What is it that has us take responsibility for that which is not ours? We do it with our children, our spouses, our friends, our employers, and our colleagues. If they are upset, concerned, nervous, disappointed, anxious or depressed, we feel we need to do something about it. Why is that? Why do we make their negative experience our problem?

For years, I felt that it was my job to be responsible for the well being of others. If I wasn’t working hard to help others feel better, then I was a failure. I learned this as a young child growing up with my mother who rarely felt good about herself or her life. As a child, the best strategy I had to get my own needs met was to try and meet hers first. I figured if I could make her feel good, then she would do the same for me by being the way I wanted her to be. This was how I built the inner story that I was responsible for her well-being. As I went through life, I applied this to my family, friends, spouse, and in many work situations. If I could help them do/feel better, I would be a success. And of course, this is reinforced by our social structure and expectations that this is what you do if you are being a good parent, child, friend, sibling, employee, etc.

By expecting this of myself, I expected the same from others which set me up for constant disappointment. The unspoken agreement was ‘If I’m being responsible for their wellbeing, they should be responsible for mine’. And every time that was not the case, I felt betrayed. At work, I did everything I could to make the company look good and succeed, yet I was devastated when they decided to go in a new direction and let me go. In my relationships, I would give ‘too much’ to others and then feel resentful and unimportant when they didn’t reciprocate in equal measure; All of this scorekeeping simply because my responsibility was misplaced.

What I’m finally learning and putting into practice is the idea that my well-being is my responsibility – not someone else’s – and that is the same for everyone else. 

When I focus on being fully responsible for my own well-being, I stay tuned into what does and doesn’t feel good to me instead of focusing on what is or isn’t happening with others. By staying tuned in to myself, I’m able to recognize how I’m feeling when I’m not being treated kindly by myself or others. Once I’m aware of what is happening, I can move towards what is best for me and that automatically increases my well-being. That is my job – not someone else’s.

Now that my attention is focused on what I do have control over, I can relax and allow others to do the same.

I have a very different response now when others are not being responsible for themselves, or are asking me to make them feel better about the choices they have made. Instead of trying to solve the problem to make them feel better, I now stand with them to observe and recognize what they are experiencing, and from that place, support them to make a choice that will increase their own well-being. Now, when I want someone else to make me feel better, instead of assuming they have what I need, I can let them know what I am experiencing, what I am doing to take care of my own well-being and say yes to support that feels best to me. Now that my attention is focused on what I do have control over, I can relax and allow others to do the same.

How will you take back responsibility for your own well-being?


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Wendy Watson-Hallowell | The Belief Coach
WENDY is passionate about enabling individuals, organizations and communities to value themselves and each other in the ongoing process of change. Wendy has guided hundreds of individuals and over 750+ public and private sector organizations to achieve tangible increases in impact and performance. Her successful practice in mentoring and coaching has led to authorship of the book, ‘Live a Life You Love and Make a Living Doing It’. Over the last 30 years, Wendy’s skills have been honed in leadership roles at MTV Networks, The Rensselaerville Institute, and a variety of community based projects in her town. In 2015 she launched BeliefWorks and offers Belief Coaching as a way to address the root cause of what limits the results we can achieve both personally and professionally. This is an 'upstream' solution to change. Instead of changing limiting behavior, she focuses on changing the limiting beliefs that drive that behavior. In all cases, her clients and partners speak to the specific increases in achievement that her consulting, coaching and partnership roles make possible.
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Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos

Windy what a great article in which yo made many insightful points. The only one responsible for our happiness is ourselves. We cannot take on the responsibility of happiness for others any more than we can take on eating for them. In the end, it is all on us.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thanks for the comments Kat. Yes, it’s back on us every time. The good news is that gives us our choices back, regardless of what others are up to.

Maria Lehtman

Great post and topic, Wendy! It is difficult to balance the feeling of responsibility vs. others around you that drain on energy when we need it. We can gradually shift that balance, but it takes time and effort. Instead of making new year promises I try to live with a ‘health-first’ ideology. It is far from easy. Intuition is the best guide in that :).

Maureen Y. Nowicki

Happiness is a one-person job, I truly believe Wendy. You have really made that come alive in your article. Your comment about standing and observing or holding the space and supporting others to find solutions for themselves, is something I am currently working on to take more fully in my own life. This sometimes is not easy, but is the most empowering and liberating solution for all of us. Thank you for your article.