Most of us are responsible adults. Some people go a step further and feel responsible for fixing others problems.

If someone is sad, those who take excessive responsibility feel an obligation to make them happy. If someone is upset, they feel it’s their responsibility to calm them down. If two people can’t get along, they feel it is their responsibility to help them see the others’ point of view.

Some who are excessively responsible feel worthless and deserving only of pain and punishment. They strive for others approval to combat inescapable inferiority. They are wrought with guilt for others struggles and have critical thoughts about themselves when they fail to prevent others problems. This self-condemnation serves to confirm their existence as a worthless individual, but they prefer this to the pain of being judged.

John is excessively responsible. He finds it necessary to seek dominance and control, which he believes will stop catastrophe. Paradoxically, he is not more secure, he is less secure. His efforts are counter-productive.

In order to achieve perfect security, John must control (for everyone’s good in this time of impending disaster) every aspect of his and others choices, thoughts, and anything else that might stop the perceived imminent catastrophe. He must suppress any new idea because he cannot predict their outcome in advance. He cannot take a vacation from his all-consuming responsibility because something bad might happen back home while he is at the beach.

John’s excessive responsibility is based on the unrealistic expectations that it is his duty to please everyone at all times and to avoid doing or saying anything that might be considered offensive or unpleasant. If people are displeased then it will be all his fault. He will be guilty of the absurd crime of displeasing.

He feels personally responsible for all the bad things that happen to himself and those in his life. This belief creates pain on top of pain since not only has he been victimized by the unexpected changes of life, but it is his fault for letting it happen. He blames himself for his failure to prevent the victimization before it happened. He blames himself for his inability to see it coming in advance (“I was so stupid”).

He is not stupid; he is merely suffering from a human limitation, the inability to predict the future accurately. The real problem with being super-responsibility is the belief that their judgment isn’t good enough and therefore cannot be trusted. John cannot even trust himself to decide which decisions are important and which are trivial. To avoid this any chance of a lapse in judgment for occurring, he seeks control over everything, just to be on the safe side. He feels responsible for inflicting his senseless decisions on everyone in sight, for their own good.

Since the demands of everyday life present us with millions of potential decisions, he soon finds himself drowning in the contingencies of every choice. He cannot live his life until he has figured them all out and decided which is best. He becomes an obsessive thinker. He has become paralyzed under the weight of the heavy, self-imposed responsibilities because he doesn’t trust his judgment to solve problems that may arise.

Many people can trust their judgment to tell them which daily decisions must be resolved immediately, which can wait, and which do not need to be resolved at all. They trust their judgment to tell them how much responsibility is too much and how much is enough. Their judgment is not perfect; perfection is not a human trait. Their judgment is good enough to get the job done. This good enough judgment is not sabotaged by immature beliefs. It is based on unconditional self respect, which is to say that regardless of our good or bad choices, we are equally worthwhile and lovable. This doesn’t go up or down depending on our decisions.
These people are not trying to get approval like children. They have mature independent identities of their own.

They assume appropriate responsibility and exercise good judgment based on the belief that not matter what happens they will deal with it. No matter what it may be, these people know that they possess the ability to endure and succeed despite any setbacks they may face. This is respect.

Respect is accepting one as a worthwhile human being in spite of one’s faults and imperfections. We generate respect by:
* Accepting yourself as worthwhile independent of external consideration
* Using your adult judgment to determine your responsibilities based on life today (reality)
* Assuming responsibility for our own well-being

Photo by Sean MacEntee