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

Music Credits: “O.P.P.” by Wimps

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!

Personal Responsibility

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, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

What's Your Problem?

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “O.P.P.” by Wimps

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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

Setting Boundaries

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:

  1. Grab a pen and piece of paper
  2. Draw two circles, one inside of the other.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Unrealistic Expectations

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. 

[Intro song: O.P.P. by The Wimps]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. That’s The Wimps. The song is O.P.P. In this case, O.P.P. stands for Other People's Pizza. But I still wanted to use the song, first of all, because I love this band. Second of all, today, we're talking about: “What is your problem?” What is your problem, specifically, compared to what is somebody else's problem? I have a whole category of things in my mind that are other people's problems: OPPs. Hence, the relevance of this song. And a nice intro into what we're going to be talking about on today's show which is figuring out what is actually your problem, and what is someone else's problem, and getting clarity and confidence to set boundaries between those things so that you don't get pushed around by other people. So that you are actually taking personal responsibility around the things that you do actually need to do in your relationships, and yourself, in your life. 

Good stuff in store for us today. And I'm glad you're here. If this is your first time listening to the show, I would to formally welcome you. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self counseling and coaching. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, so I specialize in relationships, but I'm also a licensed psychologist. I do have some insight into the quirks of humanity and the way people are. I am also though a board-certified coach, which I am quite proud of. 

I feel that coaching is a profession that has gotten kind of a bad rap in recent years. Honestly, in some ways, rightfully so, there are a lot of dubious characters out there running around offering all kinds of coaching with no training or real experience, for that matter, which is always kind of scary. But there's also a lot of very responsible, ethical, and highly-trained coaches who I think take the best of the principles of therapy and counseling. But turn it into transformational change, which is very worthwhile, and that is part of my orientation. 

I think every one of these episodes that I make for you on the podcast are with that spirit: not just talking about ideas but talking about ideas and then turning them into, hopefully, something that you can do something with. I do a lot of different kinds of experiential growth activities on the show. I have one for you today, and I have a lot of fun doing it. I hope you have fun listening. 

Very lastly, thank you so much if you're one of my regular listeners for the kinds of reviews. Oh, my goodness. I had the opportunity to look at The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast on iTunes lately and I was just floored by all of the reviews and the nice things that you guys had to say. Thank you so much for the reviews, and also for your questions. I know you guys get in touch from time to time with questions, and I read those. I consider all of them, and then I think about how do I answer that question in an upcoming topic, an upcoming episode of the podcast. 

While I certainly can't be like, “Okay, Stephanie. Here's what you should do.” Because I'm not your therapist and it would be inappropriate for me to give you highly specific advice for your life. I can absolutely talk about the things that are important to you and create growth activities that would be genuinely helpful to you. Because here's also the secret: I have a lot of people who asked me for specific advice like, “Okay, this is what my husband said. What do you think I should do?” I always am like, “Mmm.” 

The truth is that any good counselor or coach is not going to tell you specifically what to do. None of this is informational in nature. I have ideas, and I can make suggestions but those suggestions are around growth experiences. They're not specific, “Do this and then this will happen.” It is, “Let's hand in hand walk into this growth experience together. I will be your guide. Here are some things that would help you develop in such a way that you would know how to handle this situation. It would be congruent with you. You might even have a different perception of the whole experience in and of itself.” 

When people ask for advice, it's like this little head of a pin. It's the very tip of the arrow, but behind that is all of this opportunity for growth, like real meaningful growth, which is never an event. It is always a process. I don't want to deprive you of that process. I'm not going to cheapen this by even suggesting that there are black and white easy answers. “Do this and your life will be perfect.” If there are any other podcast hosts, self-proclaimed life coaches who are telling you that, either they don't know what they're talking about, or they're lying to you. I would never do that. 

Here today, we're going to have yet another growth experience together. This is going to be a good one. And we're talking about how to differentiate between what is your problem, and how to take effective personal responsibility for yourself in your life, and how to differentiate that from what is somebody else's problem. So that you can get really clear about setting boundaries and expectations and not allowing yourself to be inappropriately blamed or used or made responsible for things that you really shouldn't be. 

I think that's an important topic, and I know it's a pain point for you. It's a pain point for many of the clients that we see here in Growing Self. I've also gotten a number of questions about this very topic. And that's why we're talking about this today because as always, it's all for you. Let's jump in. 

