How to Stop Being a Victim and Start Creating Your Life

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”  ~Eleanor Roosevelt

“They” say things happen at the “right” time. For me hearing a presentation, live, by Jack Canfield, came at the perfect time.

I was in San Diego, the traveling babysitter for my precious 5-month old granddaughter, while my daughter attended a nutrition conference. It was an all around win-win situation—a new place to sightsee and of course spend quality (alone) time with baby Rachel and daughter Penina.

When I found out Jack Canfield was the final key speaker, I jumped at the chance to attend. And the topic certainly resonated with me—“getting from where you are to where you want to be.” Now how’s that for someone in transition working to carve out a new path!

There were a lot of takeaways, fabulous ideas to hold onto; so much so that I’ve been carrying around his book, The Success Principles, and studying it since I got home.

One thing that really speaks to me is this idea of taking 100% responsibility for one’s life.

As a society, we are so quick to assign blame and pull out all the excuses as to why something did or did not happen.

All the “He made me, she made me….” finger pointing. There’s a reason why “the dog ate it” became such a classic excuse.

We relinquish all power when we go there. Where are we in this? I know that by nature many of us are passive recipients of life and are at the mercy of what befalls us.

In my workshops with parents on teaching responsibility, many are stuck or love acting in their role as helicopter parents, swooping down to save, rescue, and do all for their kids—all under the guise of, “The more I do for my child, the better parent I am.”

And therefore what are we teaching our kids when they come in to class and tell the teacher, “My mom forgot to pack my lunch”?

Then there’s the parent who comes ranting to school, “Don’t suspend my little Stevie for calling Andy names and hitting him in the playground; his sister does that to him at home, it’s no big deal.”

We are facilitating the perpetuation of an entitled breed of human beings.

In my practice as a therapist, clients would talk for years about being stuck because of what their dysfunctional nuclear families did to them.  “My mother did this, my father that…”

And then of course there’s me. What comes all too naturally for me is my quick ability to find fault with others, to pass judgment and criticize.

Who is to blame—why, my mother of course, queen of “judgmentalism.” I fight against these tendencies constantly.  But they do rear their ugly head often enough.  I guess it’s in my bloodstream. I’m aware of it; I work at it. I know where it comes from; therefore that explains it but it certainly does not excuse it.

This is my problem, my issue. What matters is how I handle it and work to respond differently—to catch myself while it’s doing its internal dance before it parts from my lips. 

Not owning up to our actions—this takes away our part in doing anything different. We simply remain stuck while we continue to complain and feel miserable in our status quo of negativity.

We don’t have to worry about any discomfort of stepping out and trying on any new responses in this place.

There is no disqualifying the hurts and pain of the past. Our past, along with its inevitable issues and problems, contribute to who we are.

But we can go beyond the pain of our “stuff” and create new and good lives despite….

But we first must take charge of ourselves and decide we are capable of doing, being, and acting differently. We have to decide it’s up to us and not pass along our power to the blame and excuse game.

Assigning blame and making excuses keeps us victimized. We don’t have to do anything different because it’s not about us; it’s about someone or something else. We’re simply the recipient.

We may in fact be the recipient of external forces outside our control, but we have the control over our reactions and responses in what we do and how we handle it.   

Ah, but beginning to look at ourselves and our responses might shake us up a bit. It means we might have to make a move, do something different, or try something new. That can be scary.

Steps to take to begin taking responsibility for our life:

1. Decide you’re going to take on this new way of thinking. It is a different mind-set.

2. Make the conscious decision that it’s up to you.

3. Read some great books (or audio tapes) out there on this idea—by Wayne Dyer, of course Jack Canfield, and Eckhart Tolle. I recommend Madeline Levine’s The Price of Privilege.

4. Pick one thing and decide you’re going to respond differently—for example, when you’re stuck in traffic, decide you’re going to have a different response. Instead of getting all worked up, take some deep breaths and relax back into your seat with some good music on.

5. Put a visual Stop sign up in your mind when you feel yourself becoming defensive and ready to blame. 

6. Apologize for something sincerely without attaching any “and” or “but” to it. “I’m sorry I raised my voice, but I couldn’t help it.” The “but” disqualifies the apology. Take responsibility for the reaction of yelling.

