In this episode, Carrie explores feeling overly responsible for others’ feelings and actions. She explains how this can cause stress and shares some helpful ways to ease that burden for greater peace and acceptance.

  • The signs of being overly responsible for others’ behavior and emotions.
  • How trying to control others can lead to internal stress and anxiety.
  • Why taking responsibility for others’ emotional experiences can be detrimental to your well-being.
  • Strategies for developing distress tolerance and finding peace amidst challenging relationships.

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Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 120. I am your host, Carrie Bock, a licensed professional counselor in Tennessee. I also provide consultations to those outside of the state of Tennessee who are looking for finding and getting connected with specific resources for anxiety or OCD in their area, or what might be the next step that would be helpful for them.

Today on the show, we’re talking about being responsible or feeling this sense of responsibility for other people’s feelings and behaviors. Even though you’re not responsible for others in that way, that may be new news to you. It creates a lot of anxiety when we strive to try to control other people or try to manage their behavior that can cause us a lot of internal stress. I want you to have peace, enjoy, and be relieved for some of that. 

We’re going to talk about three ways that you know that you’re overly responsible for someone else. 

Number one, you find yourself trying to prevent certain behaviors in that other person. This happens a lot in terms of codependency with people who have addiction.

Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to reduce the addict’s stress so that they won’t use. You go around, you clean up the house. Maybe even do things like throw away the alcohol, put out the pamphlets or the information on the local AA meetings. There are all these little things that you’re doing to try to influence or control that person’s behavior, trying to make sure that there isn’t conflict so that they don’t get upset.

This also happens frequently if you’re connected with someone that’s angry, and you may know certain things that trigger that anger, certain things that are a tipping point, and so you hold back. On saying things that may need to be said, you hold back on setting boundaries because you don’t want to upset that other person and you don’t want to have that anger unleashed on you.

Here’s the problem: People are unpredictable human beings. So, even though we may tiptoe around the attic in hopes that they won’t use or try to create the perfect scenario for their sobriety, ultimately, like, they have to be the ones to take that responsibility on to be able to surrender to God, surrender to, I’m powerless over this addiction.

They have to take that responsibility in order to move forward. You can’t make them or take that responsibility on for them. People who have difficulty with anger or fly off the handle, as you know, you can tiptoe around them, but there’s still going to be something that sets them off. It’s unexpected, something that’s completely outside of your control, like people who are just stressed about work, they’re mad, and they come home and unleash on other people.

You cannot prevent that. That person has to recognize their own issues, the other things that are leading to their anger. They are responsible for managing their stress. You’re not responsible for managing their stress. We take that step back and say, “I cannot change this other person.” That is a hard acknowledgement.

It’s an important acknowledgment for you to have. It may bring up a lot of sadness that you’re avoiding dealing with. It may bring up other emotions that are hard to sit with, feelings of powerlessness, inadequacy, and it’s much easier to get into doing mode, tiptoeing around, and trying to prevent those people from falling into behavior patterns. We cannot change other people. Only God can do that. 

Number two, similar to number one, you may be overly responsible for others if you take responsibility for others emotional experiences. What this looks like? We are called in scripture to have the fruit of the Spirit. When we are connected with God, we experience love, joy, peace, and patience. We are told to speak the truth in love. We also have to balance this with times where God calls people to be bold and to be brave, to prophesy at times and say hard truths. All that means is speaking the truth of the gospel or of Scripture. We’re called to do that in love. But a lot of times what happens is we tell ourselves, I can’t say what I need to say to this other person, or I cannot speak the truth to them because they’re going to be upset or they’re going to be angry at me and this can even happen in our closest, most intimate relationships with our spouse. Sometimes we need our spouse to call us out. And it’s a beautiful thing because that lets us know, hey, you have a blind spot here. 

My husband called me out not too long ago and said, “You have unforgiveness towards these people in your life.” I was like, “Oh! Ouch!” It did. It hurt my feelings, but I’m so thankful that he said that because that was a blind spot for me. I wasn’t in awareness that I was still holding on to so much anger and bitterness that in my perception I thought I had let go of, but what he was able to see from the outside view was “No, you haven’t let go of that.”

By allowing me to have that hard emotional experience, it drove me back to God. It drove me to prayer to say, “Okay, God, am I in unforgiveness?” Yes, I do believe, that I’ve been convicted and I’m in unforgiveness and allow me to pray through that and say, I don’t want to hold on to this anger towards these individuals any longer.

I don’t want to live in bitterness. Yes, I believe what they did was wrong, and I’ve had my time to be angry about it, and now it’s time to not continue to hold it against them and to let it go so that I can be at peace. These are also people that I want to continue in relationship with, and I want to continue walking side by side.

