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Fixing Problems: Are You Excessively Responsible?

What is preventing us from taking our lives one day at a time?

Simply put, we do not respect ourselves. As a consequence of our lack of self-acceptance, we do not trust our judgment; we do not trust our decision making skills to deal with life as it comes. Our perception of life as unpredictable, scary and dangerous has made us feel insecure. Our insecurity is painful. We seek relief from the pain our insecurity with expectations, but we cannot predict the future, there are no road maps, no fortune telling.

Security does not lie in forecasting the future; it lies in our self-acceptance, which is the feeling that we are unconditionally lovable. On that basis, we can trust ourselves to cope with life, not perfectly, but good enough. Once we come to that conclusion, we will be free of our childish beliefs that life is scary, and that we are too immature to cope with it. Such mistaken convictions make our lives more complicated and difficult than it needs to be. Once we let go of the need to plan, predict and prevent, we will be able to cope.

John was at a Board Meeting. He was presenting a proposal for buying some new property. His colleague, Will, questioned his judgment, “That is stupid, It won’t work and we will all be out of a job.”. John caught himself about to defend himself from Will’s antagonism, which had never worked before. It always wound up in a half hour of wasted energy accomplishing nothing of value. Since John had the power of choice, he chose to control himself. He chose to use his own adult judgment to solve this problem.

One of Will’s problems was his desire for control at all costs. He wasn’t considering the interests of the corporation, he was trying to relieve the pain of his own insecurity in ways that were not rational or effective. John did not pull back on the rope for Will’s game of a tug-o-war. He chose consciously and deliberately to drop the rope and go on with the meeting. He used a technique called, agree with it: “I would be concerned too if I thought this would end in disaster. I hear what you’re saying Will and I’ll certainly give it all the consideration it deserves.” And the meeting went on.

When he was growing up, John was the responsible child in his family. His little brother, the baby of the family, took on the role of the irresponsible child. John prides himself on being responsible. The downside is that no one ever told him how much responsibility was enough! He never knew when to stop. At this meeting, he caught himself being responsible for answering Will’s inappropriate comments, as if it were a valid request for information.

John also had a childish outlook towards understanding. He learned that understanding was a good thing and was his responsibility to make people understand. Here again, John didn’t know when to quit. Will sensed this vulnerability and was able to use it against John. Will could always ask for an explanation and John would give it to him in good faith. However, Will wasn’t sincerely interested in a deeper understanding, he was being antagonistic. Will was using John’s proposal to procrastinate and delay returning to his own boring tasks.

John identified Will’s behavior as antagonism and decided to set some limits by living up to his own standards of how much clarifying he needed to do. John chose to disengage from his own self-imposed requirement that he explain everything perfectly to prevent the disaster of a misunderstanding. He realized Will’s remarks didn’t require any explanation at all. It was a trap that would have wasted everyone’s valuable time. John made a conscious choice to avoid falling into the trap.

John replaced his old, inappropriate good intentions to make Will understand. He caught himself being reminded of his pesky little brother. John released himself from the grip of his striving to be all things to all people, to please everyone all the time, to be perfect. Instead, John didn’t feel compelled to make Will understand, he wasn’t trying to control the situation perfectly to everyone’s total satisfaction. Jack had chosen to let it all go.

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Fixing Problems: Are You Excessively Responsible?

Aaron Karmin

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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2015). Fixing Problems: Are You Excessively Responsible?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Jul 2015
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