Have you ever had someone say to you, “What is your problem?” In an accusatory way? How many times have you had somebody tried to blame you for something that is one, not your fault, and two, not your responsibility? It’s not in the sphere of things that should be your problem. It happens all the time. Examples of this would be somebody making you feel guilty when you don't want to do something that they want you to do. Or when somebody is being a jerk to you and then surprised when you have an appropriately negative reaction to them. 

“What's your problem?” Well, let me tell you, or what about this. This is very common. It happens all the time in couples counseling: Someone blaming you for how they feel and that you need to modify your behavior so that they can feel differently on the inside. Somebody's being mad at you for not covering for them or cleaning up their messes. That can happen. Oftentimes, in professional situations, if you're working on a team and you have a co-worker who's kind of slack, and you're doing all these things to try to make the project successful anyway. One day you can't, and then they get mad at you for not doing what should have been their job anyway. This is also super common is somebody making you or trying to make you feel responsible for the consequences of their own actions, what they're choosing to do or not do. 

Inappropriate Responsibilities

On the show, in service of healthy relationships and how to have them, we talk a lot about boundaries. When we have podcast topics about personal growth, which is also hugely important, we talk about self-esteem. But today, we're really going to be getting under the hood to talk about the unhealthy dynamics that you do have control over that actually create those situations. When boundaries aren't healthy, there's often this inappropriate responsibility thing going on. When people do have low self-esteem or struggle to feel confident, it's often because they are feeling blamed or believing these messages from other people. That, “You're not quite good enough.” Or “You're not doing this well enough to make me feel better about it.” 

When you buy into those things, that's when people start to feel bad about themselves. This is really kind of getting into the nitty-gritty of how do we assess, with confidence, what is actually my problem and my responsibility? What do I have control over? What should I have control over? Compared to what is on the other side of this line that not only am I not going to be responsible for that, but I'm also not going to feel bad about not being responsible for it? I'm not going to feel bad when I hand this one right back to you because you're its rightful owner. This is a conversation, again, that comes up all the time in many, many areas of life. 

Setting Boundaries

To sort of illustrate this, I would for you to either imagine or you could have an experiential growth moment with me right now. Pause this for a second, go get a piece of paper, notebook, whatever you got, and draw two concentric circles. One medium-ish sized circle on the inside and then around that circle, draw a larger circle. You have two circles, one inside the other. The inside circle is actually you and the things that you are in charge of. We're going to be talking about what those things really are and what they should be. 

While we can be inappropriately blamed by others, it is also true that we do need to show up in the healthiest way possible. We do need to conduct ourselves well enough in order to feel authentically good about ourselves and to feel confident. That, “You know what, I am actually being appropriate right now. I'm doing the very best job that I can do, and I know that because I've done this work.” Right? We don't just get it. We have to earn it and that's what this is. That's what goes into the inside circle. 

The outside circle is what is actually in the realm of somebody else's sphere of responsibility? That maybe they're trying to hand to you or make you be responsible for, but you're not really. With those two circles in mind, I want you to now think about how that shows up in different situations in your life. For example, it can come up in interpersonal relationships, certainly, where we're getting blamed for other people's feelings or when other people can't control us in the way that they like to. They get mad at us and like that. There's all kinds of things. 

Unrealistic Expectations

Even at work, it can happen especially if you are a strong, smart, and naturally competent, and also a naturally caring person, this is going to be relatively common for you. Because strong, smart, capable, competent, compassionate people can wind up accepting more and more stuff from others because they can do it. There's a part of them that’s like, “Well, it would be nice if I did do this for them.” And since they’re caring they’re, “Okay.” But what happens is that over time, all this stuff just gets heaped on and on and on. They feel like they're staggering under the weight of it all because it is actually too much. 

Predictably, what you can expect to happen if you are taking on more than you can or should legitimately bear is that you will start to feel resentful of others. You will start to feel angry, you will probably feel very tired, and also this defeated feeling because you can't actually do it all. When there's this voice in your head that's like, “Oh, but I should be able to do this all.” You'll start to feel bad about yourself because you actually can't, right? It's like you have inappropriate expectations for yourself at that point. 

Also, in relationships, this can lead to a lot of really negative emotions. If both you and your partner are colluding around this idea that you are actually responsible for the way they feel. And you're starting to walk on eggshells, and being super careful with everything that you say and do so that they don't go flying off the handle, it can make you feel really withdrawn, disengaged from the relationship to the point where you're not talking about how you're feeling anymore, what you're thinking. It's kind of this checked-out, burnt-out feeling. And it can happen in relationships. It can happen on the job. Really, anywhere where you have spheres of responsibility, this can happen. That's, again, why I wanted to talk about it today. 

