The Effects of your Actions


Once you have written your statement of responsibility, you’re ready for the next step: imagining the effects of your actions.

Don’t get hung up on expecting hard evidence that one thing was caused by another. We have hard evidence for some effects, but not others. We have hard evidence that, if if a man punches a child in the eye, the child will have a black eye; but we don’t have hard evidence that the reason she failed in school that semester was because of it. There could have been a connection, but there’s no way to prove it.

You can’t prove it, nor do you have to. This is not a court of law. You’re not treating cancer or building a highway or filing taxes, activities that require a higher level of certainty. You’re using your imagination. Just to entertain the possibility that one thing may have been caused by another is sufficient.

It’s also not necessary to say that your action, whether it was violence or addiction, cheating or lying, nagging or criticizing, was the only ingredient that led to a particular reaction. No one is saying you are to blame for everything. There’s obviously lots of reasons why things happen. Generally it’s a confluence of factors. A child may fail a semester of school for reasons besides the fact that she was getting beat up at home. She could have had a bad teacher, disruptive classmates, or any one of a number of other factors. She probably had a lot to do with the failing grades.

So, if you are willing to entertain possibilities that the things you do matter, then consider the following questions with respect to the thing you did, whatever it was.

What physical changes did you see in the person you hurt? Where there bruises, contusions, broken bones. Did the person get sick? Was there an alteration in consciousness?

What emotions did you observe in the person after you hurt him? Anger, annoyance, contempt, disgust, irritation, embarrassment, fear, helplessness, powerlessness, worry, doubt, frustration, guilt, shame, despair, disappointment, hurt, or sadness? Was there a fight or flight response? Did he freeze?

Did the person develop a mental condition after the thing you did? Chronic anxiety, worry, panic attacks? Depression, despair, suicidality? Can she pay attention? Is memory impaired? Was there post traumatic stress? Nightmares, flashbacks, irritability? Did you start to see more bottles of pills? Did he go out and buy a gun? Did she start to hallucinate?

How did the person’s economic status change? Could he pay his bills after that thing you did? Were his savings towards retirement set back? Did he miss days of work? What was the dollar and cents cost to the person for the thing you did?

Did that thing cost the person any friends? Did family members shun him? Where there things she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone? Did you get between him and the people he loves?

Did the person start to drink harder than before? Did drugs come into her life? Did he seem to go through cigarettes faster, start guzzling coffee, eat herself out of house and home?

Was there a change in how he engaged in recreation? Did she abandon hobbies or quit going to the gym? Did he stop going to the movies? Did she sign up for classes in martial arts?

Did the thing you did cost the person his hearth and home? Is her room more of a mess? Has his house fallen into disrepair? Does she now spend more time cleaning than is humanly necessary?

How has this changed your person’s view of God? Has she lost faith? Is the thing you did an example of evil and suffering in the world for which God gets the blame? Does he believe God to be mean and vindictive because that’s how you treated the person? Has she stopped going to church? Has he ceased studies for his bar mitzvah? Or, alternately, has she become more rigidly religious, more fundamentalist, more extreme in her behavior and beliefs? Is he now a Jihadist?

Finally, how has this person’s relationship with you changed? Can she trust you now? Is he always critical? Is she forever rolling her eyes? Is she interested in sex? Does he want to cuddle? Are you getting your calls returned, your texts answered? Are you still getting invited to parties? Did she place an order of protection? Are you getting a divorce?

This is, by no means, a complete list of all the questions you could ask or all the effects people have when you do awful things to them; but if you answered those questions honestly and owned up to the influence you have on others, then you have come a long way in accepting responsibility for your actions.

Published by Keith R Wilson

I'm a licensed mental health counselor and certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor in private practice with more than 30 years experience. My newest book is The Road to Reconciliation: A Comprehensive Guide to Peace When Relationships Go Bad. I recently published a workbook connected to it titled, How to Make an Apology You’ll Never Have to Make Again. I also have another self help book, Constructive Conflict: Building Something Good Out of All Those Arguments. I’ve also published two novels, a satire of the mental health field: Fate’s Janitors: Mopping Up Madness at a Mental Health Clinic, and Intersections , which takes readers on a road trip with a suicidal therapist. If you prefer your reading in easily digestible bits, with or without with pictures, I have created a Twitter account @theshrinkslinks. MyFacebook page is called Keith R Wilson – Author.

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