When you are acting responsibly you are taking ownership, getting things done, and living up to your word. It can be challenging to understand the distinction between being a responsible person vs. being over-responsible. Many individuals find people who are highly responsible as more empathetic and kind, which can reinforce one’s tendency towards over-responsibility. When you are falling into over-responsible behavior you will very likely start feeling some negative impacts that cues you into the fact that this level of responsibility is not working for you. 

Over-responsibility is a common core issue of harm OCD, which is often the fear of being responsible for others physical or emotional harm. Some examples of what this may look like include:

Of course it’s possible to have tendencies towards over-responsibility without having OCD. OCD encompasses performing compulsions with the goal of lessening anxiety or discomfort. Many people who demonstrate over-responsibility do not perform compulsions. They may have developed patterns of taking over-responsibility because of childhood messages that were internalized: “It’s your fault you made me get angry.” “If you hadn’t done ___, that wouldn’t have happened.” 

So how do you know whether you are demonstrating healthy responsibility vs. over-responsibility? 

Here are some signs of over-responsibility:

It can feel really hard to shift away from taking over-responsibility. It may feel like you are being irresponsible even when you are practicing more healthy responsibility patterns. With changes comes temporary discomfort, but that payoff is very often worth the work. The first step it to start slowly giving back responsibilities to other people. Ask yourself whether the person you are taking responsible for can take responsibility for themselves. 

For example:

Despite the anxiety it may cause, it’s important to allow the other person to do their best even if it’s not how you would have done it. It also sends the message to the other person that you trust that they’re capable of taking care of their own needs. Even though you may feel your helping is showing love, it may also be demonstrating to the other person that they may not be capable of doing it for themselves. Once you have mastered delegating, the next step is to practice accepting help from others when offered. If you feel good when others accept your help, remember that you are taking that experience away from other when you don’t accept their help in return. And what benefits will you likely experience? Less guilt. Less resentment. Feeling better rested. Improved quality of life. That alone is worth making the changes!

Taking the step to get therapy for OCD can feel scary. Engaging in ERP treatment may feel daunting at times, but with the right therapist that you trust and connect with, OCD treatment can feel empowering.