Good Enough: Do you Take Excessive Responsibility?

We are all children of anger. Each one of us have seen our caregivers get angry and this had an impact on how we express our own feelings. We learn math and science in school. We are formally educated on logic, reason, and cause and effect thinking. However, we learn about our feelings by following others examples.

To a greater or lesser degree, our parent’s anger taught us things about ourselves and life. Many of these lessons we were not positive ones, but that shaped us all the same. They did not make us stronger and more competent to cope with the realities of our adult lives. Quite the opposite, they undermined our good judgement and impaired our ability to see the world objectively.

One of the most common legacies that linger from our childhood is fairness. We learn about taking turns and tit for tat behavior as a way to promote responsibility. Part of being responsible is taking ownership over your actions and being accountable for your choices. For many, “accounting” is akin to keeping score to ensure fairness. We learned from our models that we must assume ownership for regulating fair play and punish those who break the rules. However, we never learned how much was enough. So we make it up as we go along.

Some individuals feel that it is their responsibility to ensure that other people are properly informed and understand fully what is going on. Its only fair that they have the same information as we do. Yet, others say, “Why are you telling me this?” Their purpose isn’t “to inform”. Their true purpose is to keep from feeling guilty and irresponsible for being blame for others’ failure. This is a negative purpose. It has nothing to do with the demands of the reality situation. Below are some of the reasons people take excessive responsibility for others’ behavior:

Some individuals feel that they can prevent bad things from happening by explaining their position to others in advance. “That way, there won’t be any unfortunate misunderstandings, and the bad things won’t happen.” The individual mistakenly defines “control” in terms of “knowing.” If people do not know, they cannot cooperate with them in preventing these bad things from happening. However there is another reason why sone try to prevent things. These individuals feel inadequate to cope with life. Their only hope is to prevent bad things from happening so that their secret inadequacies won’t be exposed.

Some people take on excessive responsibility because they may be carrying a load of fictitious guilt from childhood. They want to avoid the pain of any additional guilt in the present. They even want to prevent people from thinking that they’re guilty through a “misunderstanding” of their motives. If they can justify their behavior to them, through elaborate, lengthy accountings of their behavior and purposes, others won’t think that they’re guilty of anything. Thereby, they hope to escape punishment. Once again, their purpose is negative and self‑serving.

The pleasing individual takes responsibility to avoid displeasing the people upon whom they depend for approval and validation of their worth as a person. To make sure that there are no potentially displeasing “misunderstandings,” they feel compelled to account for any behavior that might be perceived by them in a negative light. Their purpose is to prevent displeasing, because it leads to rejection, humiliation, abandonment and victimization. This, in turn, leads to the painful confirmation of their self contempt.

The antidote to excessive responsibility is to take the risk of allowing others to take ownership for the consequences of their own choices. Their homework is to catch themselves the next time they feel compelled to make others understand them. As adults, they can make decisions that they couldn’t make as a vulnerable, dependent child. They can remind themselves that they’re worthwhile human beings whether others understand them perfectly or not.

They are free to choose another course of action. They can choose to “let it go.” They can tell themselves, “If they have problems, it is their responsibility to ask me for help or not. In the meantime, I can choose to stop living in the future and live in the present, instead. As a competent human being, I can take life as it comes, just like everyone else.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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