Personal Accountability Matters. Here’s why.

I had an interesting exchange on Facebook recently about personal accountability, and I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

I’m in a private group for Recovering People-pleasers. (There’s a Facebook group for everything isn’t there? If you’d like to know more, reply to this email.)

A group member—I’ll call her Jane—posted that a close circle of friends had excluded her from a party at which everyone received an inscribed gift. The friends then plastered social media with pictures of the party and the gifts. It seemed clear to Jane (and to me) that the group intentionally ousted her, and they wanted her to know (in a passive-aggressive way, if you ask me.)

Jane asked for advice about how to respond.

I rarely give advice unless it’s requested, but since Jane asked, I started working on a reply. I was going to suggest that she mourn the loss of her “friends,” and then move on, as it was clear they didn’t value her friendship.

Before I had a chance to hit “post,” another member—I’ll call her Sue—replied with a much more direct and assertive suggestion. Sue suggested Jane contact one of the friends and ask upfront why she had been excluded.

It was an aha moment for me, and immediately, my planned reply seemed lame. It was way too victim-y. I realized I had stooped to my people-pleasing fallback–to avoid confrontation, walk away, accept whatever people dish out. As much as I’ve grown in standing up for myself, avoiding conflict is still my default response to the world.

As a people-pleaser, avoiding conflict is my default response.

In contrast, Sue’s reply felt empowering. It held people accountable for their actions, a position I’ve not often taken in my life.

Personal accountability is the impetus behind my memoir. When I looked back on the saga of my son’s brain tumor, diagnosed over twenty years ago, I realized how much my people-pleasing hindered me from fighting for him. It was and is a horribly humiliating awakening.

I realized the only way to make sense of what happened was to hold myself accountable for my actions, or lack thereof. Doing this in a very public way–here, in my other writing, and especially in my memoir–is how I will finally overcome my people-pleasing. And I know that others who read my truth and see themselves in my story will experience their own accountability, and grow as well.

Personal accountability–owning our truth–demonstrates respect for self.

Holding myself accountable for my shortcomings required me to hold others accountable, too. My intent wasn’t and isn’t that anyone would change their ways or apologize, as that’s not within my control. And I don’t expect that someone else will see the story the same way as me. My purpose is to acknowledge how someone’s actions, words, and/or attitude impacted me and my story.

It’s a sign of respect for my self, showing that I had confidence in calling out the Emperor’s lack of clothes.

Confronting others about their behavior is hard for people-pleasers because it carries the risk of rejection. It’s less scary to pretend negative things don’t happen.

A friend excludes you from a party? Pretend you didn’t know and don’t care.
A romantic partner ignores you? Ignore it.
A colleague fails to complete their part of a project? Do their work for them.
A boss passes you over for a promotion? Lick your wounds in private.
A doctor fails to return a call/order a test/identify a serious diagnosis? Don’t make waves.

What we fail to see, however, is that being accountable–owning our truth–is a path to personal growth. Only when you’ve named the problem can you fight the problem. And opening up an awkward conversation may lead to new insights for both parties. It’s another opportunity for growth.

Being accountable is an opportunity for growth.

In the Facebook group, Sue suggested that Jane invite a member of the inner circle to coffee, talk about what happened, and explain how it made her feel. It would be gentle, caring accountability.

Once my conflict-averse floodgates were open, however, I imagined Jane calling one of the “friends,” and demanding to know WTF was going on. Sometimes, being all nicey-nice just doesn’t work. Often, though, aggression backfires.

I ended up posting my initial comment in the thread with a caveat that I changed my mind and liked Sue’s idea better.

Jane didn’t report back to the group, so I don’t know how she handled the problem. But I’m curious what you think.

What would you recommend to a friend who was ousted or “ghosted?”

If you’ve worn those shoes, what did you do?


  • Karen DeBonis

    Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

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  1. Gail Boenning on September 8, 2020 at 1:51 PM

    Over the weekend I explored the idea of ‘true friendship in opposition.’ The idea fits perfectly with your post Karen. The idea that we will be open and honest—stepping outside of cultural traditions of politeness and secrecy…as Sue suggested.

    I will add, there is an element of ‘know your audience.’ Not all humans are ready for such conversations. Mentors have helped me to understand that questioning from a place of genuine curiosity is a good way to move forward. I am exploring this for myself and find it isn’t easy. If I cannot get to a place where my emotional state is neutral? Regulated?, avoidance still is my go to.

    • Karen DeBonis on September 9, 2020 at 9:29 AM

      Gail – Did you write about “true friendship in opposition?” If so, would you send me the link? I’m genuinely curious. 🙂 Also, you’re so right about knowing your audience. I hadn’t considered that. I’ve had things backfire when I tried to go deeper in conversation with friends who just “couldn’t go there.” My bad.

