Most people are responsible. Some go a step further and are excessively responsible.
If someone is sad, those who take excessive responsibility feel it’s their 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. If someone is hurt, they feel it is their responsibility to soothe them. If someone is sick, they feel it’s their responsibility to cure them. If someone is having a bad day, they feel it is their responsibility to make their day better.
Below are some of the reasons people take excessive responsibility for others’ behavior:
1) Some 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. These people mistakenly defines “control” in terms of “knowing.” The ‘logic’ goes, if those around you do not know what is best, they cannot cooperate with you in preventing these bad things from happening. However there is another reason why some try to prevent things. These people 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.
2) Some people take on excessive responsibility because they may be carrying a load of fictitious guilt. 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.
3) Many make frequent sacrifices in an attempt to help others overcome adversity. 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 ignored.
The solution to all of these excessive, useless mental gymnastics is to do something in reality. There are no such “have to’s”. You always have a choice, even if you don’t like your options. It is a mistake to define your self-worth in terms of how much you accomplish and how well you do it. The reality is, you do not know how to solve others problems, you have your hands full with your own. Adults are responsible for themselves.
The key to avoiding excessive responsibility is to take the risk of allowing others to think whatever they want about you. This requires others to take ownership for the consequences of their own choices. As an adult, you can make decisions that you couldn’t make as a vulnerable, dependent child. You can remind yourself that you are free to choose another course of action. You can choose to “let it go.” You can tell yourself, “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. I can take life as it comes, just like everyone else”. Instead you can make choices that please you.
As the process continues, it occurs to many that the simplest choice is to stop doing what makes them unhappy. This may involve stopping what we “should” do and making a choice on our own behalf. For instance, if nagging your partner about the dishes pleases you, you are free to continue. If it turns out that you hate doing this, you are free to stop. Instead yoi can choose to say, “It makes me angry when you don’t follow through, I would prefer that you show more consistency.” When you start to take ownership over your own happiness, you use your adult judgment to make the appropriate choice as to what, when, where and how much you need to say.