7. Take an action step, however small or inconsequential it may seem, toward something you want to attain.

8.  Empower yourself with “I can” and “I will” statements. “I can give this talk.” “I will write this paper.” Then the juices start flowing and we rev ourselves up with positive energy.  (Possibly some fear, too, but we will push through that.)

The internal stop sign goes up with the “I won’t” and “I can’t,” and we cut ourselves off from any creative or out-of-the-box thinking that might yield some unexpected, “Yeah, I can do this.”

9. Adopt the attitude, “change begins with me.”

10. Step outside your comfort zone. Try a different behavior or response to a familiar scenario. If you’re always running late in the morning madness and snapping at everyone in frustration, you can try getting most things ready the night before; try getting up earlier to get ready first; or decide to infuse yourself with some quiet time while everyone else is still sleeping.

This type of thinking and acting isn’t always easy, and it can feel like it’s too much effort, but becoming proactive in creating the life you want will yield tremendous results. You don’t need that big new happening to occur; you’ll see and feel it in the small changes. Those will be the stepping stones to continue onward.

Photo by Shot in the Blue

About Harriet Cabelly

Harriet Cabelly is a social worker, certified positive psychology coach, and life coach emphasizing living life to its fullest and creating a good life out of (or despite) adversity. Read more about her at Rebuild Your Life Coach and read the latest from her blog.

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  • jo

    Very nice, very true. And timely too, as I have been thinking a lot about this in the last few days, both in terms of letting the painful stuff go, as well as taking responsibility. May I also suggest another book, Leadership and Self-deception by the Arbinger Institute? I felt the need to re-read it over the last few days, and it has some very practical suggestions around letting go of blame and taking responsibility. Thank you for sharing!

  • Hi Jo,
    Thanks for commenting and for your book recommendation.  I will definitely be looking it up.  I’m an avid ‘bookie’ and love reading. 
    It’s not easy, to say the least, to let go of blame.  It’s an easy nail to hang our hats on, but in the end it doesn’t serve us well at all; it only keeps us stuck in our same old patterns. 
    Sounds like you’re on a path of growth and change, with the help of a great book. 
    All the best.

  • This is an absolutely MARVELOUS entry. I love it and it speaks to my soul. Thank you!

  • Ishamommy

    Thank you, you’re always help me by yours post. Really really thank you.

  • Hi Deanna,
    Thank you for your lovely comment.  I’m glad this piece resonates with you.

  • Hi Ishamommy,
    Thank you for your comment.  I’m glad these posts are helpful to you.

  • David

    Hi Harriet & Lori,
    Personal Responsibility is the one major “lack” that is the cause (or the trigger) to a dysfunctional life. If it is to be , it is up to me… oft used quote, of great significance. You are you, accept it, get on with it.
    Thanks Harriet & of course,
    be good to yourself

  • Awesome blog. I’m so proud of you over 1000 likes. And to think….Go girl.

  • michele

    I love when you or Tracey write a blog that is so timely it seems written especially for me.  Fabulous one today my friend……perhaps it is time for me to start that outline……because I should and I can!

  • Beth

    This blog was timely for me too! I just finished book discussion group on the book, The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne. It is a story of siblings and how their lives as grown-ups are affected by the events of their past. During our discussion we came to the realization that, “It is  work in our adult life to not have the negativity of our past, define our future. Thanks Harriet for the gentle reminder about how important this is.

  • Harriet,

    Nice post! I have not heard of any person who became a success without first taking responsibility for his own life. It’s so essential. Stephen Covey talks about it in depth in his 7 habits book. I’m sure a lot of people would have read it, but the challenge is in living it.

    When I quit my job after the nuclear crisis in Japan, I could have blamed it on the massive earthquake and the mismanagement by government authorities there. But those are just agents. It is we who take the decisions to move in the direction that we choose ourselves. In the same given circumstance, it makes a world or a difference whether someone takes ownership for what they are going to do about it or whether they choose to blame it on what happened.


  • Hi David,
    Love that quote – “if it is to be, it is up to me.”  Thanks for mentioning it.  It is so apropos here.  Here’s to Personal Responsibility,

  • Hi Tracey,
    Thank you so much for your most encouraging words.  Your support truly means a lot.   

