(Hint: It’s not the President, your boss, or your spouse.)
You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
– Abraham Lincoln
2020 has been canceled and will not be renewed for another season. Now we can
celebrate 2021, and we finally know Who’s In Charge? The answer is you and me – it’s
all of us. We are all, individually and collectively in charge.
About 20 years ago I developed a self-help model called “Who’s In Charge?” This simple
approach helps us to understand our internal parts: An Inner Child, a Teenager who is often lost
and angry, an Inner Critic, and an Adult self. The goal is to put the loving, responsible Adult in
charge. All of us have an Adult self, but we don’t always use it.
Who’s In Charge in 2021?
As I write this article it is still unclear who’s in charge of our country. We have a President-Elect
who will take the oath of office on January 20, but our country is divided, and there are ongoing
attempts to overturn the election. Regardless of the outcome, we will continue to have a divided
government that struggles to govern. It reminds me of a 1985 song by Tears for Fears:
I can’t stand this indecision
Married with a lack of vision
Everybody wants to rule the world.
This power dynamic is not that different from many dysfunctional families and marriages. In
some families, nobody is in charge and chaos ensues. In some marriages, there’s a power
struggle, each partner blaming the other, and the divorce lawyers profit.
The Covid pandemic continues to rage out of control. People are being hospitalized and dying
at a truly catastrophic rate. Who’s in charge of managing our response to this virus? Is it the
President, his task force, the states, and localities, the health care workers? Our approach to the
Covid pandemic appears to be disorganized at best – inept and irresponsible at worst.
And what about the economic fallout from Covid? Huge numbers of Americans are unemployed
and suffer from food insecurity and other traumatic effects of this pandemic. Who’s in charge
when so many people need so much? Democrats? Republicans? Charities?
Sometimes it feels like there’s no adult in the room. Nobody seems willing to assume full
responsibility for these problems. And our “leaders” only seem to blame someone else for the
problem. Not unlike many marriages and families that I see in therapy.
So, what’s to be done?
Who’s In Charge in Your Life?
All of us have internal parts – also known as “subpersonalities” or an “internal family system”.
The diagram below illustrates these internal parts.
The Inner Child is innocent, vulnerable, and dependent. Negative childhood events, especially
neglect, abandonment, and abuse create an injured child. As the child develops, a survivor child
takes over. This child learns coping mechanisms that can cause problems later (such as
patterns of avoidance, over-functioning with anxiety and control, etc.).
Teenagers are passionate, they want independence and acceptance, and sometimes they
become rebellious – or they avoid and isolate. Things can go haywire when they are confused
about their own sense of identity, or when they are in revenge due to parental neglect, abuse, or
over-control. They become lost, angry teenagers and these patterns may continue into adult
The Inner Critic is harsh, demanding, and judgmental toward one’s self and others. This
subpersonality serves a useful function. The Critic protects the more vulnerable parts – but
overplays its hand trying to keep them safe.
I describe the Adult part of our personality as loving and responsible. The Adult is rational,
proactive, and competent. The Adult responds to situations with emotional intelligence and
balance. The Adult is resilient, adaptive, accepting, and open to other ideas.
The Adult self is like your personal north star. It gives you a sense of direction in life. I suggest
to most of my clients that they visualize and write a description of their ideal Adult self. When we
go off course, we can remind ourselves of our true purpose – to be the best version of
We Are All In Charge
On January 20, 1961, newly elected President John F. Kennedy said:
We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom — symbolizing an
end, as well as a beginning — signifying renewal, as well as change.
He went on to say… And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for
you — ask what you can do for your country.
We are at a crossroads in 2021. What will we do to defeat this pandemic? How
will we heal our divided country? Will we work together cooperatively, or will we
continue to blame, to see the other as an enemy, and to deny our individual
responsibilities to make this a better world?
Perhaps a good Adult Mission Statement for 2021 would be:
We will mobilize and empower our loving, responsible Adult.
We will let go of blame and resentment.
We depend on each other and we are responsible for each other.
We will wear face masks and practice social distance.
We will take advantage of the new Covid vaccines.
We will practice loving-kindness and compassion with our brothers and sisters. We are
all brothers and sisters in creating a better world.
For more information about our programs and services, please contact us today.
We hope the following articles will also inspire you in 2021:
Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes
responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want
to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.