Can You Be too Responsible?

28 August, 2020
Being responsible is usually considered positive. But can you be too responsible?
 

Most of us wake up every day thinking of all the things that we “have” to do, “need” to do, or “should” do. This burdens us with responsibilities and obligations. But can a person be too responsible?

It’s good to have responsibilities. In fact, it’s impossible to live without them. If you don’t know how to manage all the ins and outs of your responsibilities, however, it’s easy to fall into harmful thought and behavior patterns.

In fact, this outsized feeling of responsibility is related to many issues. Anxiety, depression, obsessions, eating disorders, and communication problems are all potential consequences of an overwhelming sense of responsibility.

A worried man.

Characteristics of very responsible people

Being responsible is being aware of and committed to your obligations. However, for someone who feels overly responsible for things, there might be other psychological issues at play.

Perfectionism

Responsibility involves wanting to fulfill obligations. Most people enjoy being efficient and getting good results. Nevertheless, some people are on a quest for perfection.

The problem with this is that perfection is subjective. It’s based only on what each individual considers ideal. Perfectionists tend to set the bar very high and, until they reach it, they feel that their work isn’t done.

 

As a result, they spend a lot of time trying to reach their goal and end up behaving in a very rigid and potentially controlling way. However, the entire time they’re working towards their goal, they’re suffering because they haven’t achieved it yet. At the same time, their feelings of insecurity and lack of confidence are growing. Perfectionists are rarely satisfied with their results, and they consider any small mistake a personal failure.

Being too demanding

People who are very responsible also tend to be overly demanding. They want to take on many different things at once, often because they feel that that’s the only way they’ll be done “the right way”. They’re very hard on themselves, trying to overcome every adversity and fulfill every obligation and creating demands that are potentially impossible to meet.

Being demanding and responsible can become a kind of trap. The goal starts to become outdoing yourself or others, instead of fulfilling certain obligations. When that’s the case, if a situation comes up or the results aren’t what you expect, you feel frustrated, ashamed, and guilty.

Expectations

Having responsibilities and obligations involves meeting certain expectations. Whether it’s finishing an important work project or picking up a package for a relative, it means that someone is expecting you to do something. When you’re a responsible and demanding perfectionist, there’s no way you can fail in your mission.

 

People who are very responsible set very high expectations for themselves. As with everything we’ve already mentioned, this seemingly positive trait has a dark side. Yes, high expectations can help you reach your goals. But what if you don’t achieve them? Things often don’t turn out exactly how you expect them to, and after investing all your time and energy, not meeting expectations can be devastating.

Consequences

Responsibility inevitably leads to having a more fixed idea about what’s right. It also leads to more worries. So the greater the responsibility, the more harmful the consequences can be if they aren’t properly handled.

The psychological consequences of being too responsible

Worrying is simply anticipating future events. Thus, if you only focus on whether or not you’ll succeed, get your desired results, or be able to overcome obstacles, you’ll become anxious.

In fact, a joint study from Hiroshima University and the University of Central Florida found that responsibility is the common denominator of generalized anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Researchers identified three main types of responsibility: the subjective need to care for and protect others, the effort applied to finding a solution to a problem, and feelings of guilt (feeling responsible for everything).

They also found that the latter was the one that caused the participants the most anxiety. That’s because it involves constantly thinking about the repercussions that their actions have on their surroundings, which, in turn, causes more worries and more feelings of responsibility.

 
A woman who's too responsible drinking tea.

Social consequences

As we mentioned above, people who are too responsible demand a lot from themselves. Thus, they also tend to demand a lot from others.

They think that everyone should share their rigid beliefs and narrow perception of what’s right. It’s difficult for them to understand the behavior that’s dissimilar to their own. Consequently, very few people are able to meet their expectations.

In short, yes, you can be too responsible. People with an outsized sense of responsibility have a distorted and close-minded perspective of reality. They take on obligations that may not even exist, and they demand success of themselves. If you think that this describes your personality, it’s important to learn how to prioritize and identify what you can actually take on and what you’re realistically capable of. You need to know your own limits or you’ll feel anxious and trigger anxiety in those around you.