We have work to do, bills to pay, people and animals to care for… the list of responsibilities we carry is endless. And the people who are able to stay on top of it all are a wonder. They are respected, they are emulated. They are The Responsible Ones. As we reach the age of majority, and for some of us, far later into life, we strive to achieve this pinnacle of adulthood, to finally have things under control.
In many ways it is a worthy pursuit, but it is also a double edged sword. With a firm sense of responsibility, there often comes the threat of over-responsibility.
But what is over-responsibility and why is it dangerous?
Have you ever laid awake at night worrying about someone else’s choices? Have you ever watched someone you love doing something that was bad for them, like smoking, and thought it was your fault because you couldn’t make them stop? Have you ever tried dictating another, fully competent, adult’s decisions? Or felt guilty that you couldn’t control a situation that, in reality, had nothing to do with you?
You might be suffering from the horrible, energy sucking vampire of over-responsibility. There is a small point of balance between being caring and supportive, and becoming an ominous presence who drains other people’s energy, power and freedom, driving a wedge into relationships with loved ones. Over-responsibility also causes our own energy to become so scattered that we are left weakened and deflated. We cannot live up to our own potential if we’re putting all of our energy into taking on responsibilities that, in truth, belong to others.
We often fall into this habit, not out of a sense that we are better than anyone else, but out of fierce love.
We want what is best for our loved ones, we want to protect them, and to help them in anyway we can. And it’s good, it’s loving. But when we cross the line into thinking that in order for others to function optimally, we have to be in charge of them, we cause damage to ourselves as well as those we are trying so hard to help. We have to respect the fact that everyone is on their own path. We all came into this world with an energy of our own, with a purpose and a vision that is unique and beautiful. When we spend more time thinking about what our brothers and sisters are up to than focusing on our own truth, we become lost.
We often hear stories of families torn apart over disagreements about marriage choices, educational pursuits, or lifestyle preferences. And when it comes right down to it, most of those family members are actually trying to do what they think is right. There are logical reasons to back up what each person is saying, but there in lies the trap. Reason is subjective. Reason is filtered through perspective and perspective is coloured by multiple life experiences. And as we all know, life experiences are different for each of us. What we learn, how we grow, is completely individual. What makes sense for one of us could seem ludicrous to everyone else.
We end up going around and around in circles, arguing our point, trying to convince other people that we know what’s best for them.
With children this may work for a while, but they grow up, realize their own autonomy and either stay close to parents or get as far away as possible. The parent/child relationships that remain the strongest are those that encourage open communication, freedom, and respect for individual thought and action.
On the flipped side, many adults are now finding themselves in the role of caregiver for senior parents. We need to ask ourselves if these seniors deserve any less? Does age, and it’s related conditions, mean they shouldn’t be treated as whole human beings? Of course, most of us would say no. And yet, seniors are often treated as though they have no rights. Our over-responsibility decides that we know how things ought to be done.
When my Grandfather received a terminal cancer diagnosis, the doctors told him to go home and prepare for the end. We were furious. Who were these doctors to hand out a death sentence, leaving no room for hope? But not my Grandfather. He wasn’t furious, he was defeated. He believed them, so he went home, got into bed and waited to die. Our outrage turned to shock. How could he just give up like that? Why wasn’t he fighting for his life? Trying every alternative treatment he could get his hands on?
This situation had a whole lot of over-responsibility flying around, from both the medical professionals and my family. Both sides were pushing the “correct” thing to do onto my Grandfather, at probably one of his scariest moments. Neither side offered him the respect and support we all deserve as soulful human beings living a life experience on our own terms.