We all have responsibilities and obligations. It is part of being in relationships with family, co-workers, neighbors, and life.
Donna shares a story about one morning – years ago as a full-time working mom, wife and mother with 3 children – when she woke up and realized she wasn’t responsible for the sun rising that morning. (It’s true!)
While she can laugh about it now, it was a very serious moment in her early adult years. Intellectually, she of course knew that she wasn’t responsible for the sunrise, yet she had emotionally taken on an exaggerated sense of responsibility that felt like the weight of the universe was on her shoulders.
In an odd way, Donna was victimized by her strong sense of responsibility. The “gift” of the value of responsibility she gained from her family-of-origin had become overused and developed into a burden.
With the sunrise epiphany, she was able to see that it was her thinking that created the extreme sense of responsibility, not the situation. Donna doesn’t even remember what the presenting situation was – just the epiphany upon awakening. Her self-persecuting internal dialogue resulted in her feeling responsible for everyone’s happiness and kept her locked into her own internal Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT).
Because of her realization, she had conversations with her then husband and kids, out of which they volunteered that they could do a lot more to take care of themselves. And, to her surprise, they wanted to. They were happier and Donna discovered more personal freedom as well. It was such a relief to let go and let more ease flow through the family.
Being overly responsible certainly happens at work as well and can have equally frustrating results.
For example, David reflects on a time when he was managing a major department in a large corporation. Working late at night (because of his own exaggerated sense of responsibility and not wanting to let anyone down), he was copied on an email that went to one of his direct reports. The person to whom the email was directed had left for the evening. Instead of letting the direct report respond in the morning, David went ahead and answered the email, only to find out the next morning that he gave the wrong information, which caused a flurry of additional messages.
He drew on this experience in the writing of his forthcoming book, 3 Vital Questions: Transforming Workplace Drama, in illustrating how managers and others can use exaggerated responsibility to justify being a Rescuer.
If you do not let go of exaggerated responsibility, it can put you on the path of burnout and misery, while feeling persecuted – not by others or external situations, but by your own thinking. You cannot release yourself from the burden of false responsibilities until you wake-up to the fact that you are ultimately only responsible for your own attitudes and behavior. When you make this shift you can support others as Creators who own their own appropriate level of responsibility and accountability. You really are not in charge of the sunrise……and a heck of a lot of other happenings and events in your life!
Donna now realizes that she did not trust life to unfold as it will and admits to a certain amount of unconscious arrogance that was running in the background of her life. She failed to see that exaggerated sense of responsibility was really an attempt to control circumstances and situations.
Now, with each sunrise and sunset, she reminds herself to let go, enjoy the beauty, and do what is only hers to do.