Over-responsibility: Dealing with guilt

Blurring the lines: Whose responsible for what? Should I just keep giving?

Over-responsibility keeps anxiety alive by making us worry that we are likely to disappoint other people by letting them down or bringing harm on them directly or indirectly.

It takes advantage of the belief that 

“We are responsible or accountable for the outcome of our own actions.”

And whilst on the surface this is true, we should indeed be accountable for our actions.

This responsibility problem has a strange way of blurring the line between “What I am responsible for and what other people should be responsible for.” It results in a guilt complex.

Where does over-responsibility come from?

Over-responsibility may have resulted from

Being blamed for a lot of things whilst growing up (This may also lead to a anger and depressive problems)


From an experience of growing up too quickly

Growing up too quickly is often due to people needing to rely a lot on us when we were at a very early age or because no one was there to take the parent role for us when we were children.

Bottom line: Over-responsibility can pressurize us to take on more than we are responsible for.

Whilst on one end, this can be noble.

For example, accepting another man’s punishment so that he can be spared is a noble act.

At the extreme end, over-responsibility can be crucifying with exhaustion, anxiety and guilt.

You can know you've got the over-responsibility problem if you -

  • Frequently take on more than your fair share at work because you are anxious to say no for fear of disappointing your boss.
  • Over exhaust yourself at home because, taking a break means you cannot sort things out in time for the kids to get home. You fear letting the kids down. (It is interesting how this responsibility problem can stop people from delegating house chores to their children as doing so will make them feel guilty).
  • Spend so much time helping other people with their problems whilst neglecting your own needs and problems.
  • Always worry that you might have offended somebody by mistake.
  • Avoid people because you believe that you might some how have a negative effect on them.

What's wrong with being too responsible?

The over-responsibility problem comes in so many varied shapes and sizes, but it ultimately leads to exhaustion.

There is only so much one person can take on.

The law of humanity (created by stresstherapist.net) states that all humans are at one time or the other capable of disappointing people.

We are all naturally capable of irresponsible acts.

In fact, the more exhausted we get, the more likely we are to do something irresponsible.

We can never really be in control over the outcome of things other people should be responsible for.

In case you missed it, I will restate that sentence because I think it is important.

We can never really be in control over the outcome of things other people should be responsible for.

Taking on other people’s responsibilities in any way simply means that We would naturally keep feeling out of control and anxious.

That’s just the way things are.

If we continue to take on other people’s responsibilities, the fear of being capable of letting people down would be constantly kept alive in our minds.

At extremes, we might find ourselves going to bed in fear and waking up with the same fear.

We may also find ourselves paying close attention to everything we do, just in case we disappoint or offend somebody.

If you find yourself being overly apologetic all the time, then my description of over-responsibility may be familiar to you.


Essentially, over-responsibility makes you take on other people’s responsibility then proceeds to blame you for not having the capability and capacity to manage the responsibilities you have accepted.

How worry works with over-responsibility and guilt

Worry can be a beast to let go of on its own since it feeds heavily on our human fear of how uncertain things or situation have a possibility to cause us harm.

But when you have worry being held together by over-responsibility, worry becomes a hundred times difficult to let go of. over-responsibility makes dealing with guilt very difficult.

Turning my attention, back mainly to over-responsibility,

If we’ve got this tendency, it is a given that we will tend to feel very guilty about a lot of things that make us feel we are somehow failing people, letting them down, not doing enough for them. Over-responsibility simply makes us think it’s my fault; I am to blame for almost everything that goes wrong, or everything that does not go quite as right as it should.

With over-responsibility we are indirectly on the watch out for how your action or inaction might inadvertently cause harm to people around us.

If you’ve got a tendency towards over-responsibility, NOT WORRYING can almost seem like you are stripping of the shields and armour of everyone around you and yourself and leaving everyone bare chested at the mercy of the showers of arrows coming down.

That’s why it is so hard to let go of worrying when you feel overly responsible. Worrying gives a false sense that you are doing something to help or prevent harm.

Unfortunately, worrying in this way and for this reason only brings “negative results." In fact, worrying this way keeps us perpetually aware of our inadequacies, which only serve to make us feel even more at fault (Hopefully you can see a negative locking cycle building here).

