The origins of being over-responsible

The origins of being over-responsible

What do we mean by being over-responsible?

Some people appear to manage to avoid most responsibilities and rely on others to meet their needs. Examples of this, though stereotypical and definitely not always true include the young adult living at home with parents, or the stereotypical male-female marriage where the woman manages and delegates all household tasks.

In each of these relationships there is a person there who takes on the responsibility that the first has avoided. This over-responsible person takes on a larger proportion of the thinking, organising and actual doing of both household and relationship tasks.


The origins of being over-responsible

The origins of being over-responsible can often be traced back to childhood. While there are some limited differences in male and female brains, children of both sexes have the capacity to become caring, nurturing and supportive adults. However, within most societies we tend to encourage these behaviours specifically in female children, by rewarding them for being kind, asking them to care for younger siblings more frequently and requiring them to help with household tasks at a younger age or more often. If you recognise these features from your own childhood, then you may be someone who finds yourself making sure that other people are happy before you can be happy yourself.

Additionally, over-responsibility within attachment theory may occur when a child’s needs are rarely met by their caregivers. Such children grow up with a sense that other people’s needs are more important than their own. If you experienced neglect in your childhood, then over-responsibility may be a feature of your adult life.


Changing over-responsibility

If you find yourself taking responsibility for your friends, partner or children (beyond what is developmentally appropriate), then try the following strategies:

Leave things undone: as the responsible one in a relationship you may find yourself ensuring that everything is in order before leaving the house or meeting your own needs. For example, if you are going away overnight and your partner will be parenting your children then you might find yourself overpreparing, for example, batch cooking food and setting out school uniforms. If you continue this it leaves no opportunity for your partner to complete the tasks, so just go, leaving things undone.

Be fun: if you are the ‘sensible’ one in a relationship you may feel as though you sometimes miss out on being the ‘fun’ one. Challenge yourself to be the fun one frequently even if it feels awkward at first: play tig with your children, play a prank on your partner or suggest a fun day out instead of a day of housework.

Reassess: continuously evaluate what is your responsibility and remind yourself that you are not responsible for other’s behaviours or happiness.


If being over-responsible is a trait that you recognise in yourself and you find that it impacts upon your goals, self-worth or mental health then it may be helpful to seek professional support. To discuss this further then contact Dr Julie Hannan on [email protected].