What causes over-responsibility?
Over-responsibility comes from the depressed mindset of not being good enough, and therefore becoming obsessed with not wanting to disappoint and burden other people. This produces a hyper vigilant state of alertness to ensure your work will not be criticised by others. Often the depressed person craves praise. Ultimately it is driven by an insecure sense of self.
The paradox is that the anxiety around being overly responsible produces diminished accuracy, productivity and a state of rigidity. The distance between them and the world grows, producing states of loneliness, disconnection and depression.
How over responsibility manifests:
- The inability to take a proper lunch break or downtime at home for fear of stopping when more work could be done
- Castigating oneself for small failures
- Ruminating over past excessively especially about decisions that had a significant influence over career, marriage or family life
- Worried about how other people, often superior in social or professional ranking, thinks about them
- Thinking constantly about how to impress other people, especially people they perceive as socially more significant than themselves
- Grandiose thoughts about getting recognition
- Inability to properly rest and enjoy downtime, always thinking about what they should be doing
- Taking work home by thinking about it too much on weekends and dreaming about work
- In spite of being exhausted, still thinking about how to help others and save the world
- Over apologising, especially over trivial or insignificant matters
- Feeling constantly frustrated by others who they believe aren’t living up to their responsibilities
Over caring for others
Over responsibility sometimes comes from a saviour complex where we ascribe too much importance to saving other people. These deeds often come from over dependent people. Because these deeds are viewed as noble or aspirational they often go without correction from the person or objection from society.
We love acts of kindness towards strangers and the lost and lonely – we just don’t want it done at the expense of the person’s own mental health, because that’s not real love. Giving can actually be a subtle form of getting.
Melody Beattie (1987) describes codependents as angry, controlling, preachy, blaming, hard to talk to, subtly manipulative, amorphous non-persons, and generally miserable. Not exactly angels of mercy. They have tried so hard to manage someone else’s life – to “save” them – but they failed, and sooner or later their life crumbled into bitterness, despair, guilt, and hopelessness. They became martyrs, tyrants, people-pleasers, clinging vines, distraught parents, 24-hour-a-day caretakers, etc. They have lost control of their lives.*
How to treat depression and beat over responsibility
It’s all about sharing responsibility. Recognise your limitations and have the courage to ask for help when needed. Do only what you are responsible for. Remember:
The more we are able to share responsibly and appropriate blame in a balanced way, The more we will begin to find that our day to day living experiences and tasks more enjoyable and rewarding.*
Often people attribute responsibility for their present condition on past events and people that may have neglected or hurt them. While past events can hurt we are ultimately responsible for dealing with how we manage that hurt.
Treating depression is about beating draining weights like learned helplessness and fatigue and motivating oneself to incrementally increase responsibilities. It starts with how to manage past hurts. It also involves working out what you are responsible for and what other people are responsible for.
Sharing responsibility doesn’t come easily and it requires balance, empathy and assertiveness to enact it properly. This means learning to say ‘no’ without guilt. Make time to replenish you mind and body with calming exercises like Yoga and meditation. Know and respect your boundaries to ensure that your sense of over-responsibility diminishes.
To sum up:
- Learn to take the finger of the pule and let things go, especially things you can’t control
- Learn to share responsibility and the skill of asking people to share when it’s responsible and reasonable
- Don’t abdicate responsibility in efforts to cut down on legitimate responsibility
- Remember you are 100% responsible for you only. You are not totally responsible for anyone else and they are not totally responsible for you.
- Enjoy your changing self, and remember this takes time and trial and error, be patient.
References and further reading