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When we discover a close friend or loved one is struggling with mental illness or self-injury, we naturally begin to feel partially responsible for their well-being. We reassure them we will stick by them no matter what, help keep them accountable, and we will always make them a priority.
I have learned from being on both sides of the conversation that having a healthy relationship with an accountability partner is arguably the most important component of the healing process, and poor accountability can be incredibly destructive.
Poor accountability is not necessarily failing to check in with someone in a timely manner.
When a close friend of mine courageously told me she struggled with an eating disorder, my first inclination was to always ask her how she was doing and to do my best to encourage and support her. However, it slowly became apparent that I didn’t know how to keep her accountable in a way that was beneficial for her.
I had my own struggle with depression, but I didn’t take the time to learn about what she struggled with and was ill-equipped to assist her.
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Because I was afraid of saying anything that could be a trigger or would make her feel like she failed, I always told her what I thought she wanted to hear.
Our relationship became a very unhealthy dependence that was stressful, and in the end, detrimental to both of us.
3 Things that Make an Accountability Partner Relationship Healthy
Through my own experiences and personal need for accountability, I feel like there are a few important points to remember about accountability:
1. Good accountability is empowering and fosters improvement.
When I first went to my psychiatrist after telling my parents about my depression, he stressed the importance of letting them know if I started to feel down because in the past I had struggled with self-injury. It was frustrating at first, but when I told my parents, we would get out of the house, plan something, or even schedule an appointment with my psychiatrist if it was particularly bad.
I not only began to learn how to recognize the onset of my depression, but I discovered the times I struggled most were when I was alone. Telling someone, or just getting out of the house, could make all the difference in the world.
2. Good accountability is never completely one-sided; both parties have to risk being vulnerable.
It fosters community. Opening up about your struggles encourages others to do the same.
I can tell you from experience sharing something you have kept hidden for so long can be one of the most liberating feelings in the world. But that is only the case if we do more than just love someone the way they are; we must also love them enough to not let them stay that way.
It can be so easy to fall into the trap of telling people what they want to hear, but honesty and tough love are often the only thing that wakes us up to our need to get better.
3. Lastly, with good accountability, both parties benefit.
Even though there may be moments of frustration, good accountability causes relationships to thrive, not wither. Poor accountability makes relationships toxic and stressful, while good accountability is rejuvenating.
No one can take on the burden of responsibility for someone else’s well-being. In the end, you will always end up resenting the person for not taking action to better themselves, and you will be left exhausted by your unsuccessful efforts.
My relationship with my parents wouldn’t be the same if we had not had those difficult conversations in high school, and I would not have learned I am ultimately responsible for my own well-being.
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