The Surprising Difference Between Taking Responsibility And Criticizing Yourself

Published on June 15, 2013 by

Whether it’s at work or in life, when things go wrong, most of us want to take charge and fix things. However, in my work as a consultant and coach (and as a former psychotherapist) I’ve found that while we think we’re taking responsibility, often we’re actually blaming ourselves.

The problem with self-blame is that it can disguise itself as progressive thinking. It seems like we’re holding ourselves accountable and setting ourselves up to make positive changes—but in reality, we're making things more difficult for ourselves. It makes us feel awful, when what we want is to feel awesome. Look at these three ways we can go from feeling awful to feeling awesome, simply by adjusting our mindset.

1. Criticizing Self Is Blaming: “I wouldn’t be overweight if I ate less and exercised more; my problem is I’m just not disciplined.” Criticizing ourselves a subtle form of blaming.

Supporting Self is Taking Responsibility: “I’m twenty pounds heavier than what’s healthy for me. By the end of this week, I will have a written plan to get healthier, including what steps I’ll take for success, how to measure progress and ways to celebrate along the way.”

2. Pushing Self Too Hard Is Blaming: “I need to work eighty hours a week if that’s what it takes to be successful.” Pushing ourselves too hard is a form of punishing ourselves—and it only results in additional stress.

Setting Realistic Expectations Is Taking Responsibility: “I am willing to work eighty hours a week if there’s a real crisis. Otherwise, I will work about fifty hours so I have time for other important things in my life.”

3. All or nothing Thinking Is Blaming: “If I don’t hit my goal, I’ve failed—even though I made some progress.” When we engage in all or nothing thinking, we’re blaming ourselves for not being perfect.

Healthy Thinking Is Taking Responsibility: “Whatever progress I make is success and I will use that momentum to fuel even more success.”

Blame focuses on the past and generates shame, guilt and fear. This accomplishes nothing, and only brings us down.Taking responsibility focuses on creating a successful future and that gives us positive energy.

The next time you’re wondering whether you’re taking responsibility or falling into the self-blame trap, ask yourself, “Am I feeling awful or awesome?” The more we learn to support ourselves, set realistic expectations and engage in healthy thinking the easier it is to avoid self-blame and to embrace taking responsibility. You'll not only be more productive, but happier as well.


  1. Rob

    Thanks for shedding light on this topic, Alan. The mindset of blaming ourselves as a means of ‘owning up’ to things is pervasive, even admired in many circles. Great examples of ways to truly take responsibility and feel ‘awesome’!

    • Alan Allard

      Rob, thanks for your comments, I always appreciate it!

  2. TJ Trent

    Great way to make a subtle but very important distinction.

    • Alan Allard

      Thanks for you comment TJ, I always appreciate seeing you here.

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