How to stop being over-responsible

Do you feel like you are sometimes over-responsible? Being responsible is obviously great but what about when you end up taking on too much and not being able to say “no”. Guilt is the emotion that might be keeping you trapped in this pattern. Don’t worry if you don’t relate to feeling guilty. Psychologists think about guilt as being caused by thoughts about personal responsibility. If you feel constantly responsible for things, it might be because you’d feel guilty if you didn’t. So learning to deal with thoughts related to guilt can help you to break out of patterns of over-responsibility.

 

STEPS:

So if you are feeling responsible or guilty, you’ll first need to figure out the responsibility thought, which how much responsibility you feel about a situation. Then you use these three questions to retrain your thinking:

  1. Who else had a role in this and what percent is their responsibility?

  2. How much responsibility is left after I add up everyone else’s roles?

  3. Is there anything I can do to repair this situation so I can move on?

 

Example:

Let’s look at an example. Imagine you’re feeling guilty because you let someone down by forgetting about an appointment. So your responsibility thought might be “I am 100% responsible”

First, you’d ask yourself: Who else had a role in this and what percent is their responsibility?

So you might write: “My brother had a role in this because he always likes me to call him in the evenings and I went to bed tired. His role was probably 10%. My work also had a role because I’ve been thinking about a project all day and I got distracted and forgot about the appointment. Works role was probably 30%”

Second you’d ask yourself: “How much responsibility is left after I add up everyone else’s roles?

So you’d write: “My responsibility is around 60% after I take out 10% for my brother and 30% for work”

And third, you’d ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to repair this situation so I can move on?”

So you might choose to write an email or a text message to the person you were supposed to meet where you apologise and ask if there is anything that you can do to fix the situation.

It’s normal for people to think that they shouldn’t let themselves off the hook and that it is important to take full responsibility. That is true for people who aren’t good at taking responsibility and tend to blame others. However, most people tend to blame themselves before they blame others. For those people, learning to retrain their thoughts so they can talk to themselves with compassion is usually a more helpful habit than focusing on self-blame. When people who self-blame learn to forgive themselves they don’t stop being responsible - they just treat themselves more compassionately while they take responsibility.


SUMMARY

Let’s summarise: Feelings of guilt are caused by thoughts about personal responsibility. To retrain responsibility thoughts, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Who else had a role in this and what percent is their responsibility?

  2. How much responsibility is left after I add up everyone else’s roles?

  3. Is there anything I can do to repair this situation so I can move on?


Practice Recommendation:

Here’s our practice recommendation: if you notice that you are blaming yourself for a situation, stop and consider the other roles in the situation. The goal is to learn how to talk to yourself with compassion and stop self-blame. It can help to recognise that you don’t need to blame yourself to take responsibility. Instead, build a habit of using these questions to practice letting yourself off the blame hook while still acting responsibly to repair the situation.

Guilt is a hard emotion to master. We wish you all the best with using this skill to be less tough on yourself but still perform at your best.

Jay SpenceEmployee Wellness, EAP