Wrestling with responsibility

Those of us who injure or kill others in accidents struggle with complex questions about responsibility. Some of us cause damage, even though we are neither reckless nor negligent, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of us have made serious mistakes, such as driving drunk, neglecting to secure construction equipment or providing inappropriate medical treatment.

I torture myself again and again as to how I could do such a thing

M., forgot his ten-month old son in the car, who died of
hyperthermia

I started watching murder shows a lot on television. It made me feel better about myself. With every intentional murder, I would think, ‘Well at least I’m not as bad as that guy. What I did was accidental.’

J., accidentally killed her boyfriend in a car crash

Although I clung to the fact that I was not at fault, the accident
seemed to confirm longstanding fears that my desires were
untrustworthy, even dangerous. In seeking my own freedom, I had
killed a child. Just as some people are natural healers, I decided I
was naturally destructive.

Maryann, accidentally killed a child who ran
into the road

Confronting our level of responsibility for the accident is an important step in transforming trauma to growth. Some of us must commit to important changes, such as sobriety, anger or impulse control, or giving up certain activities (e.g., a senior citizen may need to give up driving). When people deny responsibility, change is delayed, and they place themselves and others at continued risk of future accidents.

At the time of the accident, were you abusing alcohol or drugs? Were you sleep-deprived? Distracted? Angry? Showing off? Has age or illness slowed your reactions or reduced your vision or hearing? Make the changes you need to make to reduce the chances of another accident. Then, you can move on and address other issues.

On the other hand, some of us blame ourselves even in the absence of any evidence of negligence or fault. For this group, giving up the
illusion of control may be so frightening that they prefer to believe in their own responsibility.

Many CADIs also worry that they are no longer the “good” person they have tried so hard to be. The distress that comes from falling short of our moral standards and expectations is known as moral injury, and it is closely related to issues of responsibility.

In many cases, the causes of the accident are unclear, the people involved may not remember what occurred, and witness accounts may conflict. In this situation, CADIs must learn to accept ambiguity and confusion.

Most CADI’s ask themselves why their accidents had to happen. After my accident, I wondered why my car had to be at that particular spot at that exact moment a child ran into the road. Had one of us left just a few seconds earlier or later, or had I driven just a few miles per hour faster or slower, the accident would never have happened.

Some believe that accidents are God’s will; others believe they are the result of random forces or simple chance. The beliefs we hold about why accidents occur affect the way we respond. A popular belief today is that there is no such thing as an accident, and that what appear to be accidents are manifestations of unconscious wishes or karma. Such beliefs can increase guilt and shame. They can also deprive people involved in accidents of compassion from others.

You may want to discuss these or other issues with a counselor, member of the clergy, or a good friend. There are no right or wrong answers, but wrestling with these issues will help you decide how best to move ahead, with integrity and courage.

The Links and Good Books sections of this website offer additional resources that you may find helpful.

8
Leave a Reply

avatar
7 Comment threads
1 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
7 Comment authors
DerryckSaraHollyM. MaliskaLisa Locklin Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Derryck
Guest
Derryck

I killed a Lady pedestrian. I was driving to fast in an unappropriated place. I lost control of the car which pushed her through a chain link fence. I was out of the car and with my victim in time to watch her take her last breath. I was a professional Driver and just completing a Law degree at the time. I took full responsibility for my actions in the Court and served what was deemed to be a sufficient time to pay my debt to society. 16 years on from that time I have rebuilt my life only to… Read more »

Sara
Guest
Sara

Doctors say I suffered a syncope episode caused by severe dehydration. I lost consciousness and woke up being pulled out of my car which was flipped over. I was taken by EMS to trauma unit and treated for brain concussion, dehydration & shock which I was sleeping/awake not talking for. I had been discharged from the Hosptial, and home with my husband and loved ones when I woke up to a text from old friend saying “I just heard what happened!! Omg are you okay?” Which Frighten me upon waking up from resting and ultimately lead to me screaming for… Read more »

Holly
Guest
Holly

My story is so overwhelming, I still get asked”how did you,do you survive?” June 8 1996,My first loss: my step son Stasiu 16yrs old,suicide. I walked around “handling” everything for everyone. Identifying him, autopsy, funeral,family coming in to town etc.. Trying to hide my shame of what my ex, his father Stan had done, my inablity to save Stasiu and hatred for my ex for causing him to kill himself. After Stan brutally beat his son for a minor offense the might before, the next morning Stasiu took his .357 to high school football field and shot himself in the… Read more »

M. Maliska
Guest
M. Maliska

My story is a bit different from those here. I was not involved in the accident but I know that through my actions I may have caused additional angst to the person that did. When I was 17, my best friend Ivan and I, purchased motorbikes. We spent a good part of that summer motoring around like big-shots. One day, I got a call from my mother. She was frantic that I needed to get to the local hospital. Ivan had been hit by a car while riding and was in serious condition. My father did not let me drive.… Read more »

Lisa Locklin
Guest
Lisa Locklin

I’m really struggling with guilt right now. About two months ago (and only two weeks after my wedding), I noticed a firefly had gotten into our house late one night. Trying to be a good person, I caught it and opened our back door to let it out. I didn’t realize that one of my cats ran out under my feet in the few seconds the door was open. I’ve had him for 16 years old, since he was a kitten, and he’s never wanted to go outside. I have no idea what made him decide to run out that… Read more »

Catherine
Guest
Catherine

I was cleaning out my storeroom just before Christmas and had put some spray chemicals on the outdoor table along with snail pellets which had never been opened, they were in strong plastic packaging and a plastic screw top had to be opened to disburse them. I contemplated putting all of this back in my storeroom overnight but thought no it should be fine because everything was sealed and I had put some items around everything as a barrier. In the middle of the night my beautiful upg dog who is inside at night went out through the doggy door… Read more »

Matilda
Guest
Matilda

Something about responsibility: I’m a nurse and 3 years ago I ran to help at a bike/car accident. I moved someone to get them in a straight position, when in fact they had a spinal break. I’m pretty sure I caused them further spinal injury. They are now ~80% paralysed, but regaining movement slowly. For a long while I felt I should have known better. He could have walked away with full movement if I hadn’t stupidly moved him. Especially with my health and first aid knowledge. But it’s taught me a lot about hindsight. Most of my fretting and… Read more »

Sara
Guest
Sara

Thanks for sharing. Great insight