The boundaries of responsibility

One of the biggest causes of emotional heartache occurs when we confuse the boundaries of responsibility.

People are able beings. We are able to do things. Some of these are very personal things.

The 4 main abilities

What are your 4 main abilities?

1. Well you have the ability to speak.

2. You have the ability to think.

3. You have the ability to feel.

4. And you have the ability to behave.

Another way of looking at is, we ‘own’ our 4 abilities listed above. And by owning our abilities we also have responsibilities for the way we use our ability to speak, think, feel and behave.

Now when we use these 4 abilities, usually other people are involved.

We speak with other people.

Our thoughts can be about other people.

We can express our feelings to other people.

Our behaviours can affect other people.

Being a good and kind person means we have a responsibility to treat others well and not harm others.

What this means is that we are responsible to other people for the way we speak, think, emote and behave.

Notice I wrote responsible to others.

Other people have the same abilities

Just like you and I have the ability to think, emote, speak and behave; so does everyone else in this world.

And by having these abilities, they are also responsible to other people for how they use them.

What you are not

Wait for it, because it is now when I might say a few things, which might sound a little confusing. Before you continue reading, the following is based upon adults interacting with each other, and is based on the assumption that you haven’t intentionally hurt anyone, or done anything wrong.

You are not responsible for other people’s thoughts.

Neither are you responsible for their feelings.

You’re not responsible for the way they speak.

Neither are you responsible for how they behave.

Only they can ultimately be responsible for such things.

What happens when you believe you are responsible?

Let’s take an example.

Say you attend a family social gathering and a relative is in a foul mood and is acting unfriendly towards you. You then take this personally and believe it is you who caused this relative to act this way.

By doing this, you are taking on your relative’s thoughts. You are letting his foul mood cause you to feel bad about yourself and blame yourself.

Here’s another example.

You share your opinion on a topic with another person and the other person becomes very angry at your view and tells you how you’re wrong and how her way is right.

You then feel guilty and angry at yourself for upsetting this person.

By doing this you are taking someone else’s anger and applying it yourself. Even worse, you’re adding guilt to it.

Why is doing such things toxic?

Well, as I said earlier in the post, each of us is responsible for the way we talk, think, feel and behave (our 4 abilities).

If we believe we are responsible for other’s 4 abilities, then we give our personal powers away. We allow other people’s thoughts and feelings to take over us. Just as worse, we don’t allow others to have their own 4 abilities without us hijacking them.

What does this mean?

It means you are already empowered.

How can you demonstrate your empowerment?

By understanding people will always say, think, behave and express emotions towards us. However, how we choose to react is up to us. You can react, internalise what others have communicated to you and feel bad.

Alternatively, you can exercise your power of choice and choose to stay empowered and grounded, by allowing others to be them, have their views and opinions, without it affecting your state.

You do this by allowing them to express their 4 abilities and be responsible for them.

And you give yourself permission to use your 4 abilities too.

By doing this, you take control of your ability to think, behave, emote and speak.

Now, that is a powerful way to live your life, wouldn’t you agree?

My friends, it’s over to you:

  • In what ways have you taken on the responsibility for other people’s thoughts, feelings, actions and speaking?
  • What did you do to take back responsibility of your own 4 abilities?
  • Please share you thoughts and views in the comment box below.
  • Please share this post on your favourite social networks.

If you liked this post, you might like to check out the latest posts from the following great bloggers:

Betsy Henry

Anne Lyken-Garner

Stephen Martin


Photo Credit: Manitoba Historical Maps

  1. Loved the post Hiten!

    Yes indeed, each one of us is empowered with the 4 abilities, just as you mentioned so beautifully. What matters most is that we live our lives being responsible for our own deeds, actions, thoughts, and feelings. However, we also need to take care that we don’t hurt others along the way.

    I wanted to ask that just as you mentioned, we aren’t responsible for how or what other people think, speak, feel etc – but somewhere when a misunderstanding takes place because of you, then you are responsible I think. Yes, we take it onto ourselves and think we are guilty, which could be because we really feel bad and are guilty if we have done something that has hurt another. I guess in such cases, just like in a marriage too, we cause pain to our spouse due to what we speak, behave, or the way we talk and express our feelings, which makes us responsible – isn’t it?

