The Dangers of Being Over-Responsible

I observe how being over-responsible seriously affects individuals’ mental and emotional well-being. It is one thing to be responsible but another to take on what really falls out of your responsibility.

Typical examples

Supporting a martyr: Helen is a teacher. The head of her department likes to act like a martyr. She always complains about all her responsibilities. As a result Helen feels sorry for her and feels she needs to make her senior’s life easier. But Helen is stressed by her senior’s unhelpful attitude. It is very clear that Helen is being over-responsible and playing rescuer with her senior.

So take time to work out if something is your issue or the other person’s. It is not your role to keep other people happy. Any person in a leadership role needs to behave like a leader and accept the responsibility that goes with that role.

Wives taking on unnecessary responsibility: Many wives feel responsible for their husband’s health. So they set up doctors’ appointments etc. only to have their husband take no action afterwards. Over time, some come to the realisation that their husband needs to take responsibility for his own health. Then the wife backs off totally and is less stressed because she feels it is outside of her power to do anything about it anyway.

Many husbands see their wife as a personal assistant at home. Any calls that need to be done are the wife’s responsibility. Repairs or renovations often become the wife’s task to handle. The wife ends up in the middle between the service provider and her husband. And so she is often the person who experiences stress while her husband “dumps” his frustration with the service provider on her! The wife ends up being stressed and exhausted. She is being over-responsible.

Why are you taking all the responsibility? It never works to play the middle man between two other parties. Bring the other parties together to talk issues through.

Non-delivery, poor performance of colleagues: Some employees are over-responsible and feel they need to make up for the poor performance of their colleagues. Only when they find themselves drained and working long hours do they realise they need to assert themselves. But very often it takes quite a while before they find the courage to do so.

Pete works for a small company that has quite a few junior staff. His fuse is becoming shorter as many of the employees are not yet equipped to do their work effectively. He has years of experience behind him and is becoming really frustrated with the poor co-operation he receives from other teams. It is even beginning to affect his sleep patterns negatively.

So step back and evaluate why there are performance issues. Resolve the true causes such as more effective recruitment or proper training, etc.

Mothers and school work: Many mothers fall into the trap of either doing their children’s homework or assignments. As much as you think you are helping your child you are in fact doing them a major disservice. By doing the work for you child you deny them the opportunity to take responsibility for what is their task. Without realising it you create unhealthy dependency patterns that your child will carry into adulthood.

You can guide and support your child. Point them to the right resources.  By all means, sit with them but let them do the work.

If you are accommodating several other people at the expense of your mental and emotional well-being, consider coaching.


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Posted in Self mastery.