For as long as I can remember, I’ve been over-responsible. I’ve felt that I have to be strong and so avoid showing ‘weakness’ by asking for help, expressing needs or sharing my feelings. I’ve hung back and dimmed my light so that my brother and then others could shine and they wouldn’t feel the need to reject or abandon me for taking up too much space or making them feel inferior in some way.
Thanks to family who like to carry on as if they’re in an episode of Dallas/Dynasty/Sons & Daughters/Prisoner Cell Block H, I can read a room and feel the tension shift in the air without seeing or hearing what’s going on. I was expected to hone the skill of reading minds by the time I started school and I learned that I must try to be as pleasing as possible even if it hurt. Being told that me being “pretty” and “too bright” caused problems multiplied my shame and I felt it best to not be too good at anything and learned to instinctively blame myself for other people’s everything. I learned long ago that I can be in trouble and have caused an issue, even if I wasn’t there or had nothing whatsoever to do with it.
I learned that it is my job to make people happy and that if I can do that, then I will be allowed to be happy.
I’m not alone. Many of the people who struggle to forge and sustain healthy relationships, or have confidence issues at work, and/or have grappled with feelings of low self-worth, are over-responsible. They’ve been trained or taught themselves earlier in life to be responsible for other people’s feelings, opinions, behaviour, needs, expectations and desires. They are people pleasers who suppress and repress themselves to prioritise others and to also minimise or eliminate conflict, criticism, rejection and disappointment. They do what are often good things but for the wrong reasons and it’s because, like me, they didn’t/don’t know any different.
Over-responsible people are often the eldest or an only child, but wherever they fall in the family, they assumed a role within it which they felt was their ‘job’. They fulfilled and often still continue to fill this role even when they’re long into adulthood, because they want to do their part and ‘help out’ but also because they want to feel OK and get love, attention, affection and validation. Sometimes being over-responsible is taught, so the child is frequently told that they’re responsible for something or someone or it’s inferred. Sometimes it’s that they taught themselves and assumed more responsibility because of a change in circumstances. Sometimes it’s a mix of the two.