The Responsibility Pendulum, aka THE SECRET TO LIFE

People who have gone through some form of therapy are probably the most annoying people in the world.

I imagine talking to them is like talking to someone who once watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.  “Heart surgery?  Oh, dude, I’ve totally seen that done.  I can do this!”  Except instead of trying to bypass your aortic valve, they are constantly trying to dissect everything you say in order to identify your real motivation.

“And how does that make you feel?” they say.

“And what’s the story you make up about yourself then?” they ask.

Seriously.  Someone should probably punch those people in the face, or kindly remind them that seeking mental health help does not necessarily qualify them to give mental health help.

I’ve been through roughly one gazillion hours of therapy in the last year.

That pretty much qualifies me as the most annoying person on the planet right now.

And only someone who was exceptionally self aware would be able to say that with confidence. *snap*

My point is, it makes complete sense that I am sitting here mulling over the fact that all of you other unhealthy people find yourselves on one end or another of what I am going to start calling The Responsibility Pendulum*.

A brief aside here – I am also contemplating the use of the word Spectrum and/or Continuum in place of Pendulum.  For now, my time on and has lead me to believe that Pendulum is, in fact, the most correct term here.  Ahem.


The Responsibility Pendulum

It seems to me that many, if not most, of our problems in life – including emotional distress, relationship woes, and all around general fucked-uped-ness – come from taking on too much or too little responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and actions and/or the thoughts, feelings and actions of other people.

Allow me to explain.

The Too Much Responsibility Side

Some people are responsible for everyone and everything.  Let’s say, for example, me.  (Pre-therapy and awesome enlightenment, of course.)  I am responsible for whether or not I am happy or sad.  I am responsible for whether or not my work gets done.

So far, so good.

I am also responsible for whether or not my husband is happy, what kind of people my children grow up to be, whether my friends feel valued and appreciated, whether or not my mother knows that she’s a good mom, how successful my siblings are, and whether or not Pakistan and Israel ever get their shit together.

As my husband’s wife, of course I am responsible for what he is feeling at every minute of every day.  If he’s feeling happy or proud or secure, it is because I am a good enough wife.  If he’s feeling sad or angry or frustrated or insecure, it is a sign that I have failed and am, therefore, not good enough.  His happiness is my responsibility.

Likewise, as a parent, it is my job to make sure that my children are always happy.  If they are ever sad or scared or frustrated or, God forbid, fail, it is a reflection of my failure to do my job.  I will do absolutely everything in my power to avoid failing at that job because to do so would mean, in a nutshell, that I suck.

I do not wish to suck.

Here’s the problem with these scenarios: sometimes, no matter what I do, I cannot control how other people feel.  It’s almost like they have feelings of their own. And once in a while they even make their own decisions, and those decisions can have consequences.  It is, come to find out, really, really difficult to be responsible for shit you have no control over.  Like – really difficult. Like – damn near impossible difficult.

Now, on occasion, people in my life (i.e. my husband) have tried to tell me that I “shouldn’t care” or “shouldn’t let it bother me” when someone else is unhappy or unsuccessful.  Some people (i.e. him) have suggested that I should “let it go” because “it’s not my responsibility”.  On those occasions, I have thought to myself that “clearly it is a sign of my extreme awesomeness and noble character that I am willing to take on even more responsibility than necessary, ASSHOLE.”

After all, what could possibly be wrong with being too responsible?

Apparently, living with someone who is trying to control things that they cannot possibly control is not fun.  It can also make that person seem really judgey and bitchy.  It can also make that person really, really fucking crabby and resentful because WHY DO I HAVE TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING AND YOU ARE NOT EVEN COOPERATING!?!



The Too Little Responsibility Side

On the other hand – as in way over on the hand that belongs to someone on another fucking continent – you have people who are not even responsible for their own feelings, thoughts or actions.  It is not their responsibility or their fault if they are happy, sad, or mad.  It is neither their responsibility nor their fault if their life sucks or their job sucks or their relationships suck.  They are, in fact, happy or sad or mad or successful or unsuccessful because that person over there did this.

And, as we learned just a few short paragraphs ago, it is damn near impossible to control other people’s behaviors.  So if other people’s behaviors made you (insert emotion or action here), then it is their responsibility.  Not yours.

Ironically, the people on this side have problems for the same damn reason that the people on the other side do:

You can’t control other people’s feelings, thoughts or actions.

But if you give the responsibility for your feelings, thoughts or actions to someone else, you pretty much hand over control over your entire life to everyone else around you.

