Irresponsibility of over-responsibility

He’s a top salesperson in the eastern USA and bursts with enthusiasm, positive goodwill, and energy. His success has been attributed to it both by himself and others. He feels great pressure to present himself in a certain way.

She’s an executive and team leader in a financial institution in Australia and considers herself responsible for the energy in the room during team meetings.

He’s a top executive coach and feels responsible for the happiness of his adult children following his divorce.

70% of Americans, believe that it’s either “somewhat” or “very important” for companies to make the world a better place. Do we apply the same to ourselves and those we interact with, and at what point do we become over-responsible? When we take responsibility for things that are not ours, we can thereby diminish others’ accountability and sense of empowerment and, in some cases, exhaust ourselves.

Why do we become over-responsible?

Because of the juice we get from it. Consider an area or situation where you feel responsible for others (and, of course, I’m not referring to small children or other relationships where we are, literally, responsible!). You might feel solely responsible for the vibe around the dinner table, you may take on the role of ‘the person who lights up the room’, or you might feel responsible for the filling of space in the conversation, laughing at jokes that aren’t funny, keeping everyone comfortable or happy.

There can be generosity or care to it. But it’s the juice we get from it ourselves which prompts us to take responsibility for these things. And sometimes the juice isn’t worth it. Sometimes it compromises our values.

What can the ‘juice’ look like?

We feel important. There’s sometimes a self-righteous pride in it. We enjoy feeling appreciated and valued, needed and… loved. We feel safe, have a sense of belonging and maybe even convince ourselves that we’re indispensable. Again, we feel safe. Conversely, we may feel unsafe if people around us aren’t comfortable or happy.

Could it be that in taking responsibility for others, you’re doing them a disservice?

Could it be that, by taking on responsibility for others, you’re continuing your cycle of dysfunction and, quite likely, contributing to theirs? Absolutely!

Of course, I’m not criticizing kindness, care, or respect. Nor am I recommending shirking responsibility! Consider this, though – false responsibility or over-responsibility can be a trauma response. Is it possible that, at some point in your childhood, you learned that if everyone else was happy, you were safe? I’d hazard a guess that, for most of us, this was the case.

How can I stop it?

Awareness comes first. Ask yourself: when am I taking responsibility for others to be liked, appreciated, valued or to feel important? Being truthful about this requires courageous self-reflection. Once we’ve identified those situations, we can pause for a moment before our automatic response. We can allow a space after the stimulus, where we can exercise conscious choice. We’re then in a much more powerful position to live in alignment with our values and free ourselves of the pressure of feeling overly-responsible.    

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About Sally

As a former international opera singer, Sally Wilson knows a thing or two about being at the top of your field. And she’s discovered first-hand what it feels like to step away from the spotlight and lose your identity.

Through coaching, Sally helps her clients let go of their self-sabotaging beliefs and discover freedom, joy and fulfillment. As an accredited TRTP™ practitioner, Sally uses evidence-based practices to create changes that are quick, safe and lasting.

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