    Yes, we do tend to feel the pain and internalize things because we are in a relationship, as in a marriage, because then you are bonded and feel for one another. In such a case, would it be right to not let things affect you, when you know there is a problem that needs a solution. I think in a marriage the scene might have to be a little different because what hurts one spouse, would affect the other and cause hurt and pain too – it should if they are really close. And the person who is not hurt, should do all in his/her power to resolve issues as soon as possible.

    Other than that I think if we can really empower ourselves and not let things affect us, then we are learn to let go of things and go much beyond that, which again is easier said than done, though yes, some people do attain that stage.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Hi Harleena,

      I’m really glad you liked the post!

      I totally agree we need to be mindful that we don’t hurt others along the way. As you say, there are definitely times when we are responsible for the impact we have on others. That’s why we have a responsibility to other people to use our 4 abilities appropriately, so that we cause no harm. And if our actions hurt others, then we need to be held responsible.

      You are spot on about this.

      What you say about being in a relationship is also true. If there is a problem that our partner is experiencing, then it is important we are present with them, share their problem and help them to solve the issue at hand.

      Indeed, as you say by empowering ourselves, through not allowing things to impact us, then we are entering a different dimension beyond habitual reactions. It’s also important to learn to develop the capacity to not react to our thoughts about things, as it is this that causes us so many problems in the first place.

      Thank you so much for writing such an amazing and genuine comment! 🙂 I much appreciate your support.

  2. Hi Hiten,
    I only feel responsible for others’ words, feelings, actions toward me when I know that I have ”done the wrong thing”. Otherwise, it’s nothing that I can control therefore I don’t let it concern me.
    One other ‘ability’ that I feel has a major impact on the many situations we find ourselves in is “Listening”…especially with a view to understanding others. If we listen properly, many of the actions that others undertake or display toward us, can be understood better and ‘pacified’. Thankyou for this Hiten.
    be good to yourself

    1. Hi David,

      I love the understanding you shared about knowing you can’t control others’ words, feelings, and actions and hence not letting it concern you. This is an extremely healthy way of navigating around the world, and creates strong immunity to the outside world affecting our states.

      Thanks a lot for sharing another very important ‘ability’, which is listening. As you quite rightly said, proper and true listening allows us to really understand people’s behaviours better. It also allows us to be compassionate to their view of the world.

      Thanks for adding so much more to this post, David. It’s great to see you here. 🙂

  3. Taking responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and actions is enough, ideally. Yet, we can’t help doing the same for others. This generally happens when we are anxious about the outcome of something we’ve said to someone. And at the slightest sign of the unexpected, we want to take back what we said, wishing we could start all over again. But obviously that is not possible, and we end up owning up for the other person’s reactions, rather than accepting them and reacting/moving forward – whichever is appropriate.

    Human beings, to say the least, are unpredictable with their behavior. What might evoke a positive reaction at one time, may be perceived as a negative at another time – depending on their frame of mind, which is something no one can guess, unless very close with them.

    That being said, the love we have for others also induces us to feel responsible for reactions, because we normally don’t want to hurt someone intentionally.

    Very complex. 🙂 I guess that as long as we remember the basic four abilities, we can more or less tackle things just fine.

    Very interesting post, Hiten. One we can relate to all the time. Cheers!

    1. Hi Vidya,

      Your comment was absolutely brilliant. The way you explained what happens when we are anxious about the outcome of something we’ve said, is exactly what stops us from truly living in the moment, and keeps our minds whizzing around when interacting with people.

      Indeed, as you say, the love we have for others also causes us to feel responsible for their reactions. However, if we had no intention to hurt others through our words, actions, feelings and thinking, and did so by mistake, then it does us no favours by getting into a bad state about it. It does the other person no favours either, as we are no longer present with what is happening. If it was a mistake, then we can be truly sorry for our mistake and then move on. Of course, it is still easier said than done. And it is even more difficult with those who we are very close with.

