Are You Doing More For Others Than You Should Be?
What is your problem? And what is someone else's responsibility? Learn how to set healthy boundaries with clarity and confidence.
What's Your Problem?
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
What’s Your Problem?
As a therapist and life coach, I often work with clients who are doing personal growth work because they’re struggling with feeling blamed (and even guilty!) for other people’s problems and issues because they are trying to figure out how to set healthy boundaries. Particularly hardworking, competent and conscientious people can have a hard time figuring out the line between taking appropriate personal responsibility (which is a good thing) verse being made to feel responsible for things that are actually someone else’s personal responsibility. Can you relate?
Unrealistic Expectations… of Yourself
People having unrealistic expectations of you can happen in toxic workplace environments, relationships with selfish people, when you’re enabling someone else’s problematic behaviors, in relationships where there’s gaslighting, or if you’re married to a narcissist. Those situations where people have obviously inappropriate expectations of you are more obvious to spot.
But accepting responsibility for things that are really someone else’s problem can happen much more subtly, and even subconsciously. Many people have unrealistic expectations of themselves in relationships, and feel that they should be taking on more responsibility than is actually healthy for them.
In particular, it’s much more challenging to see that you’re taking an inappropriate level of responsibility when you have a “helping” personality. Helping others is something that you just naturally start doing and is a role that probably feels very familiar to you. This could be due to your role in your family of origin, or also just by virtue of the fact that you’re probably kind, compassionate, and competent. You see someone who needs help, you can do something to help them, so you step in.
But should you?
Here’s The Problem With Everything Being Your Problem
While being generous and helpful is not an objectively bad thing, here’s the problem with it: if you’ve been subconsciously taking responsibility or working harder than you should to solve problems for other people, or managing other people’s feelings, or doing things for others that they should really be doing for themselves, over time, it starts to create problems for you too.
You’ll start experiencing burnout and exhaustion, feeling resentful, or start having trouble letting go of anger. You feel like you’re not getting your needs met in relationships. It’s hard to say no. You might even find yourself sliding into codependent relationship dynamics over and over again. Furthermore, it can be very difficult to change the dynamic if you’ve trained other people to expect that you’ll sacrifice yourself on their behalf.
For example, if you start setting appropriate boundaries with people you’ve been “over-serving,” they might get mad at you and tell you that you’re being mean. Or, if you allow other people to experience natural consequences for their own behavior, you might feel anxious and guilty. Emotionally, it can start to feel easier to just keep doing more than you should!
To complicate matters further, you do have to keep your side of the street clean. Healthy adults do have responsibilities, and there are things that you do actually need to do in order to be a healthy, happy person and have positive relationships with others. It is appropriate for other people to have some expectations of you, too!
For example, it is your responsibility to be emotionally healthy, to be emotionally safe, to be self aware, to communicate productively, to work on your own emotional intelligence, and to invest in your own personal growth. It is your responsibility to learn and grow, and to be happy and healthy. It is your responsibility to follow through, to be trustworthy, to be honest with yourself, and to be honest with others.
Someone Else’s Personal Responsibility
But where do you draw the line between your responsibilities and someone else's? How do you figure out if you’re in a situation where you need to be doubling down on your emotional intelligence skills… or whether it's okay to simply say no and let someone else have their tantrum? How can you tell if you actually do need to show your partner love in a different way, or whether they have unrealistic expectations in your relationship or even trust issues? (Which would then be their problem to work on — not yours.)
It can be very, very challenging to get clarity about the line between where your sphere of responsibility stops, and where someone else’s starts. That’s the topic we’re tackling on today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m calling, “What is Your Problem?”
In it, we’ll be discussing how to:
- Differentiate what is your problem from other people’s problems.
- Be aware of when you need to reevaluate a responsibility issue in your life.
- Learn how to set boundaries and have healthy relationships with others.
- Find out what your personal responsibilities are.
- Discover the importance of allowing others to have space to grow on their own.
You can listen to “What is Your Problem” on Spotify or on Apple Podcasts, as well as on the player of this page. (Don’t forget to subscribe!) If this podcast is helpful to you, I hope you consider sharing it with someone else you care about so they can benefit from these ideas too.
I have show notes for you below, as well as a full transcript of this podcast at the bottom of this post. If you have any follow up questions I hope you leave them for me in the comments. I’ll answer them!
With love and respect,
What's Your Problem?
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
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What is Your Problem: Episode Highlights
Personal Responsibility vs Inappropriate Expectations
Being blamed for something outside your scope of responsibility is commonplace. You may have experienced the following with a colleague or family member:
- Being mad when you don’t do their job
- Get angry when you react negatively to something they did
- Try to make you feel bad for the consequences of their actions
When you buy into the idea that you are unworthy because you can't take care of other people's problems, you can start feeling inappropriately guilty, and may even start showing signs of low self-esteem.
