Too Much Responsibility, Guilt and Hurt

Recently, in my office and in my life, I have been hearing about how people have been feeling overwhelmed with hurt in relationships new and old. Looking in on what they are going through, they do deserve their feelings. There is a dynamic going on that is not healthy. The feelings are resentful and guilty and really sound old to me. Sounding "old" meaning  it appears there is a pattern going on that has carried over from their childhood. What I believe is going on is, in reaction to growing up in a dysfunctional family, we may feel or have been made to feel guilty or responsible for the happiness or inferiority of others in the household. When we become adults, we may start to feel responsible for our significant other, our children, our friends or have remained responsible for those same family members' happiness. When we see our children struggling or our partner unhappy we may jump to attention in terms of bettering their life and making them feel better. The same goes for our family of origin and their happiness, depression or inability to thrive in life. We have always felt the responsibility for making their lives good. If we try to allow others to become responsible for their own feelings or abilities in life, we may feel incredibly guilty. The guilt and compassion (for them) that arises when they do not succeed, causes you to continue to tear down or, more likely, never create personal boundaries for yourself. These boundaries are limits that protect you in a healthy way, so that you may take care of yourself first, and not always be available to another. You are emotionally naked when you do not have these personal boundaries. Eventually, resentment and anger wells up, but often there is no understanding as to why we are feeling this way towards people we care about. In our family of origin, we learned to feel better by rescuing the person from their own feelings and irresponsibilities. This actually deprives the family member from growing and learning from their own life experience and YOU may suffer as a consequence by carrying what's their's for a long time.

To stop this negative cycle in your life, you can respond by setting better personal boundaries and limits. This will allow your loved one the space to figure out how to feel their feelings on their own and/or to succeed or falter at what they attempt in life. Even though you may have a deep desire to, it is unhealthy to rescue people from all that life gives us. You may not have even thought you were "rescuing" them, you may have believed you were simply showing "love" to them. This is confusing love and rescue. 

Photo used under Creative Commons from bhollins