Again, recognising the poisonous nature of this sort of worry is key to being able to let go.

However, it’s more about maintaining a good balance.

If my two-year-old daughter, (who I dearly love though I keep having to tell her off for not listening), If she was to go missing (God forbid).
My, would I worry.

I might even shoot anyone who tells me not to worry (obviously this is figuratively speaking). Not because I believe worrying would help, but because that’s just what we do as humans.

Having said that though, if my daughter did go missing, I would gain better from an action plan than I would gain from merely worrying.
My argument though is that such an action plan is a form of worry, but more organised in order to achieve a fruitful aim.

Hmmm, Did I just contradict myself?

What I am really saying is that-

It is human to feel obliged to worry because we care, however, when that sense of responsibility tips us over towards unproductive worry, it does more harm than good to us an those we are trying to protect.

It’s better to list the things we feel responsible for and work out if we are indeed responsible for them. If we are responsible, then we would be better of drawing up an action plan for what we can sort out or prevent.

So what's the solution?

Solution 1: Leaning the need for limits

Whilst it is great to be kind,  helpful and it is wonderful to never ever let anyone down, It is good to note that it is healthy to set limits. To say no on occasions. To set limits. Remember no human can ever be fountain of everlasting flowing resources. We naturally get depleted, We occasionally need to recuperate.

Remember. People who are Takers cannot seel when they have sucked you dry. They are so consumed by their own needs that tey are blind to your needs. As such it is your responsibility to set the limits.

Solution 2: Importance of sharing blame

The solution is to learn to share responsibility. Learn to have a clear understanding of what you are responsible for and what other people are responsible for.

As obvious as this may sound, you'd be surprised about the imense amount of weight lifted off your shoulders once you start learning to share responsibility.

When you learn to share responsibility, It becomes a lot easier to share blame as well.

Now If you have a huge tendency to blame yourself, You might have read that statement and felt very uncomfortable about the Idea of sharing blame.

Remember, sharing blame does not mean that you are completely abdicating yourself of any blame whatsoever.

It only means you are looking at things in a balanced way.

I have worked with many clients who suffered from multiple mental health difficulties because they kept on taking too much at work. They struggled with the Idea of saying no to their bosses.

Who else is responsible?

On the surface, you might conclude that these clients were entirely to blame for their breakdown as they should have just said no.

But on closer examination, you will find that

The boss was also to blame for overloading them with too much work. A good manager should really know that overloading the workforce will most likely increase the rate of illnesses within the team.

However, the boss often had a boss who himself had a boss, so pressure was coming down the ranks from people who had no clue of the demands on the ground.

So the boss of the boss was to blame


The boss of the boss of the boss was also to blame.

(Sorry, just couldn't resist phrasing it like that)

Now looking into these client's life history you will also find that they had parents who either had very high, sometimes bordering on extreme, standards or parents who constantly blamed the clients for things they "should have done better."

So the parents were also to blame as they indirectly contributed to the clients' difficulty to say no to too much responsibility.

(If you need me to clarify this further, please send me a message)

But before you say

"We can't keep blaming the past for everything."

(This is a statement I hear a lot).

May I stress that it is important to be able to acknowledge the different influences and forces that impact us and the different situations and people that have an effect on us.

These are all factors that contribute to the ineffective strategies and behaviors we have learnt.

Failure to accept this will surely lead any one into anxiety and depressive problems.

The more we are able to share responsibly and appropriate blame in a balanced way, The more we will begin to find that our day to day living experiences and tasks more enjoyable and rewarding.


New! Comments

What's the biggest point you have taken from this article. Would love to hear your opinion. Please leave me a comment in the box below.

Articles and video tutorials by Adewale Ademuyiwa.

I hope you are finding our articles useful.


Copyright © 2010-2014.

Please note that although most of the case examples used on this sight are taken from true life
experiences, the case examples have been changed somewhat in the interest of keeping the confidentiality of the clients involved.

www.stresstherapist.net is the property of Adewale Ademuyiwa, BcSHons Community Specialist Practice, Post Grad Cert in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, DipHe Mental Health Nursing, Diploma in Mentoring in Public practice.

  • Address:- Watford, Hertfordshire, Uk,
  • Contact no.  +447577978214
  • Email: exrovite (@) stresstherapist.net