In life and relationships, we are sometimes confronted with big, hairy, scary, and overwhelming problems. I imagine you’ve had big, hairy, scary problems in your life. I know I have.

As humans, we display many responses when confronted with big problems. Some of us get scared. Some of us blame others. Some say, “I didn’t create this problem. Anyway, what can I do to change it? I’m just one person.”

I confess that I’ve had all of these reactions to one problem or another in the past.

What I’ve discovered is that none of these statements actually solve the problem at hand. In fact, it seems that when I throw up my hands or ignore the issues, the problems only keep coming up again and again and again — a little bit bigger each time. What’s more, when I blame others, my relationships are hurt. I’ve discovered something else too. When I play the blame game, I feel hopeless and helpless. Frankly, that’s a yucky place to sit.

If that is true, why do so many of us repeat the same pattern? I think we do that because we get overwhelmed.

Sometimes it is because we feel vulnerable and insecure about a complicated topic or emotion. We feel afraid of what the solutions might entail. You see, big problems can be so complicated sometimes that we don’t know what to do, let alone where to start. And there are times when even the possible solutions bring their own set of new challenges.

Over time, I’ve found that there are five little words that move me out of hopelessness and helplessness (even though I’m not always able to find those little words). When I add “I take responsibility for that” to the end of my sentence, my perspective changes. I move from sitting in an icky mess to standing in a space from which I can view the problem in a more complete way.

Please be aware that while the statement “I take responsibility for that” can be used in many situations, it cannot be applied to violent relationships or relationships where one partner holds power over the other. In these cases, it is up to the individual with the power (or the perpetrator, as the case may be) to take responsibility for their actions and work to fix the problem.

I believe that when we take responsibility for something — even if we didn’t create the issue — we start to own it. We realize that even the smallest of actions and attitudes affect the outcomes. When we take responsibility for something and decide that we don’t like that space, our minds have permission to problem-solve. We gain a bit more ability to see the problem from the viewpoint of the other person.

If this doesn’t quite make sense to you, think about the power in these sets of statements:

“I’m so mad that all this litter is scattered down the highway.” vs. “There is litter all over the highway and I take responsibility for that.”

“My neighbor doesn’t have enough food to eat.” vs. “My neighbor doesn’t have enough food to eat and I take responsibility for that.”

“ is happening and there is so much trouble everywhere.” vs. “ is happening and I take responsibility for that.”

“I take responsibility for that” doesn’t mean that the entire solution must lie in our hands alone. It simply calls attention to the fact that we have choice and power.

We are creative. We are a group of people who can work together pretty well when we identify the challenge and put aside the blame and labels.

“I take responsibility for that” moves us from powerlessness into the possibility of action and change. And that is a powerful place from which to begin a journey.

Tina Bartleson is the executive director of the Exchange Club Family Resource Center, which provides in-home parent education and mentoring to families with children 0-12 years. She has 29 years experience working with families and may be contacted through

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