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Rebuilding Self-Accountability

Michelle Scott, TRC Edinburgh and London, shares a guide to building, or re-building, self-accountability through difficult circumstances. These have been difficult times for all. Take some time to take stock and re-orientate using these helpful tools.

The emotional landscape of the last few months has been ever-changing. One irksome constant for many is frustration at our inability to achieve as much as we would like. 

On how many days are to do lists abandoned, running shoes unworn and the mess of our homes a weary reminder of more to do?

Previous posts have explored the ideas that we are experiencing  a paralysis of anxiety or a form of retreat as part of a grieving process

It may also be that we struggle to be accountable to ourselves.  

Without the watchful eye of our teachers, bosses or peers have we fallen into a “What’s the point?” frame of mind?

There is, of course, a great value in deciding when we have reached our limit and taking a duvet day. That would be an act of self-care. 

An inability to be take up accountability for ourself is the opposite.  We are not able to set healthy internal boundaries.  We slump into a fog of inaction and self-recrimination.  

Setting Healthy Internal Boundaries

Healthy internal boundaries allow us to meet our physical, mental and emotional needs.  They can include setting meaningful goals and following through with actions. 

So why might it be so hard to stay on track when we don’t have another to be accountable to? 

If we have early role models for healthy boundaries we will internalise and value them. We will understand the importance of taking responsibility for our own well being. We will enjoy the ability to exert a positive  influence on our self esteem by taking care of our self. 

For some this does not happen.  

We may have a codependent role with others where our means of feeling safe is to keep them happy.  As children we may have had to do this to survive in an uncertain or unsafe environment.  Our sense of self and our sense of worth become based on meeting the needs and wants of those we depend upon.  We do not learn to understand what we need beyond the need to feel safe. We do not believe that we deserve to have needs. 

If we do not have a secure attachment as our foundation we will struggle to individuate.  Separation and being alone will create anxiety rather than an opportunity to gain confidence.  We may develop patterns of avoidance to manage this anxiety so that we deny the loss or need of the other.  

Navigating Avoidance

Avoidance of feelings is a crude tool and can soon lead to us feeling unable to manage any feeling.  We begin to feel as helpless as we feared we may be.  We shy away from every situation or trigger that we sense will create an emotional response.  

If we add a harsh inner critic in the mix, being accountable to ourselves becomes overwhelming and can feel impossible.

Self-accountability and working on internal boundaries may sound like a military school.  It is, in fact, an opportunity to show ourselves love and to grow more fully into our sense of self.  


Many of us may remember the feeling of being a small child learning how to ride a bike or do algebra for the first time. Our first reaction may well have been it’s too hard I can’t do it. A more accurate statement would be “we don’t know how to do it yet”.  We can learn if we are patient and practice and if we have a supportive adult to help us. For now, we must be that supportive adult to ourself.  

How to begin?

  1. Become more aware of your feelings and needs.  Take time to check in with yourself and expand your vocabulary of feelings to describe what you observe.  Rather than “good” or “hungry”, can you describe the good feeling more accurately?  What would you especially like to eat?
  2. Establish which internal boundaries you most need.  Make an honest appraisal of the ways in which you are not caring towards yourself. Are you sleep-deprived? Engaging in unhealthy habits? Have no time to enjoy hobbies?
  3. Reevaluate your to-do lists – be they mental or literal.  Take the opportunity to question who you are doing things for and why.  Pay attention to those which are because you “Should” or  “Have to” rather than “Want to”.  
  4. Notice if there are particular themes to where you get stuck.  Stop and ask what is really going on here. Ask what am I avoiding? Do I struggle to get on with small task because I am struggling to get on with something deeper my life?  Do I want to avoid feeling? When I say ” It’s not that important” do I mean “I’m not worth it”.
  5. Create an ‘I want and need’ list. Reinforce your commitment to the things you include by writing it down along with your motivations for each item. I want to have more energy so that I can have fun with my friends. I need better sleep so that I can focus better. I want to have more time to enjoy reading. 
  6. Use visualisation to see yourself with the rewards of meeting your wants and needs.  Connect to how that feels
  7. Write a new ToDo list with your wants as a starting place.  Connect to the reward as motivation for each task. Begin my work as soon as I get it – so that I can have more time to enjoy reading. Stop screen time before bed so that I can have better sleep and focus.
  8. Make it possible – Be realistic about what needs to get done and when. Be flexible and responsive to what you can actually manage. Allow yourself to aim for something rather than nothing as opposed to all or nothing.
  9. Change the inner dialogue to one of more self-respect and understanding.  Instead of ” I am so pathetic I can’t get anything done” try ” I notice I am procrastinating, I must be feeling something I am not aware of” 

Michelle Scott

Author: Michelle Scott

Psychotherapist & Eating Disorder Specialist MSc BSc RMHN (Reg MBACP) London & Edinburgh

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