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"What do you want out of life, and what is holding you back from that?" 

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January 10, 2020

Why do I take on all the responsibility?

The goal is to find a happy medium where you can take responsibility for your part and let others take responsibility for their part.

Understanding the role of responsibility.

Where do you fit on the spectrum of who's responsible?  Sometimes it depends on the situation, but often we gravitate towards one end of the spectrum or the other.

Have you noticed yourself taking on responsibility for everyone else’s feelings?  Or at least certain people’s feelings?  You might feel that you have more control over a situation if you take responsibility: "If I was more careful, xyz wouldn't have happened to me."  "If I calm so-and-so down and tell him he's right, maybe our relationship can go back to normal."  This is the hyper-responsibility end of the spectrum.

At the other end of the spectrum: Do you blame everyone else for your problems so you can avoid any responsibility?  So you can uphold your ideal view of yourself as strong, invincible, successful, in control, never wrong, etc.?  Blaming others is the obvious sign of this stance.  However, defensiveness can be a more subtle clue that this is happening for you.

Which one fits you most often?  For today's post, I'm going to focus on the hyper-responsibility end of the spectrum - why it happens and what to do about it.

Why do I take on all of the responsibility?

This tendency to take on too much responsibility can happen for a variety of reasons:

  1. Kid-logic: If this tendency started when you were young, kid-logic probably has something to do with it.  Developmentally, kids assume everything is about them.  That's why even if you tell kids the divorce is not their fault, it's difficult for them to believe that without further processing.  Anything that happens is because of them or related to them.
  2. Ingrained messages: This is compounded if you lived with (or had a close relationship with) someone that was on the blame end of the spectrum and either told you directly, or implied, that things were always your fault.
  3. A way of feeling more in control: If you lived in an unpredictable environment, it might have felt better to assume responsibility so that you could feel some measure of control.  For example, "if I was a better kid, my dad wouldn't have left."  Or "If I get all A's, my mom won't have a reason to yell at me.
  4. Personality: Enneagram wisdom posits that there are 3 different stances in the world: aggressive, dependent, and withdrawn.  I hypothesize that if you are in the aggressive stance you are more likely to be on the blaming end of the spectrum and if you are in the dependent stance, you are more likely to take on too much responsibility.  (I'm not sure if the withdrawn stance is predictive of either one.)  No matter your stance, you have the opportunity to find balance: taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions, and only for your own feelings and actions.  More about that later.
  5. To feel good about yourself: If I'm the one taking the blame, I'm not the mean one dishing out the blame.  If I take on the responsibility, it means I'm altruistic, noble, a helper, mediator, etc.  If I don't, I feel mean or uncaring.
  6. To protect your view of an important person: Taking responsibility is also a way to protect your ideal view of another person.  Especially when you are young, it's hard to acknowledge that someone has both good and bad aspects to them.  If you need to preserve your view that your mom is loving and protective, and you can't reconcile her actions with that view, you might take on all the responsibility to keep her as all good, and you become all bad.

How untrue beliefs can affect you

Unless these beliefs and patterns are corrected, you may spend the rest of your life seeing the world through the lens that you are bad, defective, unlovable, or powerless.  These are the kinds of underlying beliefs that can keep you stuck if they are not identified and processed.  EMDR is one effective framework that targets these beliefs so that you can be free.  You don't have to see the world through the lens of "I'm bad" anymore - looking for evidence that others believe you're bad too, disbelieving anyone that tries to tell you otherwise, or trying to prove to yourself and others that you are not bad.  You can let that go and just be you.

The Goal

The goal is to find a happy medium where you can take responsibility for your part and let others take responsibility for their part.  Your feelings and actions are your responsibility.  Others' feelings and actions are their responsibility.

Explore resources for building assertiveness and setting boundaries. Consider individual therapy for personal support in building these skills.