Without healthy boundaries in a relationship, other people will have the space to pass their responsibilities onto you.
“While we can be inappropriately blamed by others, it is also true that we do need to show up in the healthiest way possible.”
Thus, turn your attention to the unhealthy dynamics that allow those situations. You may need to learn how to set boundaries with your parents, friends, or co-workers.
Boundary Setting Exercise:
To help you get clarity about your boundaries, try this simple exercise:
- Grab a pen and piece of paper
- Draw two circles, one inside of the other.
- In the inner circle, write what you need to do to feel confident that you are doing your very best in various situations in your life. What are your responsibilities? Write them down.
- In the outer circle, jot down what is in the realm of others’ responsibilities that they are trying to hand to you.
You can practice this exercise in your various relationships, whether involving your work or personal life.
We often tend to take over people's responsibilities because others feel that we can do them. This dilemma is especially prevalent amongst strong, intelligent, competent, compassionate, and naturally caring individuals.
As you bear more of the burden, you’ll eventually become more resentful of others. If you feel this way, remember that your anger and resentment are valid: “When people are not treating you appropriately, it's totally normal and expected that you will be feeling angry towards them.”
Moreover, you’d start to feel defeated, since you are unable to do all the work. When in reality, you actually can’t meet all these inappropriate expectations. You trick yourself into thinking that you're not good enough.
Take these emotions as a sign that there is a responsibility issue at the core of your life. You can also see it as a growth opportunity.
Your Personal Responsibility
It might be hard to hear, but you also have to think about how you may have contributed to this unhealthy dynamic.
In addition, it’s much more exhausting to fight with other people about the things they need to change. After all, “When we blame other people, for the things that we are experiencing, we're giving our power away.”
Here are some of the things you need to be taking responsibility for:
1. Having Emotional Awareness
Our feelings tell us about our needs and values. We have to be self-aware of our emotions so that we can make informed decisions.
People who have disconnected from their feelings have a lot of trouble setting boundaries. We need emotional intelligence if we want to improve our relationships.
2. Practicing Emotionally Safe Communication
You need to communicate how you feel about what you need and prefer in an emotionally safe and effective way. It is your responsibility to talk about what you're thinking and feeling in a kind and respectful manner.
You also have to manage your reactions; avoid screaming or slamming doors! It helps to learn how to be vulnerable safely.
3. Prioritizing Your Health and Wellness
Our personal health is our responsibility. Getting enough sleep, nourishment, and movement are basic needs.
If we don’t actively pay attention to our health and wellness, we cannot be our best selves or even be functional.
4. Being Knowledgeable and Clear About Boundaries
First, you have to know what your boundaries and limitations are before communicating them to other people.
Once you make these clear, you can then learn to turn down requests that don't serve your best interests.
Remember: “Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.” It is our responsibility to protect ourselves from people who harm us and disregard our needs.
Similarly, it falls on us to figure out what makes us happy and pursue opportunities for happiness. You have to find what fills your cup so that you can serve the people around you. “You can't look to other people to do this for you. It is not their job. It's your job.”
5. Defining Your Obligations
Another thing that falls under the realm of our personal responsibility is knowing what we need to do to hold up our end of the bargain. These can include your roles in your family or even at work.
It is particularly helpful to sit down and write these responsibilities down. Then, communicate these with your partner or colleagues so that they can respond appropriately.
6. Having Empathy and Compassion
We are interdependent to those around us, from the way we respond to each other's actions. So being empathetic and compassionate with others should also be our responsibility.
What is Your Problem
Ultimately, finding out what is your problem boils down to control how you show up in the world. We need to live our lives with integrity to ourselves and to others.
We don't need to do this perfectly. However, we do have to make a sincere effort to be considerate of others. This process takes time and effort.
Other People’s Problems
Once you become clear about what is your problem, you can determine what other people’s problems are.
Even if you set your values and priorities straight, other people can still be upset with you. And that should not be your problem.
Others may think badly of you for setting healthy boundaries, but that's okay. You don't need to think about their opinions of you anymore because you know that you are a good person.
If another person becomes abusive in response, don’t think for a second that you need to change their reactions. At this point, resolving what is your problem requires keeping yourself safe and leaving. In cases of domestic violence, reach out to thehotline.org immediately.
Giving Space for Others to Grow
“The foundation of a mutually healthy relationship is healthy boundaries on both sides.”
Keep in mind that other people's personal growth is not part of your problem. It's best to allow them to experience the pain and discomfort of the consequences of their actions.
Clearing the path for them can even hamper their progress. That’s because, in the absence of dissatisfaction and frustration, people won’t grow.
To help other people, you can share resources (like this podcast!) and even help them get a life coach to help them in their journey.