Before we jump into the circles, why don't you just actually check-in with yourself for a second and ask yourself whether any of the things that I just mentioned resonate with you. Do you find yourself feeling guilty frequently? Or do you feel like you're running yourself ragged and just doing everything for everyone and it never ends? Here's the ringer: feeling resentful when other people, when you look around and other people aren't killing themselves the same way you are, and you're like, “Why aren't they?” Because you're so overwhelmed and exhausted and starting to feel kind of angry. 

Also, on that note, people will very predictably and rightfully feel angry when their boundaries are being violated. When you aren't getting what you need or when people are not treating you appropriately, it's totally normal and expected that you will be feeling angry towards them. That can be a sign that the locus of responsibility is kind of feeling out of balance when you're having that experience. 

Lastly, in addition to that resentment and guilt and hostility, depletion, there are also often feelings of self-doubt. It gets mixed up with that. “Oh, if I were just better or if I were more organized, I could do more.” “If I exercised every day, I would have more energy to do all these things.” Also, this feeling of low self-esteem, like you're feeling like you've failed because you can't. No matter what you do, this other person in your life is always going to have a negative reaction, or it's never quite going to be good enough. Low self-esteem is internalizing those messages and getting tricked into believing that you're not good enough, that you're not doing a good enough job, that somebody else would get better results. 

I know that this is probably a little hard to think about, but these, to me, are all the signs and symptoms that there may be a responsibility issue in the core of your life that is worth examining as a growth opportunity for you. And again, I am not going to give you trite advice about: “Do this instead.” This is actually a real invitation to take this bigger picture look at what is really going on and not just what other people are doing. But here's the hard part you guys: how you might currently be contributing to this dynamic that you don't want to participate in anymore. 

I know that is hard to hear, and it can be challenging because I think many times, people are stuck in a situation, and I felt this way too. When I've been stuck in this situation, it feels we're sort of being lowkey victimized by people in our lives, right? “Well, they just keep asking me to do stuff.” Or, “If I don't do this, then it won't happen, and we're going to have piles of laundry around the house for three weeks.” Those things might be true, but when we blame other people for the things that we are experiencing, we're giving our power away. It's just not helpful. A: It doesn't change anything And B: If everything is really someone else's fault, how can you possibly be empowered to change it

Your Personal Responsibility

You have to have responsibility. You have to have power in order to really take action and change your circumstances because other people can't do this for you. Particularly, in your relationships, if you're spending a lot of time and energy fighting with other people about how to get them to do things differently, again, that's an opportunity to shift this mirror around and look back at yourself. Because it's so much energy, and it's so exhausting to be fighting with other people about the things that they need to change. It is much more useful and honestly effective when we can think about: “Okay, what do I need to do to make this be different? What can I do to make this be different?” Then, focus all of your energy on that, specifically, because that will move the needle. 

Again, this is why when people ask me for relationship advice and like, “Well, let's crack into this.” It's really a discussion and it's a growth opportunity because I think people hope that I'm going to say, “If you say this to your wife, then she'll be different.” My friend, the actual process is so much more complicated than that. But it's okay. It's good. It's authentic. And that is what this is about. It’s authentic growth, right? 

With that in mind, now, let's go back and let's take a closer look at those circles of responsibility that I got you to write down on your paper. When we look at what is your problem, your personal responsibility is the way that you show up in the world. I'm just going to tick through some of these big ones. Some of them might be things that you're already doing, some of them might be growth opportunities for you, some of them, you might not have any idea what I'm talking about yet. That is also completely okay. These are just things that I have learned over the years on through my own personal growth work. 

Having Emotional Awareness

This is what actually matters when it comes to the things that we truly do need to take responsibility for. One of the big ones is emotional awareness. It is your responsibility. When I say “your,” I mean “our.” It is all of our responsibilities to be able to stay connected to our own feelings well enough to take guidance from them, to be able to listen to yourself to say, “I am feeling resentful. I am feeling depleted. I am feeling hurt.” 

