Somehow, we can fall into the trap of feeling responsible for absolutely everything that happens in life. We carry around this feeling that we are in charge of how things should go, what should happen next as well as everyone else’s feelings. We frequently take on problems that actually have nothing to do with us and most of the time, no one asked for our help anyway. We simply own too much responsibility for outcomes and others.
This life lesson came to me in an instant but in retrospect, I see that the lead up was important too. Over the course of the last few months, everything was feeling serious. I was disappointed with a situation that was not coming easily and the pandemic was dragging on, making me bored and restless. Without the usual outlets, I was feeling more and more grave about everything in my life and there wasn’t a lot of laughter. I was having difficult conversations with people, colleagues and family, calling them out on stuff that was bugging me but in the meantime, it was making them uncomfortable. I was feeling like every little thing was a big deal and every person’s approach to life was a source of frustration. As it was happening, I did not have insight into my behaviour. Through a difficult work situation, one that I was trying to “fix” for everyone, I finally caught the trap I was falling into. This trap of hypervigilance was making me absolutely miserable and it wasn’t getting me anywhere or helping anything.
I was living my life, feeling totally responsible for everything – meetings, moments, interactions, what people did and what people didn’t do. I was carrying around a heavy load because of feeling overly responsible for myself and others. In my head, I was being helpful, efficient and I thought I knew the right way to do things. I also thought I had to be part of the solution, I had to speak up. I see now that I was trapped into believing that if I just had one more conversation or if I dealt with that one issue, everything would be different. I mistakenly believed I would have the power to change outcomes and people.
When I realized that I don’t have to take it all on, I shifted my perspective. When I fully appreciated that I am not in control of how people think or what they do or whether they will like me or not, I was freed. I don’t have to make sure everyone is happy and friendly. I can be happy regardless of what others do. I also have the power to establish boundaries when necessary. I don’t have to get mad if a meeting does not go exactly as I planned in my mind, even though we are conditioned to think we must have such reactions. I don’t have to judge or criticize or assume that my way is the better way. Just like me, people can make their choices and I do not have to take on so much worry about it. This is pretty cliché but honestly, cliché’s are so helpful! You can only control your thinking and behaviours, you have no control over anyone or anything else.
We don’t have to live with this heavy weight on our shoulders. Constantly making sure everyone is okay and that your plans are followed is an unnecessary burden. At first, it is hard to catch all the ways we mentally feel responsible. But if you can notice yourself trying to manage people or situations, you have a chance at freedom. You may have to repeat to yourself “I am not responsible for everything and everyone”, over and over again.
It is interesting because since I decided to stop feeling so responsible, I realize how arrogant it is to assume that people cannot take care of themselves (parents of young child excluded here). I don’t know where I got the idea that I needed to protect and save situations and people. I feel more curious and humble than I ever have and I am ready to let go of the need for control. When you feel a huge amount of responsibility and need for control, question it. Often the driving emotion is fear. Untangling all of these patterns and emotional reactions helps us to live more freely. Give it a try, nothing to lose except you might discover more humour and levity in this thing called life.