• Sandy Reynolds

Do you have an over-developed sense of responsibility?

I’m not quite ready to be grateful for this pandemic, but I have found that I’ve learned a lot about myself during the past year. I think we keep learning the same lessons but on a deeper level as we go through life. This time of social distancing has given me some perspective.

Recently I’ve become aware of a deep root in my life that I had unintentionally been nourishing with behaviours that created the perfect conditions for it to flourish. Now that I’m aware of it, I’m not sure if I need to pull it out or just let it wither and die like some of the neglected plants in my garden.

I’ve started to see how deep the roots of my over-developed sense of responsibility are in my life. And I see it show up over and over again. I’ve been thinking about some of the places that message has been reinforced. Here are a few you might relate to:

1. Believing a sign of maturity is taking the high road: I don’t even know where this belief came from. It sounds morally self-righteous even to say, “I am taking the high road.” Unfortunately, it often becomes doing the heavy lifting in relationships. I’ll be the one to forgive. I’ll be the one to turn the other cheek. I’ll be the one to shoulder the weight of the relationship challenges. I’m taking the high road. But am I? Are you? Or are we just avoiding confronting dysfunction? Next time you are tempted to ‘take the high road,’ check in with yourself. Why are you the one taking the high road? Maybe the other person needs to step up.

2. Working hard not to be intimidating: I used to get this one a lot when I was actively involved in a church where women were not allowed to hold leadership positions. I naturally gravitated towards those roles and not the traditional and expected places for women, like working in the kitchen or with the children. I was told on more than one occasion, “You intimidate people.” And with that comment, the responsibility for the relationship was put on me. I had to change to make other people more comfortable. I was responsible for how others felt.

3. Being the initiating friend: I’ve only recently become aware that I probably have Inattentive ADD. I haven’t been professionally diagnosed but listening to a podcast recently was like a light bulb going on for me. I've been doing more reading, and it seems to fit. When I look at my report cards from when I was a child, I see many of these symptoms listed. And I know I zone out when talking to people ALL THE TIME. One of the ways I learned to cope was by planning. I find being organized helps me. The downside to being a planner AND having an overly developed sense of responsibility is that I initiate many things with people. I’ve been letting things slide lately and realizing that it is OK. People seem to be fine without me initiating all the time. (I actually think they may be relieved!)

4. Confusing being a victim and over-responsibility: One of the big ‘aha’s’ for me when I went for therapy for childhood abuse was that I was operating as a victim my life. I wasn’t taking responsibility for the things that I had control over. It was a big moment for me. What I now see was missing in my therapy was a grounding in understanding what I am responsible for in a relationship. Therapists refer to this as ‘differentiation” or “individuation.” It’s an ongoing process that can be thwarted in a family or other systems where there is pressure to suppress our true selves.

I’ve taken responsibility for relationships where I’ve been mistreated. I’ve taken responsibility for other people’s behaviour. I now ask myself, "who is responsible for this situation?"

Can you relate? Are you apologizing for something you didn’t do? Are you feeling guilty because you haven’t taken the high road? Are you trying to be less intimidating rather than letting someone else figure out why they are intimidated by you? In your attempt to not be a victim, are you taking responsibility for someone else’s behaviour?

I think people-pleasers have an over-developed sense of responsibility.We think that it is up to us to make sure that we don’t upset people. So in our efforts to be good, responsible, kind people, we take on way too much. We create stories in our minds where we are at fault for any problems in our relationships.

The truth is you are only responsible for yourself.

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