We have to be connected to our own feelings so that we can A: advocate for ourselves and also take informed action from our feelings. Our feelings tell us about our needs. They tell us about our values. And if you're disconnected from your feelings, you don't have access to any of that. It's like if your whole body went numb and you didn't realize that you just cut yourself with a knife. Like “Oh, that is… I hurt myself. That is damaged. I have to stop. I have to go get a band-aid.” 

When we're disconnected with our emotions, we don't have that. You can't say, “Ouch. This is a relationship dynamic that is unhealthy for me.” Or, “No, I actually can't do that work project because I'm already feeling like I'm about to die.” People who are disconnected from their feelings have a lot of trouble setting boundaries between where they stop and someone else starts. That is a primary responsibility.

Practicing Emotionally Safe Communication

From that stems clarity about who you are, what you want, what you need, what is important to you so that you can do the next thing that is your responsibility, which is communicate in a really, not just clear, but emotionally safe way about how you're feeling, about what you need, about what you like: effective communication about possible problem-solving kinds of things. It is, again, emotionally safe communication that creates an emotionally safe environment for the people that you're interacting with. It is our responsibility to talk about what we're thinking and what we're feeling in a kind and respectful way. 

Also, with that is to manage our own reactions. Not screaming at people, not slamming doors, not saying snide, snarky, mean things when we're not feeling good. It's our responsibility to be emotionally vulnerable and kind and give other people the benefit of the doubt and manage the way that we are coming across. That is, if you listen to the emotional intelligence podcast I put together a while ago for you, that is one of the pillars of emotional intelligence. Two, really. It's how do I feel and then how do I manage my relationships with others? Meaning how am I being very deliberate and intentional about how I am coming across, how I am communicating, and making sure that I'm doing that in a respectful way that other people can hear? 

As we've talked about in other previous podcasts, when we lash out, when we withdraw, when we criticize, when we stomp around or sulk, there are predictably negative reactions from others in response to us. We need to take responsibility for that. 

Prioritizing Your Health and Wellness

Another very important thing for all of us to be taking responsibility for is our health and our wellness. Are we getting enough sleep? Eating well? Drinking enough water? Getting exercise? Going to the doctor? Taking care of health issues that need to be taken care of? Noticing when maybe we're getting depleted or we're not getting enough sleep we're not getting enough exercise? 

If we're not really actively paying attention to that and meeting our own needs and providing ourselves with self-care and downtime, we are going to get depleted, and not going to be able to be our best selves in relationships, or be functional, for that matter, at work, or as parents, or in our other important life roles. It is our responsibility to be meeting our basic needs for things like nourishment and rest. 

Being Knowledgeable and Clear About Boundaries

It is also our responsibility, along those lines, to be both knowledgeable and clear about our own limitations and our own boundaries. If you can imagine building up from the bottom, that emotional awareness leads to clarity, leads to being able to communicate, leads to self-care. It's being able to say to yourself first but then, also to other people, “Actually I can't do that.” Or “I don't want to do that.” That is also completely legitimate. It's like, “What are my boundaries? What are my limitations? What is okay with me? What is not okay with me?” You have to know that in yourself first so that you can then say that to somebody else. 

It is similarly our responsibility to say no to inappropriate requests and also to say no to things that are not congruent with the best use of our time and energy and life satisfaction goals. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should. That is an idea that really trips up a lot of very competent, smart, compassionate people. Because they think, “Well, it's not that big of a deal. Yes, I'll do the thing.” When it would have actually been healthier, not just for them, but for everybody else for them to say, “Respectfully, no. There's a part of me that would like to but it's just not realistic for me right now.” It's completely okay, and it is your job to do that. 

It is also 100% your responsibility to protect yourself from other people who would either literally hurt you or disregard your healthy boundaries, disregard your needs. It is similarly your job to protect your children and other vulnerable people around you from others who may have the potential to harm them in subtle or very dramatic ways. It is also our responsibility to figure out what makes us happy and pursue those opportunities for happiness. That could be hobbies. That could be friendships that nurture us. That could be just having space to read a book. 

You're not doing anybody any favors when you are living your life in such a way that there's no space for you and the things that make you feel happy and satisfied and fulfilled. It may sometimes seem a little selfish to do that, but think about the converse. If you are literally giving everything away and then some, you are going to be irritated, grumpy, exhausted, resentful, angry, and not that functional. You are not of benefit to anybody else if you are grumpy, and resentful, and exhausted, and not that functional. 

