountability on the other hand, is the recognition and acknowledgement of our responsibilities. Taking accountability happens when the obligation to account for our actions outweighs our resistance to. It brings another element into the formula so that we’re no longer simply answering to ourselves but being held accountable by something or someone outside of ourselves. 

For some people this sense of duty can spark an immediate reaction to fulfil the expectations from the outside by ‘overdoing’. For others, this sense of adult responsibility is too much to bear and ignites a rebellious instinct to do the exact opposite, and do nothing. 
 

IRRESPONSIBILITY

Overdoing and doing nothing are two possible extremes of the responsibility ‘pendulum’: under and over responsibility. We often judge people who lack a sense of responsibility or desire to take responsibility as immature, selfish and lazy… I certainly did. But many of us fail to see how being over-responsible can be equally as out of balance and detrimental to us and those around us. 

When we are over-responsible, we believe that we are able to save others and control situations out of an innate -often, subconscious- compulsivity to prove how good we are. It might not be a popular opinion but being over-responsible can often be selfish and immature. 

What this tells us is that under and over responsibility are really one and the same: irresponsible.

So what does becoming responsible entail? It means entering a mature role as an adult by letting go of excuses and no longer acting out like an adolescent, led primarily by your emotional dimension. Becoming responsible… is uncomfortable. Nobody likes it, nobody wants to be held accountable or grow up. But I believe this is because they approach growing up with this sense of duty and picture very different to what it actually should be. Growing into an adult means taking ownership of your life, learning to give and take in a balanced way and living so authentically that taking responsibility is not followed by justification, but by growth and learning. 
 

SELF-LOVE & SELF-RESPONSIBILITY

  image by  Sasha Freemind

When we act irresponsibly, it’s often as a reaction, a compulsive and/or irrational response. If we refuse to be responsible for ourselves, we might ask ourselves if it’s due to a repeating self-sabotaging behaviour or choice. If we are over-responsible for other people, we might ask ourselves what we’re trying to prove or gain and to or for whom. 

When we act from a place of balanced responsibility, we are then better able to take self-responsibility. Self-responsibility means being honest about our needs and recognising when it’s appropriate and/or necessary to prioritise ourselves. This naturally then becomes an act of self-care or self-love. We are not self-sacrificing and we are not hurtful or destructive to others and ourselves, we find the perfect groove for giving and receiving. We accept ourselves and our actions and consciously take responsibility where and when it is due, without cowering away from it in fear of what might or might not be. 
 

ACTIONS STEPS TO START BECOMING MORE RESPONSIBLE

  1. Exercise your intellectual dimension / logic so that you can find an equilibrium between it and your emotional dimension. When these two aspects of you are not over-powering one another, you are better able to act from a balanced space. Read philosophical or intellectually engaging literature that offers new perspectives and helps you to reflect upon and develop a vocabulary of values true to you and not reliant on those of others. Read books that offer you a breadth of information on morality, ethics and values so you can develop discernment. 
  2. Your gut feeling or intuition will always know if something is truly irresponsible. You will feel it speaking to you but if you’re ill-equipped to disable and disengage the power of your emotional or intellectual dimensions, it will be near impossible to act on behalf of it. To let go of compulsive behaviour and start getting to know you inner self or intuition / instinct, try journalling or meditating for 20-30 minutes a day. I can’t tell you what a huge difference this will make in your life. 
  3. Irresponsibility is born out of a lacking sense of self or internal assurance and confidence that enables us to take responsibility and accountability for our actions. Therefore responsibility can be developed by strengthening our sense of self and self-confidence. Create the foundation for a balanced self-esteem by building a list of 10 affirmations that you connect with. Note the ones that are hardest for you to believe or affirm, and repeat these even more often until you’ve cracked through that barrier of resistance. Being responsible is being bold enough to be judged or disagreed with, and still knowing you’re ok.
  4. List your core negative beliefs… these are recurring statements you might hear a lot from your intellectual dimension, when it’s being extremely harsh such as, “you’re not good enough to do that”, “you will be sure to fail”, “no one will love you”. Once written, transform them into their respective opposite, positive statement and then add even more oomph. This will look like, “I am incredibly able and more than good enough to achieve this”, “I will succeed at everything I put my heart and soul into”, “I am worthy of love”. When repeating these new, positive statements back to yourself, take a moment and a deep breath to centre yourself. Really feel the words come to life in your body and let them resonate deeply before moving onto the next positive statement. If at first you feel these sentences are ‘forced’ and don’t resonate, or there’s any kind of resistance at all, I implore you to adopt the fake it till’ you make it mantra. The empty sentences will slowly gain momentum and feeling those statements in your body is the most important step: it needs to go from a cognitive experience to a subconscious belief.

 

header image by Jeremy Lapak


Read my blog post, I Am Worthy, for a deeper look into the importance of self-love or, Adult Love and Childish Love, for more information on how responsibility and love interlink.

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