Caring and Taking Responsibility: How Often Do You Cross the Line?

By Stacy Ingraham, MSEd., LPCC-S

Do you have an innate desire to help others be happy and fix their pain? Are you a nurturer and enjoy taking care of others? When you see a loved one struggling, do you work harder than they do to find a solution? If you answered yes to any of the above, you may have a tendency to cross the line between caring and taking responsibility.

Intellectually, most of us know that taking away someone’s struggle is not only impossible, it’s not what they want or need. We all need to struggle if we want to grow. If you’re unsure whether you tend to cross the line, the following breakdown between caring and taking responsibility may help.

Caring for another involves the following:

  1. Listening with genuine care, respect, and an attempt to try to understand what a person is experiencing. If you want to learn how to be a better listener, check out the article, “What Great Listeners Actually Do” by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman.
  2. Offering assistance while setting limits to how much you’re able and willing to do.
  3. Asking someone if they want advice or feedback before giving it.
  4. Remembering that you are separate from the other person. Their feelings and behaviors may not have anything to do with you.

Crossing the line into taking responsibility involves the following:

  1. Helping by completing a task that takes away a person’s opportunity to struggle and therefore, grow. For instance, doing your son’s homework assignment because solving math problems is difficult and gives him anxiety.
  2. Planning or organizing someone else’s life in an attempt to make a day or an event go as smoothly as possible for others. This can involve questioning someone persistently, or asking “are you sure?” multiple times when he/she has stated their decision.
  3. Taking on another person’s emotional pain by taking the fault when it has nothing to do with you. Or, trying to make someone feel better by talking them out of their pain and then feeling irritated when they distance themselves or do not feel better.

Crossing this line over and over again becomes painful, exhausting, and feeds anxiety and depression. It can lead to loneliness, resentment, and frustration in relationships. A powerful gestalt intervention involves helping individuals enhance their awareness. Therefore, if you tend to cross the line from caring into taking responsibility and want to change, practice noticing each and every time you approach the line.

  1. If you feel resentful toward others when they dismiss your advice or help, you may be crossing the line.
  2. Perhaps you start worrying excessively about others and spiral into “what ifs.” You may say to yourself, “If I don’t do his homework, he’s going to fall behind, get teased, fail math, not get into college….”
  3. Perfectionists can cross the line in an effort to ensure that everyone is happy, having fun, and getting along. Along the same lines, if you need people to like you, notice when you start trying to figure out how you can help make things easier for them.

As your awareness increases, you can decide how to care and set limits so you avoid crossing the line. Remember, we can care deeply about others and help them without taking away their pain, fixing their problems, trying to make their life perfect, and enabling their troubling behaviors.

Thank you to Norman Shub for identifying this important theme.