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We all like to think we're emotionally mature, but we also all like to think we're good drivers. It's hubris to suggest there isn't some growth to do.

The crux of emotional maturity is to take full responsibility for one’s circumstances (physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually). This is the foundation of true personal and relational transformation.

Now, most people are willing to say, "Sure, I take responsibility for my circumstances. I understand my actions and their consequences." However, taking full responsibility goes far beyond that. It means taking full responsibility for your emotions as well.

The truth is that nobody can make you feel anything. Emotions are generated internally. When someone is yelling at you, all they are doing is vibrating air molecules toward your ears. You choose to feel what you feel, be that anger, sadness, fear, etc. That choice is yours.

That is a hard concept to grasp, and an even harder one to live! In today's world, people are "outraged" at all sorts of things. So the idea that you are outraged because you want to be outraged can be a controversial one. That’s not to belittle the source of the outrage; just know that all the emotions you have associated with any given outrage are your choice.

When you don't take radical responsibility, you rely on blame, shame, and guilt to rationalize your circumstances and feelings and keep the ego intact. Blame, shame, and guilt all come from toxic fear. Radical responsibility means locating the cause and control of our lives in ourselves, not in external events.

Instead of asking β€œWho’s to blame?” ask, β€œWhat can we learn and how can we grow from this? What is my responsibility in this?” We should be open to the possibility that instead of controlling and changing the world, perhaps the world is just right the way it is. This creates huge growth opportunities on a personal and organizational level.

The villain, victim, hero triangle

When we are not taking responsibility and we are blaming others (or ourselves), we fall into what we call the Drama Triangle, where we play the villain, victim, or heroβ€”and sometimes multiple roles at once.


The stance of the villain is β€œIt’s all your fault!”. Villains criticize, blame the victim, and set strict limits. They can be controlling, rigid, authoritative, angry, and unpleasant. They keep the victim feeling oppressed through threats and bullying.

In terms of resilience, villains can’t bend, can’t be flexible, can’t be vulnerable, can’t be human; they fear the risk of being a victim themselves. Villains yell and criticize, but they don’t actually solve any problems or help anyone else solve the problems.


The stance of the victim is β€œPoor me!” Victims see themselves as victimized, oppressed, powerless, helpless, hopeless, dejected, and ashamed, and they come across as β€œsuper-sensitive.” They can deny any responsibility for their negative circumstances and deny possession of the power to change those circumstances.

In terms of derailing resilience, victims have real difficulties making decisions, solving problems, finding much pleasure in life, or understanding their self-perpetuating behaviors.


The stance of the hero is β€œLet me help you!” Heroes work hard to help and take care of other people, and they even need to help other people to feel good about themselves, while neglecting their own needs or not taking responsibility for meeting their own needs.

Heroes are classically codependent and enablers. They need victims to help and often can’t allow the victim to succeed or get better.

In terms of derailing resilience, heroes are frequently harried, overworked, tired, or caught in martyrdom while resentment festers underneath.


The descriptions above are the most extreme versions of these roles, but often they play out as milder versions of these. Often, people stuck in the Drama Triangle will play out a couple of these roles, flipping between them, and have familiar patterns for doing so. Playing in the Drama Triangle for too long can lead you to spiral and even pigeonhole yourself into some global archetype (such as "I am a failure").

The key is realizing when you're stuck in the Drama Triangle: pause, take a deep breath, and try to approach the problem with curiosity.

Side note: Is it ok to hero?

There are often times inside a startup, which by definition has limited resources, that require a hero; for example, when a manager needs to step in to help an individual contributor who's struggling. This is normalβ€”the key thing is to both acknowledge that you're heroing, and understand it's a temporary stop-gap that does not lead to a lot of self-growth.

One of the most profound realizations you can come to in life is the idea that you are a creator. There are two main ways of looking at the world: things happen 'to me', or 'by me'.