One writer reflects on a lifetime of being the “responsible one”.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve always been considered the “mum friend”. I make the plans, dole out the advice, host the dinners, give the pep talks and attempt to align the ever-complicated social calendars of our five-strong friendship group.
Even as a teenager, I’d be the first to volunteer to call Dominos or ask the New Look shop assistant if they had something in a friend’s size when they were too shy. Predictably, I was also always the student with her hand up first in class and a child who was as comfortable chatting to my parent’s adult friends as I was their children.
I always thought it was because I’m a through-and-through extrovert who has no problem sending back a plate of food if it’s cold or turning up to a party where I only know one other person.
But a recent Instagram post by UK-based psychologist Dr Lalitaa caused me to pause and think differently.
I’ve prided myself on being the responsible, put-together, thick-skinned one in most of my relationships, but what if it’s not as empowered a position as I think? What if, after all this time, I’ve just been playing a role that other people expected of me?
“Over-responsible people are people-pleasers who suppress and repress themselves to prioritise others and to minimise or eliminate conflict, criticism, rejection, disappointment and loss,” Dr Lalitaa explains. “They often do good things for the wrong reasons because they don’t know another way of coping.”
Some, but not all, of it tracks. While I’m more than happy to do it, playing social secretary/agony aunt/PA does take its toll from time to time, but it’s something I don’t ever think I could fully take a break from.
In the post, Dr Lalitaa lays out 8 signs you’re over-responsible, and I have to admit that I gulped a little when reading each and every one.
Signs you’re over-responsible
- Feeling guilty about saying no to others
- Extreme independence
- Worrying about outshining others
- Assuming others will not take on responsibility, so you take it on
- You feel like the ‘therapist’ within your family and friends
- You found yourself acting like an adult from a young age
- You struggle with receiving or asking for help
- You put other people’s feelings, needs and expectations before your own
It’s important to remember that not all of these attributes are necessarily weaknesses, or things that need to be worked on. My independence is something I’m proudest of, and it makes me feel valued and special that my friends come to me for advice on important things.
That being said, I can also recognise that I could be a little bit better at not burdening myself and remembering that as much as I’m there for my friends, they are also there for me. And, like all of us, I could probably get used to saying ‘no’ a bit more, too.
However, all is not lost. Dr Lalitaa also offers some helpful advice on how to navigate being over-responsible if you start to notice yourself acting on your people-pleasing tendencies.
1) Set your boundaries! Boundaries are where we begin and another person ends
2) Boundaries are about YOU and your needs
3) You can’t change other people
4) You get to decide what you’re willing to put up with
5) Don’t stress over someone’s negative response, we do not have control over how they react and we are not going to be liked by everyone.”