For many of us, it’s easy to fall into the role of taking on responsibility for other’s situations or problems. We want to help, but often get hurt or frustrated when the other person is not accepting our help or allowing us to guide them. When this occurs, it may be because we’re struggling to manage the balance between self-donation and hyper-responsibility.
Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us of the importance of self-donation–of using our gifts and talents to generously work for the good of others. But TOB also reminds us that for a relationship to be healthy, it must be mutually self-donative. That is, both people in the relationship have to be equally committed to giving all they have to work for each other’s good. Even Jesus models this. He offers all of himself to us on the cross, he holds nothing back. But he doesn’t force himself on us. For us to actually benefit from Christ’s free and total gift of self, we must respond by giving ourselves freely and totally back to him. He doesn’t drag us, kicking and screaming into heaven against our will. He stands at the door and knocks, but it’s up to is to open the door and let him in.
Here are three ways to be self-donative without becoming hyper-responsible:
Don’t Pretend to be Mightier than God–We often become anxious because we feel like it’s our job to make people healthier than they want to be, to force people to be closer than they want to be. All that tends to do is stress us out and push people away. The most we can do is offer people an open invitation to greater health and intimacy, provide incentives for pursuing greater health and intimacy, and offer consequences if they choose to engage in unhealthy or destructive personal or relational choices–and that’s a lot. But when we find ourselves trying to beg, whine, cajole, force, manipulate, or pressure another person–against their will– into making healthier choices for their lives or our relationship with them, we are committing an offense against their free will. Even God will not cross the lines a person draws with their own free will. Don’t pretend to be mightier than God. By all means, invite people to be healthier and closer, and feel free to offer incentives, and even consequences, that help them take your invitation seriously, but it’s not your fault if they choose to walk away, literally or figuratively. In fact, you are morally obliged to let them.
Take Your Cue From Them–We sometimes get into trouble when we try to work harder on someone else’s problem than they are. It’s good to be generous and to give all we have to help someone, but it only produces good fruit if the other person is also giving all they have to give. Even if, objectively, the other person is limited in some way and isn’t able to give much, they still have to be actively trying to give all they have to the problem for any help to stick. Otherwise, we burn ourselves out trying to solve problems that are not within our ability to solve. And we deplete the energy we would otherwise have to solve the problems that actually are within our control.
If You Need Help, Get It–Hyper-responsible people often struggle with asking for help, especially if the people they have asked are less than enthusiastic about giving it. If this happens to you, don’t assume that it automatically follows that you have to do everything. Either find some other way to get the help you need–even if it is not your preferred way to get it–or, if worse comes to worse–decide what you are capable of doing without help and stick to that. When other people complain that certain things aren’t getting done, simply tell them that you are doing all you can without their help, but if they would like to pitch in, then you are sure you could accomplish more together. It is not your job to make everything work to an ideal standard on your own power. Even God doesn’t build his Kingdom by himself. He insists that we partner with him, not because he can’t do it, but because it would not be respectful of our free will or the dignity of our personhood to do it all for us. The bottom line–respect your limits, and get the help you need.
If you would like to receive the help or support you need to overcome hyper-responsibility, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!