  • Hi Michele,
    You said it, it Is time for you to start because you certainly Can.  As Tracey likes to say, and you, Go Girl!!  Your time is Now!  Own it, take it and run with it.

  • Hi Beth,
    I love that, “it is work in our adult life to not have the negativity of our past define our future.”  At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, it becomes our issues and our responsibility to do something about it.  We may be able to explain it with the past, but not excuse it with the past.  And that is our adult work. 

  • Hi Mark,
    Thanks for your recommendation of Covey’s book.  I actually have not read it, yet.
    You clearly have ‘gotten’ there.  It is all too easy to assign blame on the externals; there’s no shortage of those.  I like what you said about taking ownership and moving in the direction we choose.  So crucial to creating the life we want. 

  • Nice post, Harriet!

    Me too, I believe that we have to take 100% responsibility for our life. From the moment we point to the external world that they are the problem, we can not be grateful anymore for the lesson they teach us.

    Thanks for sharing! 

  • Hi Marc,
    Thanks for popping over and commenting.  I love how you connect gratitude with responsibility.  Thanks.

  • Hey Harriet, we read the same book too. Jack Canfield was brilliant with Success Principles right? I like the way he used stories, many, many stories to illustrate the points. I have been trying to get my hands on his first Chicken Soup book, but looks like they have all gone off the shelf.

    Anyway, back to taking responsibility. I used to blame around a lot. The best thing was, it was unconscious. Blaming in this mode is really dangerous. But once I broke free from this and became conscious of my thoughts, I started making progress. I started looking for things on a wider scale and more ideas started appearing to help with my situations.

    But there are times when I have problems focusing and not blaming. This is where we really need more tools to help. Your list here is certainly great.

  • Hey Jimmy,
    Great to ‘see’ you here. 
    I’ll get you the Chicken Soup book for when you travel to New York and we meet up.
    We’re all creature of Blame.  It seems to be our natural instinct.  So it takes work to train ourselves away from the blame game and onto personal responsibilty.  I think it’s a crucial piece in raising our children.  So start now with your little kiddies and it will much easier when they grow up. 
    Thanks for your comment here.

  • Very true Harriet,

    It is so easy to point fingers but taking responsibility for EVERYTHING that happens to us takes some awareness. How we feel about everything that’s what manifest in our lives. This idea was so “out there” for me for a very long time. Now I’m getting better practicing to consciously watch the way I feel, some of my obsessive negative thoughts and so on. 

    great post, thanks for the share


  • Hi Akos,
    You are welcome.  Thanks for your comment.  Yes, it takes a lot of work.  This idea was also, as you say, so ‘out there’ for me too a while back.  And like you say, it takes awareness and being very conscious of ourselves, our actions and thought patterns. 
    Best to you.

  • Ttana4

    great article ou inspire me in every word thank you

  • Hi Ttana,
    Thank you for the lovely comment.  Best to you.

  • Pingback: The Path to Living Authentically | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In()

  • Kyria

    This works for being stuck in traffic, yes, but I would like to gently point out that it doesn’t work for everything. I was attacked and assaulted, but that is not my responsibility. 

    I accept that it happened and cannot be changed. However, I do not take any responsibility for it. I believe it would be terribly unhealthy for me to do so. 

  • Hi Kyria,
    Just saw your comment.  I’m so sorry about your attack and assault.  Of course that is not your responsibility.  What plays into it here is your response to the horrific circumstance.  How you respond to the event is what is in your control.  As I wrote, we can’t always control our outer events/circumstances but we can control our reactions to it.
    May you heal and live on well.

  • LoveinTX

    Great post. Has me re-thinking about life again.

  • This is a perfect read for me. After visiting with a therapist 10 years ago I’ve turned into the most ungrateful self obsessed muppet on planet earth. I flattley choose to ignore all the great things I’ve achieved and instead focus on my “sad” story. Ignorant of the fact many men have been through worse and still do everyday. Hopefully this journey of mine to remove my head from my arse is well underway!

