There’s certainly nothing wrong with being responsible in both your personal and professional lives. In fact, taking appropriate responsibility can help you with everything from preventing a midlife crisis to managing your finances in a way that will lead to a successful retirement. However, I’ve noticed a trend in many of my clients toward over-responsibility that is taking a toll on their happiness, health, and success. Over-responsibility is not a superlative form of responsibility and it’s certainly nothing to be proud of. Unfortunately, many of us cannot recognize that over-responsibility is an indication of lack of trust and an ego-centric response to situations that cause us anxiety. Here’s what you need to know about over-responsibility and how it negatively impacts your life.

What Does Over-Responsibility Look Like?

Over-responsibility can rear its ugly head in many different areas of your life and it can take on many forms. Depending on your personality type, who you’re interacting with, and the particular situation you find yourself in, your over-responsibility may manifest in some of these ways:

  • You question your advice-based financial planner’s every suggestion and continually fight him or her on the ways you want your money and investments managed.
  • You look through your significant other’s credit card statements and receipts to ensure he or she is spending wisely and staying on track with your family budget.
  • You push your child toward the colleges and majors you think would be best for his future and disregard his wishes to go to community college or take a year off before committing to higher education.
  • You continually give advice to your co-worker about how they should handle their rocky marriage and get upset and bitter when your advice isn’t taken.
  • You watch the news and lose sleep almost every night about the state of the world and how it will affect your children and grandchildren in the years to come.

How Can You STOP Being Over-Responsible?

Do any of the above scenarios sound familiar? It’s easy to err on the side of over-responsibility because it’s pretty simple to convince ourselves that we’re doing it because we care and because we’re trying to help. However, over-responsibility is almost always about control and a lack of trust in both yourself and those close to you. If you don’t recognize your tendency to be over-responsible and start taking steps toward change, you could permanently damage your close personal relationships and sabotage your success. Here are some ways you can start changing your mindset and subsequent behavior:

Focus on What You Can Control  When you are over-responsible, you’re trying to either control others or control situations. Guess what? Neither of those is within your control and it can only result in frustration. When it comes down to it, there is really only one thing in life you can truly control: yourself. You can’t control whether or not others will take your advice, you cannot control how the market affects your investments, and you can’t control the decisions others will make. When you turn the focus back to yourself and how you can live your life by your personal ideals and values, you re-establish control, increase self-esteem, and become a much easier person to be around.

Develop Trust  When it comes down to it, over-responsibility is about a lack of trust. You don’t trust those around you to make good decisions for themselves so you feel you have to make the decisions for them. You also don’t feel you can trust yourself to accept the decisions they end up making (especially if those decisions are against your advice), so you try to prevent it from happening in the first place. You must develop trust in others and stop thinking you know everyone else’s business better than they do. You must also trust that no matter what decisions they end up making, you can accept those decisions and still maintain a good relationship with them.

Learn to Let Go  Those who are caught in a web of over-responsibility are often wracked with guilt because they feel responsible for when things go wrong (even when it really had nothing to do with them). It’s vital to learn how to let go—not only when the negative outcome was not your fault, but also when it was. When things go badly, look deeper into the situation and see if you could have done anything differently. If not, simply let it go. If it was in some way your fault, apologize for your mistake, understand how you can do better the next time, and then let it go. Staying in the guilt phase is a recipe for disaster.

Over-responsibility is a negative spiral that can suck you in and leave you continually feeling unappreciated and guilty. If you know yourself well enough to recognize the signs of over-responsibility, it’s vital that you take steps now to start changing your behavior before it has any more negative impacts on your relationships and your emotional health. If you’d like to talk more about how over-responsibility could be affecting your relationship with others (including your financial planner), please reach out!


Patrick Tucker, the owner of True Measure Wealth Management, has over 20 years experience in the industry and has spent the last 15 years learning the ins and outs of the fee-only advisory business. He focuses on client behaviors and what ‘wealth’ means for each individual client to provide care-giving plans that lead to a mindful fulfillment of financial goals. A lifelong learner, Patrick uses his continued knowledge to become a valued partner for his clients and help them explore the wisdom of true wealth.