Do I sound sanctimonious here now?  Yeah, probably.  Because this is not my side, I tend to have a liiiitttttle bit of a problem being empathetic.  I tend to say things like “grow the fuck up and take some responsibility for your own life”, for example.  I also, maybe, perhaps, tend to get a liiiiiittttttle bit resentful of people on this side because SEE!? THIS IS WHY PEOPLE LIKE ME HAVE TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING!  YOU’RE DROPPING THE BALL, DAMMIT!

On occasion, I may get together with my fellow too much responsibility takers and commiserate about how really fucking noble we are.



The Just The Right Amount Of Responsibility Side

Because I am now brilliant and enlightened and exceptionally self aware, I have figured out that THE SECRET TO LIFE lies somewhere in the middle.

The key to happiness is accepting that we are responsible for our own feelings, thoughts and actions.

Full stop.

Ladies and Gentleman, at just 30 years old, I, Britt Reints, have GOT IT ALL FIGURED OUT.

I expect Oprah to be calling any moment.

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

Blah blah BLAH Reinhold Niebuhr Is A Show Off

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  1. avitable says:

    Aha! But, oh Queen of Enlightenment, what about people like ME?

    I take on the responsibility of other people’s feelings, thoughts and actions while simultaneously allowing others to negatively or positively affect my own feelings and thoughts. I’m on both ends of your pendulum at the same time. Which averages out to me being right in the middle and therefore, perfect.

  2. Nobody says:

    Wow. Best post ever!

    I think you are exactly right here. And, just maybe, I don’t need to find a shrink after all.

  3. Bre says:

    “I do not wish to suck”. Amen!
    I like this post…

  4. CP says:

    Ditto what Adam said.

    And, shame on you for figuring out in 30 years what the serenity prayer has been saying for like, um…THOUSANDS of years? LOL

    Kidding. However, I am going to leave you with a link to an article that touches on this theme. Interesting read.

    Congrats on your newly found enlightenment. I’ve been in therapy since I am 9 years old and I still don’t have a clue.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @CP, The only thing I would disagree with in that article is that you should just stop caring about stuff – or wipe it from your mental plate.

      I think a lot of people need to be told exactly HOW to “wipe it off the mental plate”.

      Exactly “how” to wipe the plate!

      he he he he he he

  5. Zanthera says:

    Easy to see but damn hard to act on. Excellent post.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Zanthera, I contend that it’s “easy to see” in other people. I can walk around all damn day going “oooh! that’s not your responsibility!” and “oooh, you’re giving someone else control over how you feel!”

      AND, it was easier for me to see where I was TAKING responsibility for other people’s happiness than it was for me to see that I was GIVING responsibility for my own happiness to other people – like my husband.

      • Zanthera says:

        @Miss Britt, lol Meant more my relation to being an annoying person with revelations “easy to see hard to act on” afterwards/math. After revelations you can’t really look back much anymore.

        Just wish I knew what to do with the comment often my diagnosis “Highly intelligent yet incredibly stupid.”

  6. Sybil Law says:

    The Serenity Prayer is in a frame above my sink.
    I should do more dishes.

  7. SwanShadow says:

    Now… how did that make you feel? ;)

  8. Kim says:

    The serenity prayer makes me want to choke someone.

    And thus far I have avoided therapy, but I hear where that’s all the good drugs are nowadays, so I may have to give in.

    Or not.

    Damm these multiple personalities !! ; )

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Kim, it’s always made me want to choke someone to.

      The idea that I’m just supposed to IGNORE things beyond my control has always been tough, to say the least, for me.

  9. Dave2 says:

    As I’ve been saying for the past two decades, you HAVE to be responsible for your own happiness, because if you rely on others to make you happy you’ll never truly be happy at all.

    The problem is that the women I date seem to want to make me responsible for their happiness… which is a big reason I’m single much of the time now.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Dave2, I think we – women especially, maybe – are socialized to think that are relationships should be symbiotic. That in the perfect relationship, the romantic relationship, I worry about making YOU happy and you worry about making ME happy and then awwww… we’re both happy.

      I know that’s what I thought.

      Come to find out, *I* am better equipped than anyone to know what makes me happy.

      Go figure.

    • muskrat says:

      @Dave2, Yeah, a friend of mine said that led to his divorce. I asked what happened, and he said, basically, what you did above: “she thought it was my job to make her happy instead of her own.” Then again, maybe he was just an asshole.

  10. Lisa says:

    I have been trying to get off your side of the pendulum for years, and only managed to do so when I married someone who was even farther on the side of too much responsibility than I was. After we knocked that pendulum over because I am a heavy beesh and he jumped up and down on it, we’re finally moving toward the middle. Middle is good.

    Also, you are a funny fucker. That’s good too.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Lisa, you have to try to be funny when you’re telling people how to run their lives. Otherwise you get smothered in your sleep. SO I HEAR.