As a result of that, I need to have a positive, forgiving, and loving, gracious attitude towards these individuals. That was incredibly eye-opening and incredibly loving. But oftentimes what happens, even in Christian circles, is we say, “Oh, I can’t set a boundary because that’s going to hurt that person’s feelings,” or “I can’t speak the truth and let them know that they’re off course because they’re going to get mad at me and they might not want to be my friend anymore.” This is unhealthy in our lives when we take responsibility for other people’s feelings and try to prevent them from having hard feelings, because sometimes we need to have hard feelings. That’s a part of growth. 

If you say something, and even if it’s a kind word, and you know that person is going to be upset, they have to deal with their own feelings. You are only responsible for saying the kind words, for speaking the truth in love, for showing patience with other people and grace. We also don’t just run around calling people out just because we want to have a positive relationship with that person and be careful with our words. But there are times where you’re going to say kind things and people are going to get mad at you. There are going to be times where you say, Hey, I’d encourage you to look at this in your life or to look at that situation and they’re not going to receive that. You have to know that you have done your part of what you’re supposed to do. 

Number three, you may be overly responsible for other people if you believe that you can control or convince that person to change their behavior in some way. If only I say this, then maybe they’ll change.

If only I say that, then maybe they’ll get it finally. If I only tell them for the 50th time that they need to go to therapy, It’s the nagging wife syndrome, right, where you just continue to bring something up, continue to bring something up, continue to bring it up. What happens in these situations, you just get more and more frustrated, more angry. It’s like hitting a brick wall. What happens with the other person is they become more defensive often. “Okay, you’re telling me I need to change and so I’m going to dig in my heels and tell you that everything’s fine and we’re good.: The more that you push people with that type of energy of, “I need you to change so that I can be okay inside.” That’s the energy sometimes that we can bring to these relationships that we don’t even realize we’re bringing that energy. 

So whenever you are trying to change someone and they push back, that’s why, because it doesn’t feel good. And automatically, the knee-jerk reaction is to go into a defensive mode. We need to learn to be okay, even when other people in our life are not okay because you’re going to have them. You’re going to have those people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member. It doesn’t matter if it’s a co-worker that you really wish that they would change. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boss. There are going to be people in your life, regardless of what you do and what circles you’re in that you have a hard time relating to people that are just maybe difficult to deal with. 

I heard someone say they’re extra grace required people. I don’t remember who said that, so I apologize. Whenever you have an extra grace-required person in your life, that’s an opportunity for you to connect with the Lord to say, “Okay, God, I want to love this person well.”

What does loving them well look like? Sometimes loving them well means accepting their mess right now. It means saying, “Look, “I see you and I love you and I accept you right where you’re at. I don’t need you to change. I’d love it if you would change because it would help you be a better person. It would help you grow closer to the Lord, but as far as me, I can be okay, even if you’re not okay.” 

Sometimes it means setting healthy boundaries to say, in order for me to remain mentally healthy and love you the absolute best that I can, I’m going to need you to know that this is what I can give to the relationship and then I’m going to have to take a step back in some other areas. I’m going to have to kind of let you fall at times. I’m going to have to. let you make choices and make mistakes. That is really, really hard sometimes for us to do. It’s hard for us to sit with these difficult emotions and knowing that someone is making very poor choices over their life, but if you have already spoken those truths to them and encouraged them towards the right path, then you have done your part.

You have done what you can and it’s time to take a step back and trust God with the rest. As you can see, kind of through this process, there are some reasons that we take responsibility for other people’s stuff. It’s because we have a hard time sitting with the emotions that come up. When they make choices that are either unhealthy or that we disagree with, let me tell you what really helps with dealing with those difficult emotions. It’s developing what we call distress tolerance, which is a big way of handling the hard things that come our way. 

A great way that you can do that is mindfulness. I have a course on mindfulness that’ll walk you through the process. What does it look like to be in the present moment, to be aware of what’s going on and in acceptance?

A lot of what we’re talking about today is accepting other people’s choices that may not be great. That’s a hard thing to do. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to accept that someone’s inactive addiction right now. We want them to be free and whole, and we don’t want to accept that we have a person in our life that might fly off the handle unexpectedly.

We don’t want to accept that. We want that to change because that would help us feel better internally and not have to sit on the edge of ourseatst with all that energy of what’s going to happen with this person. But once we accept our situation, it leads to a sense of greater peace. We know what our role is.

We know what God’s role is. We know what that other person’s role is. And we’re able to tease some of those things out and a little bit cleaner way. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode. You can reach us any time via our contact form, 

Thank you so much. Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling.Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bock, a licensed therapist. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum. Opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of myself or By the Well Counseling. 

Until next time, may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.