Stress Mastery: Are We Responsible For Any Stress We Experience?—Part 2

by Doc Orman, M.D.

Are we responsible for any stress we experience?  In part 1 of this three part series, I suggested that the reason we have so much trouble answering this question is that we’ve been conditioned to think about responsibility in either/or terms.

“In our society, many people equate the word ‘responsibility’ with ‘blame.’  Why do we tend to do this?  Because one of the most common either/or dichotomies is the credit/blame dichotomy.”

Thus, it becomes difficult for people to say “yes, I’m responsible for any stress I experience” because in most people’s minds this is equivalent to saying, “yes, I am to blame for any stress I experience.”

Responsibility is a “Both/And” Perspective

True responsibility has nothing to do with either/or dichotomies—it is a “both/and” way of looking at things.  The best answer to the question: “Are we responsible for our stress?” is not a yes or no response.  It is that we both are and are not responsible for our stress at the very same time.  It’s more like Yin/Yang rather than Either/Or.


Example #1

Consider this example of a common stressful situation: someone disappoints you by not doing what they promised and you become angry.  Are you responsible for any stress (anger, disappointment, loss of trust) you experience as result of this event.

YES—you are responsible for getting angry, feeling disappointed, questioning trust, etc. by what happened. 

NO—you are not responsible for the other person failing to keep their word.

So you both are and are not responsible for any stress you experienced.

There’s More To The Story

But wait.  It gets even more complicated.  What if you recently did something that angered and disappointed this other person?  And what if what you did (or didn’t do) provoked them, either consciously or unconsciously, to get back at you by not keeping the promise they made to you.

In this context, wouldn’t you be responsible—at least in part—for causing the other person to not keep their promise to you?

YES—you would be at least partly responsible.

NO—the other person would be partly responsible as well.

Another Aspect To Consider

And what about your initial reaction of anger?  Are you responsible for the automatic angry feelings that occurred within your body?

YES—events don’t directly cause us to get angry…emotional reactions always come from within us (and they can differ from one person to another in response to the same exact event).

NO—you didn’t choose to react with anger—your body automatically did this without any intent on your part.

But if you remained angry for more than a few minutes about this episode, are you responsible for remaining angry?

YES—while you may not have had any direct control over how your body automatically responded initially, once you recognize that you are now feeling  angry you could always choose to intervene and make your anger quickly disappear.

NO—while you certainly could eliminate your anger anytime you want, perhaps you don’t know exactly how to do this, so looked at this way, you wouldn’t be responsible for remaining angry.

I Told You This Was Not An Easy Question To Answer

So can you see now that it’s not so easy to give a quick and definitive answer to the question: Are we responsible for any stress we experience?  The answer keeps changing and evolving, depending upon the perspective we take for looking at various aspects of what really happened.

Thus, we can slip back and forth from “yes I am responsible” to “no I’m not responsible” multiple times when looking at the same stressful situation.  And interestingly, no matter which response you “land on” your conclusion will often be true.

So, in the end, responsibility (in the sense of causality) boils down to a matter of personal choice. You can choose to look at any stressful situation in your life from the perspective that you are indeed responsible for some aspects of it—and you can look from the exact opposite perspective and conclude that certain aspects you were not responsible for.  There are people who look at stressful situations like this and see few if any aspects they might be responsible for. And there are others who choose to focus on areas where they were indeed responsible. 

And “blame” has nothing to do with any of it.  Either you did play a role—or multiple different roles—in whatever happened in your life that you experienced as stressful…or you didn’t.  It’s like saying that at any point in time you are either taking in a breath or you are not.  You heart is either contracting or it is relaxing. Is there any “blame” in either of those two statements?  Well the same is true for responsibility.  When anything stressful happens in your life, either you had something to do with causing it or you didn’t.  And most of the time the answer will be BOTH!!!

For a full list of all of my Kindle books about stress, click on this link:


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Peter February 23, 2014 at 1:40 PM

This is it in a nutshell. I wonder why some people will not go to any length to see this.


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