You have to be doing things that fill up your own cup because you can't look to other people to do this for you. It is not their job. It's not their job. It's your job. Again, this sphere of personal responsibility. It goes in a couple of ways but getting clear about what we need to do is so liberating and empowering once we figure out how to define those boundaries. 

Defining Your Obligations

Other things that are super important and within our sphere of personal responsibility is spending some time to get very clear about what do we actually need to be doing in terms of holding up our end of the bargain. Those could be personal obligations or responsibilities in your personal life, but also that may extend to your roles at work or your roles as a parent. 

If you're a parent, it is actually your responsibility to make sure that the basic needs of your children are met, to be providing income, housing, transportation, basic stuff, safe environment, an emotionally safe environment for your kids. That is also your responsibility. In other roles, it can even be helpful to sit down with a piece of paper. Like, “Okay, at work, what is my job description? What am I there to do?” To write down all of those tasks: “what is my job,” quite literally. Or in your home life, your personal life: “What are the things that need to get done and that I should be doing?” That could extend to the way that you show up in your relationship. You know, spending at least some time with your spouse, are the things that are your responsibility. It's making an effort to be a kind, considerate, loving partner for your spouse.

I don't know if you had the chance yet to listen to my recent podcast episode about love languages, but trying to be thoughtful about what your partner needs from you and how you can give that to them. That is, I think, in your sphere of responsibility, in addition to being an emotionally safe person and an effective communicator. 

It is also your responsibility to provide people with necessary information to be able to say, “Here's my job and this is what I am going to be doing. This is what I'm going to be doing.” So that they can make choices about what they would like to be doing in response to that. Again, you're not telling them what to do. You're saying, “This is what I'm doing.” Providing them with accurate information and that could extend to boundaries but it could also… Doctors are actually, disclosure, therapists run into this a lot. 

I know part of my role here at Growing Self, I certainly do see my own therapy and coaching clients, but I also do a lot of supervision of other therapists and coaches at this point. One of the big themes that comes up, especially, I think, for earlier career counselors is this idea of how to tell if they're working harder than their clients are. Because that can actually be a thing in the therapy world. A client might come in and sort of vent about all of these things that are happening in their relationship that they aren't happy with, that they would to have changed. And then, a therapist could say, “Okay, these are the things that I think would be really helpful for you. I think that this is where we should put time and energy into expanding.” 

We cannot control whether or not someone engages with that, whether or not they want to do that personal growth work or challenge themselves to do things differently in their relationship with their partner, that would actually help them get different results. I think early career therapists can often feel really bad. Like, “Why isn't this ‘working?’” I think it also has to do with these ideas about how personal growth works, how therapy works. I think that some people have this idea that just coming into a therapist's office or a marriage counselor's office and saying out loud, “This is the problem” and hoping for advice. “Okay, what do you think I should do to change it?” That in itself would change something and that isn't the way it works. 

I think that that's one of the dark parts of talk therapy is that people believe that if they're coming and talking to a therapist, they are doing what needs to be done in order to change and grow and evolve. Listening to yourself tell the therapist about how you feel is great. It helps build insight. which is always helpful but it doesn't actually change the results that you're going to get in your life until you turn that insight into action and are able to put in the time and energy and effort to doing things a little bit differently, like the things that we're talking about today: managing the way that you communicate, being clear about your boundaries, saying no, protecting yourself, taking care of yourself, and providing other people with information around “Here's what I'm going to do.” 

I could tell you that, as a therapist, until I'm blue in the face but that is actually where my sphere of responsibility ends. Whether or not you do that stops being my responsibility because I have done my part of this equation, which is providing you with new ideas and growth opportunities. That's kind of how this works in my profession, but this is also how it's going to work in your life too. I think if we go back to that thing that we were talking about at the beginning of the show, about how often we can inadvertently get in these situations where we're fighting with people, particularly with our partners to try to get them to do things differently or move in the direction that we want them to move in, that is not anything that you have control over. 

Where your sphere of responsibility ends is around: “This is what I need. This is what I'm going to do. This is what I'm going to do in response to whatever you decide to do.” Then, seeing what they do with that. So it gets injected from that inner circle at that moment and into somebody else's lane to do with as they will. Yes, we're interdependent, and the way that we show up in our relationships can impact the response that we have. But I have ceaselessly been amazed over and over and over again about how dramatically, and sometimes, even quickly relationships will change. And how differently people will feel when they start getting real clear about themselves and their own boundaries and their own needs and how they're taking care of what is their responsibility instead of looking outside of that sphere of responsibility for things to improve. Those are some of the things that are in your sphere of responsibility. 

