I’m honored (or should I say honoured) to have the amazing Brit Natalie Lue of BaggageReclaim.com to be my Guest this week. Natalie is the author of several relationship books including The No Contact Rule. Here is her explanation of how it isn’t your job to make someone else happy. PS Stop feeling guilty for being “selfish”.
Giving Up The Role of Being Over-Responsible
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.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are like me–a mix of the two. If you get told off for stuff or blamed for certain things, you think you’re responsible for it even if you’re not. If your parent is inadequately parenting because they’re absent or they’re chronically ill or they’re dealing with addiction and other forms of codependency, or they’re abusive and neglectful, you grow up waaaay too soon.
You might feel as if you have to protect younger siblings, or protect one of your parents, or become a parent. You might feel as if there’s no point in expressing needs because there are people who have bigger needs or you reach they conclusion that they won’t be heard and acknowledged. You might see certain things going on and decide to help out by being pleasing, never asking for anything, trying to be strong all of the time, and playing yourself down so that you can elevate a sibling or even one or both of your parents. You might fend for yourself because your parents aren’t around very much (they might be working very long hours) and so you walk with a sense of aloneness. You might have had bad things happen to you but kept them a secret to keep the family together while destroying your self-esteem.
One day you wake up in adulthood and realise that you’re still in this role. You might not see it until you’re asked to consider where else you’ve felt similarly in life or until doing the same thing that you’ve always done is costing you your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
You might have felt as if you’d been responsible for so long that when you got to adulthood, you were worn out and so have kept trying to get other people to take responsibility for you. It’s like, “When do I get my turn?”. Cue what might be number of unavailable and possibly even abusive partners or other people in your life who you’re trying to fill voids with. Odds are as well that you’ve tried to do this with people who you might not have realised allow you to play to the role that you’ve become accustomed to playing.
When it feels as if there is no you because your feelings, opinions, needs etc are indistinguishable from someone else’s, you’re over-responsible.
When you’re being mistreated in your relationships and they’re blaming you for their crappy, sometimes abusive behaviour and you’re editing and shaving you down to try to appease them while walking on eggshells through life, you’re over-responsible.
When you have a pervasive feeling of anxiety and dread because after growing up around someone who used to take out their problems on you, you’re now hyper-aware of those around you and convinced that you’ve done something to upset them and that you’re being talked about, you’re over-responsible.
When you have a sense of aloneness because you don’t let people in so that they can help you and are afraid of not being strong and needed, you’re over-responsible.
When you’re not being you because you’re too busy taking care of everyone else and so running you into the ground, you being over-responsible is showing itself yet again and causing you to not meet your responsibilities to you.
If how happy you are is linked to how much you can influence the feelings and behaviour of others, I urge you to look at whether you are over-responsible and what the origins of that might be so that you can learn better boundaries for you that will allow you to give and receive love, care, trust and respect instead of sacrificing you and mistaking it for ‘giving’.
It’s not your job to make other people happy and to manage their feelings and behaviour. That’s their responsibility.
If you’re playing a role that you were taught or assumed, much as you may have been deriving value from it, it’s causing you deep pain. Roles cut you off from yourself and they also cut you off from intimacy because you’re pretending to be something you’re not. They hold you back and also do their part in keeping patterns alive that need to be let go of for everyone involved.
Whatever you think you’re supposed to have been responsible for and the job role you’ve created around that, it’s not and never has been your job.
Forgive the little kid inside you for what he or she didnt know back then. Forgive you not being the person you were never supposed to be and for not being able to Jedi mind trick people. Acknowledge the kid you didn’t get to be and endeavour to take better care of him/her with self-care.
It’s important to relieve your younger self of this role so that you can set you free of the patterns of unhealthy relationships and situations that you’re bound to have encountered.
Think about the role you have played within your family. What were the specific habits you’ve adopted to fulfil this role? What have you believed that it’s your job to be or do? How has this manifested itself in adulthood?
And remember: you can’t stay in this role just so that someone else can avoid their responsibility. It’s not your job to preserve a lie that when it all boils down to it, blocks you from love, care, trust and respect.
You can choose to be and do things that feel more authentic to you and in doing so, you can really begin to heal and stop the repetition of past hurts. Take care of you.
Natalie works with people around the world who are totally ready to get off the hamster wheel of going out with Mr/Miss Unavailables so that they can be in the relationship that they truly want and deserve. She helps them deal with the baggage behind their relationship patterns, while gaining more self-confidence to flush toxic situations and to come from a place of love, care, trust and respect. Here is a link to this article on her website: BaggageReclaim.
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