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Mary's Moments Blog Post

Over Responsible

Have you ever found yourself replaying scenarios in your mind, wishing you had done something differently to prevent someone else's pain? Maybe you've felt the weight of believing it's your duty to fix everything that goes wrong. If so, you might be familiar with the burdensome pattern of over-responsibility.


I wish I had made sure that event happened, or checked it was still on. Now, my friend or family member feels bad, and I feel like it's all my fault. But is it really? Am I taking too much responsibility? 

 

Over responsibility is something that affects a lot of us.  It’s a common trait of perfectionists, over-thinkers, high achievers, go-getters and people pleasers. They pour their energy into ensuring everything runs smoothly, yet find themselves trapped in a cycle of anxiety, exhaustion, and self-doubt.


Amazing people who struggle with this habit end up feeling bad about things that aren't really their fault. They're often smart, caring individuals —just like you.


What if it's okay to let go of some of that responsibility? By prioritizing your own well-being, you can still be a caring, compassionate person.


Recognizing the signs of over-responsibility is the first step towards breaking free from its grip. It often stems from childhood experiences, where we learned to seek approval and avoid conflict by taking on more than our fair share. We became the fixers, the ones who always put others' needs before our own.


Over-responsibility only leads to burnout and resentment. It's like carrying the weight of the world, unable to distinguish between your own needs and the needs of others. You become so entangled in everyone else's emotions and actions that you lose sight of your own.


Have you ever wondered why you struggle to ask for help?  Maybe some feel as though they’ve parented their parents or even raised their siblings?  Have you wondered why you feel lost or you don’t want to be a burden? What about owning other people’s feelings and behaviour?  Or deprioritizing your needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions?  Maybe you act as if you don’t have needs. 


If you have wondered why you feel, think, or do any of these things, it’s because you are likely excessively responsible for others while typically being under-responsible for you.  One of the reasons I think it’s so important to recognize these habits is that a lot of the time we don’t see them for what they are.


Over-responsibility manifests in various ways—suppressing your desires, striving for perfection, overthinking every decision—all in an attempt to maintain control and avoid disappointment. But in reality, it only perpetuates a cycle of self-neglect and emotional exhaustion.


Signs that we are over responsible or that we learned to be over responsible earlier in life is if you as a child, tried to figure out how to gain attention, affection, approval, love, and validation.  But it may also have been about minimizing or even trying to eliminate conflict, criticism, disappointment, rejection, loss or what as kids we term as abandonment.  Over time, we find ourselves in a lifelong pattern of being over responsible, making snap decisions, snap judgments, at the same time thinking - we don’t want to be a burden. 

 

This is the way to help out.  Be seen but not heard.  Don’t ask for too much.  Don’t be demanding.  Don’t make waves.  Be the fixer, solve all the problems.


The key to breaking free from over-responsibility lies in setting healthy boundaries and prioritizing self-care. It's about recognizing that you are not responsible for the happiness or well-being of others, and that it's okay to prioritize your own needs and desires.


The thing about being over responsible is that we over function in our interpersonal relationships.  Not just with family or with a partner, but it can often be with friends or at work, sometimes even with acquaintances.  And it often actually stems from thinking that this person is not going to step up in the way that I want them to or in the way that it needs to be done, so I need to double down on my efforts and take responsibility for this so that it is successful. 

 

When your needs are not being met then you over function to compensate for the fact that the other person isn’t showing up, you’re effectively taking responsibility for the entire relationship.  And so the success, or the failure lands on us.  Another reason we are over responsible is that we care. We genuinely want to do the best for those we like and love. One of the things I find with people pleasers and perfectionists and over thinkers is that we often have an awareness that we are doing these things but we don’t necessarily know why or what it is specifically we are doing. 

 

I have been known to be a people pleaser, I have suppressed my needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions often and put other people’s ahead of my own.  The reason why I hold myself to impossibly high standards and I engage in perfectionism isn’t for all of the reasons that I tell myself but rather because I am over responsible. 