Having Empathy and Compassion

Others that I will add, I do believe personally, and this goes back to one of my core values that is not one that is shared by everyone, but I do believe that we all have the responsibility to try to have empathy and compassion for other humans. I think that that's just one of the core principles of life worth living. Again, that's a values-based thing. I do personally believe that we all have the responsibility to try to do as much as we can, particularly when it comes to doing our own work and bettering ourselves. 

I think that investing in yourself and your own wellness is our responsibility. That can extend obviously to the health stuff that we were talking about. Well, clearly, we're here together. You're listening to this podcast so you could check this one off the list, but reading self-help books, engaging in personal growth activities, thinking about: “Who am I? Am I the best self that I could be?” Considering what your options are and being willing I think to experiment with new things and grow. 

What is Your Problem

It all really boils down to our responsibility is, ultimately, controlling how we show up in the world and making sure that we are living our own lives with integrity: integrity to ourselves, integrity to others, and that managing ourselves as well as we can. Not perfectly. That is not an appropriate expectation for anyone but a sincere well-intentioned effort to be doing our very best job of being a good person, being thoughtful and considerate and kind in our interactions with other people, being very willing to accept responsibility for the things that we do actually need to do, which is our health, our wellness, and also basic stuff of life that we do actually need to get done. That requires a lot of thought and energy into thinking about what those things are. 

If you're feeling a little bit overwhelmed by all those, first of all, I'm sorry. But this is going back to that idea that when I do work with people in therapy and coaching, we dive into all of these things over many, many sessions. I'm trying to distill this for you into an exercise that we can talk about in the podcast episode of 45 minutes or whatever it is. Take notes, write these things down. My advice for you would be to give yourself time and space to think more about it. Write down: “What is my responsibility?” Fill in that circle. “What am I in charge of? What am I doing to take care of myself? How do I feel? Am I saying no? What, legitimately, are the tasks and things that are my job that are on my responsibility list?” 

Give yourself some time to do this because only then will you be able to say with confidence and clarity, “I am doing what I need to be doing. I know what that is and I feel really good about that.” Because then, that in turn, will lead us to step two which is figuring out what is on the other side of that boundary, that boundary of personal responsibility. 

Other People’s Problems

Once you have figured out what you want, what you need, what you need to do to create that, and get clear about what behaving with integrity and responsibility means to you, then you can get very clear and confident about all the things that are on the other side of that line. What is actually someone else's problem? Other people's problem: OPPs. These might include things like other people's reactions to you. If you are behaving well and in alignment with your values, and you're confident that you are being appropriate and clear and kind and responsible, then it leaves your domain of responsibility when it is launched out into the world and received by another person. 

I will tell you, if you are trying to set healthy boundaries with someone who does not have healthy boundaries, they will very likely get upset with you for doing that. They will try to make you feel bad about that. And they will have negative interpretations of whatever you do, despite your positive intentions. They'll perceive you as being not a nice, loving person, and that is okay. Because at this point, because of the work that you've done, you do not need them to think that you're a nice person because you already know that you're a nice person, that you're being really healthy and really appropriate. 

You can expect, again, unhealthy people, that that doesn't go over well with them. Particularly, if you've been caught in a dynamic with them historically where you have been doing too much and taking responsibility for things that aren't your job. As soon as you stop that, then that's not going to feel good for them anymore. They might try to punish you or make you feel bad. Again, I just want to pause for a second. There are degrees of punishment. It might be your mother that you're trying to set new boundaries with. Now, she's giving you the silent treatment because you're not doing what she wants you to do. That's completely okay and that's, again, within the realm of what a lot of people deal with. 

There is also though, a different thing if you are in a patently abusive relationship like domestic violence. If you are afraid for your life or for the welfare of your children, the things that I'm talking about right now about other people's problems and how to deal with them probably don't apply because you need to do whatever you need to do to manage that situation long enough to leave the situation. Don't think for a second that there's anything that you can do to change your partner's abusive reactions. Your responsibility is keeping yourself safe, which is doing whatever you need to do to stay safe and then leaving. That is your responsibility. Just know that the things that I'm talking about here do not extend to those situations. 

