I have a long history with assuming too much responsibility.
It’s not just about making too many commitments, taking on too many projects, or picking up the tab for my family and friends. For me, I have had a habit of assuming over-responsibility of a situation. I neglected to see where my personal boundaries lie. I would say sorry too much when it wasn’t necessary. I forgot that there were a lot of things outside my control that still affect a situation. When a situation didn’t happen the way I thought it would, I often took it personally and think it was my fault. When I was younger, if someone made an off-hand remark, I’d doubt myself and think, “Was it me? Oh no, something must be wrong with me…”
Alright, maybe I thought I was a little too special and the world revolved around me. Perhaps it was a sense of entitlement -- how dare this person say an off-hand remark to me?! Or I just automatically assumed that anything that goes wrong was my responsibility.
I just automatically assumed that anything that goes wrong was my responsibility.
Growing up, I was often told to take responsibility and that responsibility was a good thing. Being responsible meant being an adult. I certainly didn’t want to identify as someone who didn’t take any responsibility. So how could it possibly be bad for me to take too much responsibility?
Too much? Too little? Just right.
Taking a note from Goldilocks, to be responsible is to see the full picture, choose what aligns with me, and leave the rest. The full picture includes the situation and how it was setup to begin with, my role in the situation, and other(s) role in the situation.
For example: If a guy breaks up with me, I have three choices.
1. I can take too much responsibility and say “It was me! I screwed it all up. I’m terribly unlovable and I’m doomed to be alone forever.”
Too much responsibility means I am unkind to myself. I put the spotlight on all my weaknesses and don’t give credit to my strengths. I am prone to feel hopeless or that my life is chaotic and out of control. I cause myself anxiety because subconsciously, I know it can’t possibly be entirely my fault.
2. I can also take too little responsibility and say “It was all his fault. How dare he do this to me? I can’t believe it, he’s such an a**hole.”
Taking too little responsibility means I am defending myself. I am only focused on the other’s weaknesses and don’t give credit to their strengths. I am prone to coming off as unkind to others, casting blame, and lose my integrity. I may cause myself to feel anger and frustration, and a sense of paranoia because subconsciously, I also know that it can’t possibly be entirely the other’s fault.
If I choose either of these two options, I lose respect. I lose self-respect in my own eyes, and I lose respect in others’ eyes.
3. Or I can choose the “just right,” option. I can respect myself and others. I can take my part and leave the rest, and say “Well, we gave it a good run, I had my faults and so did he. I did see early signs that we might not have been the best fit to begin with. Ultimately, I think he might just not be the right person for me. I’m hopeful I will meet the right partner for me in the future.”
Taking just the right amount of responsibility is incredibly hard. It requires me to set aside my negative feelings for now. I must choose to be vulnerable about my role in the situation. I have to be open enough to see others for who they are and reasonably, how much or how little responsibility they can take for the situation too.
Only when all of these factors are present, can we move to the next step: taking joint responsibility.
Taking joint responsibility obviously takes two to tango. It means the other person also must take just the right amount of responsibility for their part. The other person must also be open to communicating with me and working together to resolve the situation. Resolving the situation together could look like any of these activities and more:
Vocalize our own negative feelings to each other so we feel heard
Objectively look at the facts together and acknowledge the situation and its inherent dynamics
Each person expresses taking just the right amount of responsibility and apologizes for their own parts in the situation
Choose to mutually agreeable terms for the relationship moving forward and offer clarity if needed
Let go of any emotional attachments, forgive each other, and move on
In distilling my thoughts for this post, I feel liberated from taking too much responsibility and feel proud of myself for holding my integrity high. It will take some time for me to break my old habits, and I accept that the first step is to understand this concept intellectually. I hope to practice the Goldilocks principle of responsibility moving forward and hope that this post helps at least one other person in this process too!