Stress Mastery: Are We Responsible For Any Stress We Experience?

by Doc Orman, M.D.

Here’s a fundamental question that lies at the heart of stress mastery—Are we responsible for any stress we experience?  This question is not often discussed, primarily because many people become so upset by the answer.

Why do we have such a difficult time grappling with such a very basic question?  Why do get so enraged, sometimes to the point of violence, by having honest debates about whether or not we are responsible for our stress?

The Devil Is In How We Think About Responsibility

The problem, I believe, is the way we’ve been conditioned to think about responsibility.  More specifically, it is how we have been trained to think about responsibility in either/or terms.

Either/Or Thinking is very common in Western societies.  It is a notoriously flawed way of thinking, yet it is prevalent nonetheless.


In our society, many people equate the word “responsibility” with “blame.”  Why do we do this?  Because one of the most common either/or dichotomies is the credit/blame dichotomy.  When something good happens, we often look for whom or what to credit.  And when something bad happens, we look for someone or something to blame.  Never mind that real life rarely behaves in these nice, neat either/or ways.  We tend to see life in this way, and that’s all that matters to most of us.

Two Questions In One

Thus, when many people hear the question “Are we responsible for our stress?” what they actually hear is a very different question “Are we to blame for our stress?”  If you ask me this latter question, I would argue that we are never to blame for our stress.  But if you ask me the former question, I would say that we are always responsible for any stress we experience.

How can these two diametrically opposed answers make sense together?  They can, but only if you first let go of the either/or framework for thinking about them.

This week, I’m going to continue to explore these two questions—or more accurately these two ways of framing the same basic question—by considering a few common examples.

Here are three common examples of stressful situations in life:

  1. Someone disappoints you by not doing what they promised and you become angry.
  2. Your home and all your possessions get destroyed by a natural disaster.
  3. You suffer a non-lethal heart attack.

In my next two posts this week, we’re going to look at these three examples and ask “Are we responsible for any stress that results from them?”  Depending upon how you think about the term “responsibility,” you might arrive at very different answers.

It’s much like what one of our past political leaders said—it all depends on what your definition of “is” is.

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


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pamina February 18, 2014 at 2:36 AM

As always Mort – you have identified with absolute clarity why how we interpret things makes all the difference in the world to how we react to it!


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