      I agree it is a complex issue. I’m so glad you liked the post and that you could relate to it. I really appreciate you commenting.

      Cheers, Vidya!

  4. Hi Hiten, because of my upbringing, I used to take everyone’s faults as my own. I’d blame myself for everything other people did, thinking I was at fault.

    Thankfully, I’ve grown out of this and realise that I’m only responsible for my own actions. Even if others behave nasty towards me, that’s their responsibility. My responsibility is to still to behave calmly towards them, but without taking the blame for their outburst.

    Thank you so much for including my last post in your article. I really do appreciate it. I’ll also check out the other 2 blogs listed there.

    Thanks for a very inspiring blog post.

    1. Hi Anne,

      The way you explained how you were in the past, is just like I was. For me it was a very difficult way of being, which took a lot of work to get over. I was extremely sensitive and my sense of worth was pretty much dependent on the way other people reacted to me.

      When I look back now, it really is clear how much I’ve changed in this sense.

      I agree we have a responsibility to behave well towards others and just like we would want others to treat us. I think when we develop the capacity to do this and not react all the time; we become more understanding when other people may have outbursts at us. We can just change the meaning of their reaction to “they just haven’t learnt to control their brains yet!”

      You are very welcome for being included in this post. It was a pleasure. The more people that can learn about the advice you give on gaining confidence, the better.

      Thanks so much for commenting. I’m really glad you found the post useful.

  5. Excellent post as usual, Hiten. I’ve spent most of my life taking responsibility for others’ actions and feelings, assuming that their response was all about me. It’s not healthy for the reasons you outline here. It’s also a form of egotism — a belief that I’m so important that the person in front of me must be reacting to ME instead of a million other things that don’t involve me at all. Thanks too for the nice mention of my blog!

    1. Hi Stephen,

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the post, my friend.

      What you wrote is so true and thanks for sharing your experiences. It is indeed, a form of egotism. I came to a similar realisation to you and it certainly did allow me to let go of a lot of emotional baggage. It’s an excellent way to re-frame the situation in order to deal with it. It’s like we give ourselves so much importance, as if other people haven’t got enough on their plates, and they’ve got all the time in the world to think of us! 🙂

      Thanks very much for leaving your comment. You’re very welcome for the mention. It’s a real pleasure.

      Have a good weekend, Stephen.

  6. Hi Hiten,
    This is a wonderful post! I’m going to send the link to my son. We were just talking about a relationship he has. I told him he needs to do certain things to make it work. Our conversation had some very similar ideas!
    You writing is superb as well!!

    Thank you so much for the link up! I’ll definitely check out the other two blogs as well.

    1. Hi Betsy,

      I’m really glad you liked the post and I hope your son finds it helpful. Isn’t it great when we have conversations and/or read something about a particular topic, and then read something similar again?

      It just helps to reinforce the messages we want to absorb inside us, through a slightly different perspective.

      Thanks for the compliment on the writing! You’re very welcome for the link up too!


  7. Hiten! This is a fantastic post on a topic that far too few people discuss, I think.

    As usual, I’d like to add some fresh views and interesting related ideas to consider:

    There’s a Hawaiian practice called Ho’oponopono that is about 100% responsibility, for self, others, and the universe. Where does that fit in?

    As well, I’d like to add a 5th ability —

    5. Our ability to FOCUS.

    1. Hi Jason,

      I’m really glad you liked the post and thanks for adding such more to the post.

      I hadn’t heard of Ho’oponopono before. I’ve just looked it up and it does sound like a very beneficial healing practice. It’s great to hear that such practices exist that help a person to develop responsibility. It also seems like an approach to deal and get over bondages formed through Karma and to address painful relationships.

      Thanks for informing us about this!

      And I really appreciate you including FOCUS as a 5th ability. This is one ability which can be life changing for us, as we aim to achieve what we want in life and also improve our ability to relate with others, as we give people our complete focus and attention.