If you are in an abusive situation, if you're afraid for your safety, and that's showing up in boundary stuff, do not pass go. Go to the website called thehotline.org. thehotline.org, it is by, for, and about people who are stuck in violent and abusive relationships. They have tons of information and you can get free confidential access to a domestic violence counselor who can help assess the situation, and do a safety plan with you, and help start the process of getting you the heck out of there: thehotline.org

Giving Space for Others to Grow

Veering back into our lane, to continue the conversation about what is not your problem is managing someone else's feelings: feeling like you have to do certain things in order to make somebody else happy. No. You need to be responsible for yourself, and then they will have whatever reactions they need to have to that. It is also someone else's responsibility, not your problem, it is their problem, to set boundaries with you, and tell you what they need, and tell you how they feel and to say no to you, right? 

We can only ask for what we want or need or expect but then, the expectation is that it goes on the other side of the net. That an emotionally safe person will have done similar work to what I'm talking about right now and will be able to take on board what you're saying and consider that in light of who they are, and how they feel, and what they need, and what feels healthy for them, and then communicate back with you in an emotionally safe and authentic and respectful way so that there's a dialogue that starts. It is their responsibility to do that with you. You do not have to try to read somebody's mind, or anticipate their needs for them, or prevent their feelings from being hurt. Our job is to trust other people enough to tell us that because that is the foundation of a mutually healthy relationship: healthy boundaries on both sides. 

Again, allowing other people to have the time and space and feelings to do their own growth work. Other people's growth is on their side of the net. One of the things that I've learned over the years in relationships, personal relationships, and myself as a parent, as a therapist, is that one of the most precious things that you can do for someone that you really, really love is by allowing them to experience discomfort, to allow them to experience pain, even, and to allow them to experience the natural consequences of their own decisions and their own actions, so that they have the opportunity to get in touch with their feelings, to get clear about their values, about what they need, so that they get to practice communicating effectively, so that they have growth opportunities that come from the same place that yours do. That they're motivated by the desire to get different results. 

In the absence of dissatisfaction or frustration, people don't grow. They just kind of cruise along. If you are, I've learned this as a parent, out in front of your kid sweeping the path clear for them always, they don't get to grow. They don't get to learn. They don't get to try something, and I hate to use the word fail. Let's just not even. But have the opportunity to say, “Oh, that didn't work the way that I wanted it to. What could I do differently?” They have to kind of struggle with that and that is their problem. Again, you can provide them with information. Like, “Hey, I just read this book. It was so helpful to me. Here's the title. You might want to check it out.” You're done. Now, it's on their side of a net and they get to decide A: whether or not that is even remotely relevant to what they think they need and to follow through with that. Your work here is done. You tried. Those are all different examples of things that are on other people's side of the net. 

Lastly, to put all this together, I'll give you kind of an illustration of this. In my role, so I certainly do therapy and coaching, but at this stage of the game, I'm really the clinical director of Growing Self, at this point. A lot of what I'm doing is managing a team. I provide clinical supervision but also working with different people to keep all the wheels on the bus. As a leader, my sphere of responsibility, I need to create a really emotionally safe environment for everybody on my team that values authenticity, that values growth. This basic idea that we all need to talk openly about how we're feeling, and what we need, and potential problems because the whole theme of everything that we do here is around growth: What can we learn? How can we improve? How can we make this better? And then, it's okay that there are problems because that gives us the opportunity to reflect on our actions and grow and learn. 

This is all a good thing but it's my job to, not just make sure that everybody knows that intellectually, but to help them feel that way in their interactions with me. How I respond to people, how I invite people to share their thoughts or feelings, and my reactions to that, that's my job, one that I take very seriously. It is also my job to hold up my end of the bargain with practical matters. There are all kinds of things that need to be done. I have a task list. There are things that I need to do that actually nobody else can do. I need to do that so I'm very careful about how I manage my time, and I'm taking those commitments really seriously. I think it's also my job to do as good of a job as I possibly can. I put a lot of energy and effort and intention into the things that are my job. Making these podcasts for you, I care about that. I can do some little 20 minutes super light non-deep pod… There's a time and a place but I don't do that. 

I really want to go deep with you so that it's a meaningful growth experience. I put hours and hours and hours in each one of these, which is great. I love it. I'm happy to do, and I'm not complaining. But I feel that is actually my obligation to you, to be present in that way. That's my job. Also, my job is to know what my strengths are and also what my liabilities are. What am I good at? And what am I not that good at? So that I can either very proactively take steps to kind of either get help for the things that I'm not good at or get real conscious about like, “Okay, I know I'm not the best in the world at time management so before I start my day, I need to look at my calendar. Set my timers so I'm not late to anything.” That's my job. 

