Healing can only happen when people are willing to shift. ~Iyanla Vanzant
Much too often, our minds are used to somewhat efficiently excuse and justify old patterns, when the same energy and efforts could go towards the creating of new ones. Our society is, meanwhile, deeply enamored with technological creation, invention, and marvels. Many of these technological advancements assist with life as it is, however, the creation of new patterns of behavior and ways of life remains largely unexplored. ~Sabina Nore, 22 Triggers
True accountability is not only apologizing, understanding the impact your actions have caused on yourself and others, making amends or reparations to the harmed parties; but most importantly, true accountability is changing your behavior so that the harm, violence, abuse does not happen again. ~Mia Mingus
Looking back on my thirteen years of motherhood, there is so much I would do different, if I could go back in time and start all over again. There were so many mistakes. So much I got wrong. So many patterns and cycles that I continued. So many I am still working on breaking.
There is so much I got right, and I would do it the same way again. There were patterns I have been able to break, cycles I have been able to disrupt.
It is the both and.
All our relationships are often like that.
There are moments we look back on and wish with every fiber of our being we had made another choice, done something different. And then there are the moments that we look back on and breathe a sigh of yes, that one, that I got right.
Hindsight is nearly always 20/20. Looking back we have a clearer view of those moments, the ones that mattered, the ones that didn’t. The ones that were defining, the ones that weren’t. The ones that didn’t feel significant at the time, but turned out to be. Those moments we didn’t know would be the last, the times we thought we would always have another chance, more time, but it didn’t turn out that way.
We all carry within us patterns and cycles passed on to us by our families of origin, by our genetic ancestors, and by our culture. We have a choice, to a certain degree, to break and disrupt those cycles, to create change, to do different than what was done to us, to do different than what was done before.
I say to a certain degree, because we can’t break a pattern unless we become aware of it. This requires not only our ability to look back at past generations, but also an ability to look objectively at ourselves.
We need to be able to see the ways we have perpetuated these cycles. The ways we have continued the patterns.
This requires us to have a certain level of self-awareness. I believe it also requires us to have the ability to give ourselves self-compassion, to not dive into shame spirals and defensiveness. To be able to explain the whys of the harm we ourselves have participated in, but not make excuses for it.
There are no excuses for causing harm to others, or ourselves for that matter. Regardless of what was done to us in the past. Regardless of what was done to our ancestors.
In order to break these patterns and cycles we need to be willing to hold ourselves accountable.
Accountability, has four basic components.** These are:
- Self reflection
- Changed behavior
**From Mia Mingus
We need to be willing, and able, to do all four. It requires our ability to be wrong, and to actually change our behavior in the future. And in order to change behaviors, we need to do the work of unraveling, untangling, and processing the trauma that lives within us.
It is not glamorous or fun work.
It is work most people avoid doing. I get it. I understand why. It is hard and brutal to process the trauma that lives within us. To do the accompanying grief work. To move into liminal space and unknown territory of doing different. Of making change.
Of actually breaking and disrupting, and not repeating and perpetuating, old patterns and cycles of harm.
Even in the this work of doing different, we will still get some things wrong. Which is why self-compassion is so important. Which is why accountability, and our own willingness to go deep within ourselves and look at our own shadows, is so important. Which is why we need to remember that we are all only human, to make space for forgiveness when appropriate (and I do not believe it is always appropriate).
I have spent the last thirteen years practicing accountability with my daughter. Believe me, there have been ample opportunities for me to practice! And almost daily there are more opportunities. I practice it with my son. I am learning to practice it with my friends and lovers.
Accountability is vulnerable. It is a vulnerable space to move into admitting we have caused harm and taking ownership of it. It requires that we be able to hold the disappointment, hurt, and or frustration that we caused, of someone we love; and it requires that we process our own grief that comes with it.
It all takes intention, practice, and time. Life will give us plenty of opportunities. A vital piece is remembering the importance of doing our own work of breaking the patterns and cycles still alive in us, in between each new opportunity.
This is how we create change in the world :: by doing our individual work and the work of healing and creating a loving relationships with those in our lives. It means we will each be in the wrong, and this needs to be okay in the sense that we accept our responsibility and do the work of repair and change.
This essay was originally published in my weekly(ish) newsletter on April 12, 2020. It has been edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays, you can subscribe here.
We’ll be exploring these ideas in the seven week course Embodied Writing :: Relating, Relationships, & Trauma. You can learn more and register here.