      It’s great to see you here, Jason! Thank you.

  8. Hi Hiten,

    This concept is easier for some than it is for others. Personality has a big part in how much you internalize what others are saying and take responsibility for their thoughts and words. Some people are very confident in the world. Others are more sensitive and their opinions aren’t as strong, so when they are faced with a more forceful person, they tend to step back and blame themselves for any interaction that doesn’t go well. This is definitely something everyone should be aware of and keep in mind. Thanks for the great reminder.

    1. Hi Cathy,

      Thanks so much for sharing your views on this area.

      I agree this concept definitely is easier for some and not others. Indeed, our current personality characteristics certainly do shape what we can keep out and what we let in. From my own experiences, the reason why I used to let so much in is because I had a very low sense of self-worth that was dependent on others and them liking me.

      It was only when I began to develop stronger self-esteem and in parallel learnt, the basic thought structure process, that it became very clear what I had been doing (taking on others’ thoughts, words, actions and feelings and personalising them to be associated with me).

      Thanks a lot for commenting, Cathy. It’s great to see you here.

  9. Hey Hiten,

    I saw myself in this post when you said that we take on other people’s responsibilities.

    I had a boss some time ago that really ended up having some tantrums at work. He would yell and throw things at the wall. Because he was my immediate supervisor and sat right next to me, I took what he did personally. He scared the heck out of me so much that I ended up having an anxiety attack which lead to a mini-stroke.

    Some of the guys that worked there in the back had a few talks with me and made me understand that although what he did was unacceptable behavior, none of it was because of me. He was going through his own issues. It took me a long time to learn that.

    I think that the majority of people have problems in the area of relationships because we want to take on everyone else’s feelings and perhaps responsibility for their actions. It’s yet one more thing we all have to learn we definitely can do without.

    Thanks Hiten and enjoy your week.


    1. Hi Adrienne,

      I’m really sorry to hear of the pain you went through because of your old boss. Your colleagues were right. His behaviour was completely unacceptable. It’s great you came to realise you weren’t responsible for his terrible behaviour.

      Sometimes coming to such realisations can take time. It was the same for me when I was growing up. In the desperation to be accepted and liked by others, I was all too willing to take on others’ ‘stuff’. However, when one does begin to develop the capacity to set the boundaries of responsibilities, it’s like a light bulb moment, and our perspective can be changed for good.

      Many thanks for sharing your personal experiences in this area, and for adding so much more to this post and discussion, Adrienne.

      Hope you’re having a good week! 🙂

  10. Hi Hiten,
    I know someone who has a stammering issue. How can I refer him to you?

    I have always wondered if I should enroll for a personality development course – maybe you can advice me too.

    Which city are you based in?

  11. Hi Anupama,

    It’s great to see you here.

    You can ask your friend to e-mail me at

    If he has a contact number, I’ll then be happy to give him ring.

    I’m based in Leicestershire in the UK. I usually work with people who stammer in India over the phone, or via Skype.

    A personal development course is well worth it and is a good way to start the journey of personal growth. Is there any particular aspect of life you want to work on? Or are you more interested in a general course?

    Thanks for dropping by.

  12. I skipped your recent post because i won’t understand that.

    we have the tendency to blame ourselves for someone else’s action.

    Excellent article! will come back for more!

  13. Hi Debajyoti,

    It’s great to see you here!

    I’m really glad you enjoyed the post.

    You are spot on. We can have the tendancy to blame ourselves for the actions of others. This is exactly what happens when we become responsible for other people’s behaviours.

    A way we can overcome this is to set the boundary of ‘me and ‘not me’. We have a duty to behave in a responsible and kind way to others (this is ‘me’). We can make a lot of effort in this aspect. However, if others then behave badly towards us then we are not responsible for their actions (this is ‘not me’).

    Many thanks for commenting, Debajyoti! I’ll be over at your blog soon. 🙂

    1. Hi Deepak,

      I’m really glad you liked the post and thanks a lot for dropping by!

      It’s great to see you here and thank you for commenting! 🙂

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