  2. Kathleen Gorman on September 8, 2020 at 3:16 PM

    It happened to me and when I saw FB pictures of the happy crowd (minus me), my heart broke. I am not easily moved to tears, but alone, I cried. Keith said it must have been an oversight, but months later, the same group met again!
    I thought about it for many weeks and finally made a decision! If I complained and they invited me to the next dinner, would I really be wanted or was I there because they felt guilty? I decided to let it go. No dinner is worth that much stress! Their loss!!!!

    • Karen DeBonis on September 9, 2020 at 9:12 AM

      I’m sorry you’ve experienced this, Kathy. It sounds so hurtful. But I agree – if the group took you back in the fold, how could you ever know their true intentions? How could you trust them? I’m glad you came to the conclusion that it’s their loss. It is!

  3. judy lawless on September 8, 2020 at 6:03 PM

    Although I’m much better at not doing things or giving my opinions in case someone is offended, I still avoid confrontation. That’s because I get too emotional and usually end up in tears and more stressed. Most times it’s better to just move on. Real friends wouldn’t do such a thing. But I still kick myself for all the times that I feel I should have stuck up for myself.

    • Karen DeBonis on September 9, 2020 at 8:54 AM

      Oh Judy, I get the emotionality and tears and wanting to kick myself for missed opportunities. But I’m learning now to be more authentic, and to forgive myself. Acknowledging the problem is the first step in solving the problem, so we are both on a path forward. It’s never too late for personal growth.

  4. Jack Herlocker on September 8, 2020 at 6:20 PM

    Oh dear, I’m not the right one to ask (and yet here I am, replying anyway) since I’ve not had as many friends as you describe since I was in junior high school. (Okay, people in my dorm area in college, but college is its own thing, yes?) I’ve never felt purposefully excluded from group friend things… but then, I’ve never felt *included* in group friend things, so there’s that. Probably I would have avoided confrontation at all costs and just let it go. Not worth the stress.

    • Karen DeBonis on September 9, 2020 at 8:47 AM

      I’m glad to hear your perspective, Jack, and appreciative of the reminder that not everyone has large groups of friends from which to be rejected. I’ve never been rejected by a group (that I’m aware of) but I was by a friend years ago, and she broke my heart more than any guy ever had. I let it go, but if email was around then, I might have sent something to the effect that “Look. I get it. You don’t want to be friends. I wish you well.” It might not have taken away the hurt, but I would have felt better about myself.

  5. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt on October 6, 2020 at 3:29 PM

    When you have a chronic illness, you have very few people who call, and, after thirty years, most of your friends (most online) have similar illnesses, because the normals do not understand the concept of ‘no energy.’

    I have a horrible physical time processing adrenaline, so I have learned to acknowledge emotions, but not let my body give in to them and feel them physically. Otherwise the world would destroy me.

    But when my four sisters went on a vacation I could have joined them at (they all stayed in a family member’s house and there were several empty bedrooms, no children but husbands were included, it had a pool, and they mostly ate in), I really felt it. They called to say hi – from the pool! The source was people who, after 30 years, still don’t get it – and didn’t even ask. This was pre-pandemic, but I told them I’d love to be invited next time (if there is one), and kept my hurt feelings to myself.

    I like to think I would never do something like that to them. Inner circle has far more power to wound.

    But thinking through the consequences was the key, and would always be the key: what happens if you call them on it (think of that poor friend trapped at a lunch with you and being asked to explain the behavior of the group!).

    On the other hand, you have legitimate feelings, and they’ve been trampled on – do you want to remain in this group? Was it thoughtlessness on their part – or a deliberate decision? Is this the continuation or culmination of a pattern – or someone’s spontaneous (not with the inscribed gifts) accidental decision with time constraints. Is there a group ‘leader’? Were you formerly more part of the group than now? Etc., etc.

    As a fellow introvert, I have had to make decisions going forward about people I thought were friends but don’t behave like friends.

    Fortunately, in lockdown the decisions are few – and many connections have been broken because I’m the only one who calls. I still love them, and wish them well, but am making zero effort in their direction. Life is too short and too hard.

    • Karen DeBonis on October 6, 2020 at 6:01 PM

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Alicia, and I’m sorry you’ve been dropped by friends throughout your illness. I think you’re right that thinking through the consequences before we act is key. It’s interesting that here, and on social media, a number of commenters mentioned the same thing, many concluding that they wouldn’t bother confronting the other person. I usually ask myself what expectation I have before the rare times I’ve dived into an awkward conversation, and sometimes, it’s just to honor my feelings. But still, mostly I avoid conflict. It sounds like you’re wise to do the same, with the toll it takes on your body. I wish you good health – as good as it can possibly get for you.

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