It is also my job to share ideas and to ask for what I need and also to be selective in what I commit to. I have people come to me all the time with business ideas or things that we could be doing, and I have to say no to a lot of them. Because anything that I say yes to means that there's less time and energy and effort for stuff that I've already committed to that is really important. Being responsible and thoughtful about the boundaries that I set and also be clear about what I would like to have happen with other people on my team. 

I think that all of the things that are my responsibility accumulates to being trustworthy, being emotionally safe, and creating an emotionally healthy environment for other people where they feel valued and supported with me. It's my responsibility to show appreciation, to do as much as I can to nurture and support the growth of others. All things that are my job. 

What else is happening is that I expect that if I ask somebody on my team to do something, they will say no to me if they can't. Or say, “You know what? I have all of these other projects and when I really look at the amount of time these are all going to take, something has to give. I cannot do one of these, and do this thing that you're asking, or maybe we could schedule it at a further time.” But this super reality-based conversation about what's possible and what's not possible. 

I feel like it's also other people's responsibilities to say to me, “Hey, Lisa. This thing isn't working that well. I'm not feeling good about this process. I think that this needs to be better.” Instead of suffering in silence and trying to make do with things that maybe aren't actually good enough. But maybe they're having sort of assumptions laid out like they don't want to upset me or they don't want to cause problems. Or that old friend of “Well, if I were just doing a better job, I wouldn't be feeling so overwhelmed or defeated or whatever it is.” I disagree. I think it's their responsibility to be communicating with me about how they feel because if I know, then we can work together to solve the problem. 

I trust the people that I am in a relationship with to care enough about me and our relationship to set boundaries with me, to tell me how they feel, to be self-aware enough to know how they feel. Also, to communicate with me in an emotionally safe and respectful way that are like “Hey, we have a problem. What are we going to do here to fix it?” 

That's kind of a simple work-based example of all of this in action about what's my sphere of responsibility and what somebody else's. But as you reflect on your own job or your own roles in your family, to think about what are you creating in terms of the environment and your responses to people. What, perhaps, has been bleeding over that maybe you've been attempting to control something that is in someone else's domain or trying to manage the responses and feelings of another person? 

I have all kinds of clients. Super hardworking, super competent who will tell me that they're actually doing somebody else's job in their department. They're doing a job and a half or sometimes even two jobs because they have a really mercurial boss. They are afraid that their boss will be upset if they say no to them. That is so toxic. That is not okay. Again, to get clear about how to set boundaries in a healthy way and also to set limits and to take care of yourself. Because if your toxic boss is actually going to scream at you if you're not doing 1.75 jobs that is inappropriate for your job description, your responsibility is to be operating in reality and thinking, “Okay, can I communicate what I need and have the situation change? What do I need to do to try to make that happen?” “Do I need to start making other plans for myself if I'm in a legitimately toxic work environment that is unhealthy for me, that isn't going to change?” It's your responsibility to figure out your way out of that instead of continuing to be sad and frustrated and miserable because that's your job: to take care of you. 

Anyway, so many examples of these differences. If you are one of the people who has written to me lately asking about how to handle specific situations with your spouse or partner that you're feeling unhappy about, and what do you think I should do, or what I think you should do rather, I hope that this conversation has illuminated that the answer to this in a more meaningful way than some basic high-level advice would. There are growth opportunities here, primarily to you, that will then cascade out into your relationship and impact the results that you're getting. Or if you are one of the people that has written in on Instagram about a crappy job situation or how to deal with a really unreasonable boss, I hope that this discussion helps you clarify and design a much more comprehensive, and ultimately, effective path forward for yourself that's based on your long-term health and needs and goals. 

Personal growth is messy and the answers aren't always easy. It requires work and depth and thought and intention and also a lot of courage. Because it's also one thing to have these ideas and be reflecting on them, but it's a whole other level when you set out about to do them. Then, experience what that feels like when you do. I hope that you take this in the intention that it was created, which is me trying to do a really nice job, making a meaningful podcast for, you and I am bouncing it over to your side of the net to do with as you will. I'll be so interested to hear if you have any follow-up questions or reactions and how these ideas work for you as you implement them in your own life. 

Thank you again for spending time with me today and I'll be back in touch soon with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast.

[Outro song: O.P.P. by The Wimps]


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