How to Be Accountable When You’ve Caused Harm

Image credit: Léa Dubedout

Sometimes we hurt the people we care about. Not just those of us dealing with mental health issues, though those can make it harder to pay attention to the needs and feelings of others. But just about everyone has the capacity to harm someone else, intentionally or otherwise, and it’s awful to realize that you’ve done just that–or to be told that you have.

While it can definitely be tempting make excuses or to take an accusation as one more reason to descend into a spiral of self-loathing, there are other, better options. Taking responsibility is more difficult, but it opens the way for healing.

So how do you take responsibility for causing serious hurt, even to the point of being physically or emotionally abusive? It’s not easy, but Everyday Feminism breaks it down into nine straightforward steps, beginning with listening to the person you’ve harmed.

Listening without becoming defensive.

Listening without trying to equivocate or make excuses.

Listening without minimizing or denying the extent of the harm.

Listening without trying to make oneself the center of the story being told.

When someone, particularly a partner or loved one, tells you that you have hurt or abused them, it can be easy to understand this as an accusation or attack. Very often, this is our first assumption – that we are being attacked.

This is why so many perpetrators of abuse respond to survivors who confront them by saying something along the lines of, “I’m not abusing you. You are abusing me, right now, with this accusation!”

But this is the cycle of violence talking. 


Being accountable is hard work, even when you don’t have a pile of your own problems to deal with, but it can also free you from living under the shame of what you’ve done, and the fear of confrontation or discovery.

As the author points out, you can’t expect forgiveness from the people you’ve harmed–that’s up to them–but taking responsibility allows you to begin forgiving yourself. That’s a vital step in the right direction.

[Everyday Feminism]
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