Name it, Claim it, Tame it: How To Take Personal Responsibility and Respond Without Blame
Just as our body and skin needs to be fed and cared for in a healthy and responsible manner, our mind and soul needs that same attention. This article deals with becoming aware of our thoughts, feelings and actions and being responsible for them (developing the ability to respond to life and others without blame or shame). There is a simple guidance often used in therapy that goes, “Name it, claim it and tame it.” It refers to being able to identify or name our challenges, emotions, weaknesses or faults; claim them or accept them as our own; and taming them by learning to live with them, overcome them or transform them.
Name the Challenge
The first step is when we name the challenge. We are getting to what the Stoic philosophers call, “the thing in itself”- the core feeling or thought. You may remember the scene in the film Silence of the Lambs in which Hannibal Lecter quotes Marcus Aurelius to Clarice Starling. “For each particular thing, ask what is it in itself? What is its nature?” He asks what does Buffalo Bill do? She responds that he kills women. He says, “No, this is incidental. What needs does he serve by killing?” When Clarice is unable to provide the answer, he explains, “He covets, it is his nature.” This is an example of first principles and simplicity or getting to the base. We may say we are angry about a situation but on further reflection we become aware that we are hurt or disappointed, therein naming the first or core feeling. When we name or identify the feeling or perhaps the object of our fear, we make it conscious. It no longer sits in our subcortical brain – the realm of fears, fight, flight or freeze. It moves to the cortex where it can be known and processed. Then we begin the journey out of denial into acceptance.
This is why the first step in 12 Step Programs is, “I admit I was powerless over _X_ and that my life had become unmanageable.” Once I identify (name) and accept (own) the situation, thought or feeling for what it is, I can take personal responsibility. I become aware that the condition, situation, thought or feeling has nothing to do with anyone else but me. It is my response and perspective alone. This does not mean that I am assigning guilt, blame or shame to myself or anyone else. I am simply naming the challenge, accepting my response and role in the situation and now developing or learning to mindfully respond rather than act out of denial, blame, anger or any other previously learned behavioral pattern such as avoidance.
Tame the Response
Taming the automatic or unconscious response is developing the ability to respond in a non-destructive or non-violent manner. In Jungian terms we are getting to know and explore our Shadow, our dark side. These include our destructive thoughts, feelings, behaviors, prejudices, any disowned character vulnerability and the house of our shame. To bring the light of awareness to these dark corners we use the tools which assist us in working out our emotions. This could be talking to trusted people; releasing body tension; finding expression in drawing, writing, song, movement or any meaningful art form we have an affinity for which allows us to bring the unconscious to consciousness. In doing Shadow work we must find our “things in themselves” and evaluate how they match up with our core values. This is the area in which we employ the skills we developed from becoming aware of our feelings, thoughts and behaviors and consciously choosing to act with unconditional kindness and compassion. We choose to live a meaningful life of personal value within a community. We recognize that we have deviated from our course, we immediately own our behavior, make amends and provide restitution where appropriate.
Submitted by James W. Osborne, MS, LPC, BCPC
James is one of Natural Nutmeg’s 10 Best Winners for Holistic Psychotherapy/LCSW/Counseling. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Board Certified Professional Counselor, Board Certified PTSD Clinician with over 40 years of clinical experience. He employs Mindfulness, Jungian Psychology, Gestalt Psychology, ACT, EMDR and value-based techniques unique to the individual to support positive health changes. His undergraduate degree is in Philosophy and he views psychotherapy as philosophy in action. He can be contacted at: ProNatural Physicians Group in Berlin, CT at: (860) 829-0707.