One of the things that can keep us stuck in abusive or broken (not functioning well) situations is our feeling responsible for other people’s actions. This has been a huge area of struggle for me, and something I’m still working to understand so I can act differently.
Sometimes I feel compelled to take on the responsibility of others. I find myself unable to say no and driven to jump into situations I have no place dealing with. The urgency began as a little girl feeling sorry for and responsible for parents who seemed for various reasons to need me to be.
Children depend on parents to make their world a safe, secure, loving place. If that is not happening, it is the nature of a child to question themselves rather than the adults in their lives. A common response is “What did I do to make Mom so angry?” or “If I was a better kid, Dad wouldn’t have hurt me or left us.” Or an alcoholic parent leaves their child to care for themselves and the intoxicated parent. In these cases, children take on a burden that wasn’t intended for them.
I felt guilty over anything uncomfortable that occurred in their life. Now, all I know is a sense of dread comes over me when I’m faced with the choice of stepping into a situation that really is not mine to handle. Certainly, something awful will happen if I don’t take charge, right?
The truth is, harmful things happen if I do take over.
When I take responsibility for others:
It piles more on me than God intends for me to handle. I become exhausted and unable to fully give myself to my own responsibilities.
It doesn’t allow for the privilege and blessing meant for them.
It burdens me with guilt, shame, and/or resentment over the situation.
My unhealthy responsibility for their well-being takes the place of a healthy compassion for others.
They don’t experience consequences for their actions that can help them grow.
It enables them to continue in negative patterns of living.
I am acting in place of God in their lives.
Learning to handle only what we are responsible for helps us and others.
Recently, a friend and I were discussing this situation in our lives. We agreed that the compulsion we experience is not healthy or helpful because of how it forces us into situations that leave us feeling stuck rather than free to exhibit the God-given compassion we want to have instead. We recognize the difference and are praying for God to free us. Identifying those situations is the first step. Then we can be aware of how we slip into old patterns. The next time we’re faced with that feeling of dread, we can ask ourselves:
Is this piling more on me than God intends for me to handle? Am I becoming exhausted and unable to fully give myself to my own responsibilities?
Is it disallowing a privilege and blessing meant for someone else?
Do I feel burdened with guilt, shame, and/or resentment over the situation?
Is this my unhealthy responsibility for their well-being or healthy compassion for them?
Am I keeping someone from experiencing consequences for their actions that can help them grow?
Am I enabling them to continue in negative patterns of living?
Am I acting in place of God in their lives?
Next week we’ll explore more about what can happen to others when we take responsibility for them or their actions.
Can you relate to any of these questions? How have you learned to only be responsible for yourself?