 

Usually these habits appear with individuals that are trying to be perfect to make up for something that is lacking.  Something that they are not getting from somebody else.  Whether it’s at work, a friendship or an intimate relationship.  If they can do this then they can fix everything.


When I was growing up, I was the oldest in my family. My mom sometimes relied on me to watch over my younger brother while she (a single mom) was at work. My father though he lived far away (in the early days) had high expectations for my brother and I. Of course, these circumstances and expectations changed over the years however, when I was at school, I also felt like I had to be perfect all the time, always finishing my homework early and helping others with theirs. As I got older and started working, this habit of being over responsible followed me into the workplace.


At work, I found myself constantly taking on extra tasks, staying late to finish projects, and always feeling like I had to prove myself. I would often volunteer for things even when I was already swamped with work, because I didn't want to let anyone down. While my bosses appreciated my dedication, I still had a husband, children and a home to run.  It started taking a toll on my mental health and personal life. I was always stressed out and never had time for myself.


I later learned that being over responsible can stem from a variety of factors, including being the oldest child in the family. First-borns, especially girls, often feel pressure to excel and take care of others from a young age. This can lead to a pattern of over responsibility that persists into adulthood. While it's important to be reliable and hardworking, it's also crucial to set boundaries and prioritize self-care. Learning to delegate tasks and saying no when necessary has helped me find a better balance.  Having said that, old habits do creep back and it takes a conscious effort to reset.


It’s important to be aware of when you're slipping into over-responsibility mode. Notice the moments when you feel compelled to take on more than your fair share, and challenge yourself to step back and reassess the situation. Ask yourself, "Is this truly my responsibility, or am I taking on more than I can handle?"


I often try to anticipate other people’s feelings and thoughts. I’m always trying to work out what everybody else needs, wants, expects and feels.  We are so busy carrying the burden of everybody else’s feelings and behaviour that we cling onto it and that can cause us to not take care of ourselves and to put up with relationships and situations that aren’t healthy.  I think that sometimes people are over responsible not necessarily because anything terrible, per se happened in their childhood but that they just learned to take on a lot, to be aware of everybody else’s feelings and needs.

 

Those are not necessarily terrible traits.  It’s really nice to be conscientious and thoughtful.  Where it becomes a problem is when we can’t be conscientious and thoughtful for ourselves.  

 

Our relationships rely on us having healthy boundaries, knowing where we end and where others begin. And when we are over responsible, we can’t do that because we are too caught up in other people’s feelings and behaviour. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend in need. Take time to recharge and nurture your own well-being.


If you identify with feeling over responsible, I encourage you to go back and look at specific events to recognize what has really been going on.  When you notice this over responsibility and how it shows up in your life, you can choose to make different decisions.  You can give yourself time to think about how you’d like to approach things.  How can you gradually start to back off and instead take more responsibility for yourself?

 

When we are honest with ourselves about what our real responsibilities are, we can start to make a shift. 

 

So if you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, or you find yourself taking on the lion’s share at work or around the house because you’re afraid that no one else will step up, take a step back and ask yourself, is this really for me to take care of or am I being over responsible?  And if I am, how can I give myself a little bit of a break?


Breaking free from it is a process—letting go of the need to control everything will alleviate the burden.

 

Are the roles you are playing in your family or at work or in your intimate relationships helping you take centre stage or making you a side character in your own life? 


As I've grown older, I've started noticing things about myself that might not always be helpful. It's like looking in a mirror and seeing new things about who I am.  One big lesson I've learned is that I need to take care of myself. Putting EVERYONE else first, thinking it is the right thing to do has not faired well for me. But now, I see that I also deserve care and attention. It's like realizing that I'm important too.


I just wish I had given this more attention earlier. Maybe I could have avoided some unnecessary stress and exhaustion and wouldn’t have felt so drained and overwhelmed.


Every step in life is a lesson learned.  Some (like myself) just take longer to get it.


Let go – you deserve it!

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