See Your Part

See Your Part

What’s your own role?

The Practice:
See your part.

Why?

In situations or relationships with any kind of difficulty – tension, feeling hurt, conflicts, mismatches of wants . . . the usual crud – it’s natural to focus on what others have done that’s problematic.

This could be useful for a while: it can energize you, highlight what you most care about, and help you see more clearly what you’d like others to change.

But there is also a cost: fixating on the harms (actual or imagined) done by others revved up your case about them (see Drop the Case), with all the stresses and hard feelings that this brings. Plus it makes it harder to see the good qualities in those you have issues with, the influence of additional factors – and whatever might be your own part in the matter.

For example, let’s say you work with someone who is unfairly critical of you. Sure, there are the ways that this person is out of line, self-righteous, whatever. Additionally, there are the ways that this person is also doing good things, plus the ways that other factors – such as coworkers who like to gossip – are making things worse. And there might be your own role as well, perhaps inadvertently.

To be clear, sometimes we really do have no part in whatever happened. Many situations are like a person walking across a street with a green light when a drunk driver hits them. And in many other situations, our own role is small at most, and never justifies the harmful actions of others. I feel it is courageous and self-respecting to recognize and as appropriate call out the harms done by someone to us or others.

And still . . . we usually have little influence over other people. Yes, we do what we can about what’s “out there,” but “in here” there are many more opportunities for managing our reactions and for becoming more skillful in life.

Further, I’ve never been able to come to peace about anything that’s bothered me until I take responsibility for whatever is my own part in it. Which, upon reflection, is sometimes nothing at all! But the willingness to see for oneself whatever one’s part is enables a genuine sense of release when we can enjoy “the bliss of blamelessness.”

Paradoxically, when you step into acknowledging your part, then you can step out of tangles of conflicts with others and ruminations and resentments inside your own mind.

How?

Since it can be challenging to look squarely at your own part in a situation, start by resourcing yourself: bring to mind the feeling of being cared about; get a sense of some of your own good qualities, and remind yourself of the benefits to you and others that will come from seeing your part.

Next, pick a challenging situation or relationship that involves another person . . . and take some time to consider:

  • The ways that the person has truly mistreated you, and perhaps others
  • The ways that this person has perhaps benefited you and others
  • The effects of other people, society, history, etc. on the challenging situation or relationship (take a wide view)

Then consider your own role in the matter, whatever it might be. To do this, it helps me to sort my own actions – of thought, word, or deed – into three groups:

  • Innocent – For example, simply being there when something happened; not doing anything wrong; being accused of things you didn’t do; getting targeted because of gender, age, ethnicity, appearance, etc.; or following the rules while others don’t.
  • Opportunities for greater skillfulness – For example, realizing that a certain word is understandably offensive to others; over-reacting to something, or deciding to be a more engaged parent or to give your partner more attention.
  • Moral faults – (We all have moral faults, occasions when we violate an appropriate code – particularly our own deep code – of integrity and deserve a wince of healthy remorse.) Such as being unfair; demeaning others; nursing grudges; lying; treating people as if they don’t matter; abusing power; recklessness, or using coldness as a weapon.

The distinction between opportunities for greater skillfulness and moral faults is really important – both regarding yourself and others you have issues with. Often we miss chances to become more skillful because we think it will mean acknowledging a moral fault. Of course, what is a matter of skillful correction for one person could be a moral fault to another one; you have to decide for yourself.

As you do take responsibility for your own part, have compassion for yourself. Also, remember that surrounding that part are all sorts of good qualities in you – and seeing your part is also an expression of your goodness. Know these things, and let them sink in.

Allow waves of sadness or remorse to move through you as you see your part. Let them come, and let them go. Don’t wallow in guilt: that actually undermines seeing and taking action about your own role. Remember that your part does not reduce the part of others. Appreciate that facing your part helps you help others to face their own.

Increasingly, find your way to a kind of peace. When you see your part with clarity and a whole heart, then you are not resisting anything. And no one can tell you something about your own role that you don’t already know. There is a relief, a softening and opening, an upwelling sense of your own good heart.

Then, gently, see if any actions come to mind as wise and helpful. Perhaps some communications to others, or resolutions about the future, or making of amends. Take your time here; you can trust yourself to know what to do.

When you have a sense of the benefits of seeing your part, really take it in. You surely deserve it! Acknowledging one’s own part in a difficult situation is one of the hardest – and I think most honorable – things a person can do.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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