  • jon

    So what would you recommend for a teen who in a cluttered house with a lot of noise and dealing with depression in the dead of winter? In the summer i can get a lot done to keep my depression at bay But right now I’m going out of my mind

  • Salt

    Dear Harriet,

    This article made the idea of handling my own life so solidly, so concretely. It made me start looking at my own life whenever I’m late and snapping at other people. Haha! I will put action unto myself and not simply expect it from other people anymore.
    If my dog ate my homework, I’d probably rewrite it. 🙂
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ve shared it with my mom. She also needs to realize this. I do hope I get to pass this gem of wonderful thoughts to others, little by little.


  • Sam

    all my life I have been the under dog of my family. been dictated to by all of them, I am never in there family photos or invited with when they go away. my siblings have got “more” than me on the worldly criteria and that is what my mom loves about them, they have got their act together. and what am I? it hurts very much and I used to spend hours crying and trying to be everything that they wanted me to be?? until, I felt as if there has been a shift in my universe. like my higher power is shifting things around within me, I see the bigger and bigger picture. I have withdrawn from them all. not to say that I hate them or never want to see them again. I feel that I have been taken away from all the crap I have subjected to all my life by them. is this ok for me to experience and is it ok to go my own way?

  • Miriam Hdz.

    The question I have is, how to differentiate between taking responsability for your own actions and recognize the system that keeps you down (for poor, minorities, women, etc)? I say it, because I have heard that: “take responsability for your life” applied to a poor person stuck in a system that keeps him or her down. It surely takes responsability away from me, and gives it all to them.

  • Stacy

    Wow, awesome blog. Yes it was all ‘out there’ for me too.. I’m realising I need to make new decisions around playing the ‘victim’ role.. That was something I chose to do to cope with my mother growing up .. I made big decisions that fell into ‘I have to be passive’ , ‘I have to try to be brave’ …So much energy going into this victim role. I never told anybody about my feelings.. I bottled it all up and played passive around her to deal with it and I built so many walls around myself while doing it..Now I’m on the road of stepping out of my comfort zone with my own business and skills such as assertion, assertiveness, directness, leadership – that are not victim are vital for my success. Therefore, I’ve had to confront some inner demons about this role I play.. I can’t believe how buried in my unconscious it has been.. and the stress I have held in my body.. clenching tightly and not being open to receiving and on an unconscious level I have had an unworthy feeling.

    Thanks for sharing,


  • Guest

    We don’t have to do anything different because it’s not about us; it’s about someone or something else. We’re simply the recipient. This resonated with me. I’m going through something at the moment where it’s not about me. It’s about the other person’s inability to accept the situation. I can only control my reaction and response which is to ignore and to not get worked up.

  • hi

    I am 100% Done.

  • I understand the idea of “You are responsible for everything that happens to you in your life” but its awfully misleading.

    What about all the women getting raped out there? Stupid drivers on the road that have killed entire families? People who lead healthy lives yet still die from cancer?

    It’s time to get real and wake up. Inner-peace should not translate to ignorance.

  • Erica Perawiti

    I have been in a relationship with a man for 3 1/2 years. And it is only today, that I made the self realisation that I have put myself in the position of accepting his lies, because he treated me like a gentleman, and yet, at the same time, he treated me cruelly by allowing his ex to accuse me of things, and to bear the brunt of her vicious accusations. I tried to allow her the right to do this, because what he had been saying to me, he obviously had been saying the same things to her. I love you, I don’t want to be with her, I don’t see her. I have no real friends, because the ones I had had shown themselves to be all about themselves. My problem, now is, how do I stay strong within myself to steer clear of him and not to cave.?

  • tyler

    Hi Harriet my name is tyler I need help my mother is belittling and will not allow me to be my own person but is urging me to become an adult as im 18 I will be living on my own and I don’t feel ready for the everyday struggles of adulthood my e mail is I need some serious help anyone who is willing to provide help or advice is much appreciated I just cant handle this on my own and my father is of no help as he has adjusted top her negativity and ruthless badgering looking for a friend or just someone who might be able to understand my situation..

  • Mohit Saini

    No big words…
    Just thank so much….

  • Maryam Alsadiq

    Is taking responsibility for your life linked to being detached from people? Like even almost everyone? Because sometimes the people you love most hurt you most, and I feel the only way to get over that is to look at the whole situation from a completely different lens where that person is just another human with flaws and complications just like you?

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    Every syllable spoke to me – thank you.

    I blamed someone else for 32 years. It’s time to grow up, act like an adult and own my actions without any qualifiers!