  11. Finn says:

    Hi, my name is Finn and I am a recovering Too Much Responsibility person. I’ve been several years clean and sober. But sometimes I still want to take responsibility for EVERYTHING. Especially the good stuff.

  12. Kristin says:

    So you’ve got it figured out. Good. Now can you act upon it?

    You’re not factoring in that the Too Much Responsibility People usually have a personality trait associated with that and it’s not that easy to up and change your personality.

    For example, you are correct that it isn’t MY responsibility to ensure that my husband has breakfast in the morning and lunch at lunch. He’s a grown man. AND YET, no matter how much I tell myself that, there are times when I still make his lunch, griping the whole time about how he’d starve if it weren’t for me, because my maternal personality cannot be overcome. It’s so stupid.

    But congrats! Let me know if you can use the information as it’s intended :)

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Kristin, it’s not easy to change your personality, but we are capable of changing our behaviors, and even our thought patterns if we are aware of them. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

      And yeah, I’m trying to act on it. I would say I’m still in practice mode because it certainly isn’t automatic. Maybe someday it will be.

      That making a lunch thing is a perfect example, actually. For me I have to walk through “look, this is not my responsibility. He’s a grown man, and he’s not going to starve if I don’t feed him.” If I still choose to make him lunch, then that’s a CHOICE I make because *I* want to do something nice for him.

      I kind of have a hard time getting pissed at him for a choice I consciously make.

  13. Kaycee says:

    Oh I really like this – cracked me up and was ridiculously true at the same time. Fantastic!

  14. Hockeymandad says:

    If you want Oprah to call, you need to write a book. Then be all ass-kissy and such to her ego. In the meantime, are you accepting appointments for counseling? It’s probably cheaper than my therapist.

    So then how does a therapist fit in? Aren’t they taking in too much responsibility by listening to all us crazy people and trying to fix our problems?

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Hockeymandad, shit. I am not good at the ass-kissy.

      I do however accept payment for counseling. That’s like appointments, right?

      I’m pretty sure a therapist doesn’t tell themselves that they are losers because you are fucked up. Hopefully a good therapist gives you tools and doesn’t take it personally if you decide to use them or not.

  15. Angel Smith says:

    I’m having flashbacks of our phone conversation….which I’m fairly sure was the only one we’ve had thus far so hopefully it was memorable enough that you have an earthly clue what I am talking about. LOL

    But yeah.

    That’s pretty much what destroyed my marriage. Me taking too much responsibility and him taking too little. Both of us sucked.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Angel Smith, yeah, that’s pretty much what damn near destroyed mine, too. I mean, basically. OK, that’s over simplifying – but you know what I mean.

      And OF COURSE I remember our phone conversation, Silly.

  16. Ren says:

    Just to make sure I’m clear, you’re saying that I can blame you for any unhappiness I have and take credit myself for any happiness. Right? Thanks!

  17. Al_Pal says:

    Sounds reasonable. I’m definitely SOMEWHERE in the middle… ;p

  18. It took years of therapy and all of my 30′s and 40′s to realize that I can’t be responsible for everyone elses’s happiness. I’m glad it didn’t take you that long.

    It took a smart therapist to convince me that people who take TOO MUCH responsibility are the ones who end up flat on their backs with a chronic, stress-related illness.

  19. Shit, I coulda told you that.
    (Well, not in the way / words that you needed to hear, but FUCK YEAH, you got it, bay-bee!)
    Love to you and your enlightened self.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @hello haha narf, yeah, but if you would have tried to tell me, I wouldn’t have believed you.

      Well, maybe YOU I would believe, because you’re the happiest fucker I know.

  20. Ok, that way way more asshole than I meant to be. Sorry!

  21. Darla says:

    snort! I love this post.

    I am on the too much responsibility side of life. And? I appear bitchy, cuz DUDE TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY!!! {sigh}

  22. Robin says:

    From one therapy-head to another, I loved this entry. I LOL’ed through much of it because I am so the “Too Much Responsibility” girl times 10.

    Eventually, we’ll all get there, or die trying….like 50 Cent.

  23. Mr Lady says:

    I was sitting in my bazillionth AA meeting, crying and listening like I always do, and at that one glorious moment in that one glorious yellow preschool chair, the Serentity Prayer made sense to me.

    There’s no way to explain the difference in myself the moment before or the moment after, but I think you know what I’m talking about. I think you had your moment.

    Welcome to the dark side.

  24. Maria says:

    I’m hitting that therapy hump where it no longer feels like its working and I dread going because I feel like a fuckup. I highly look forward to the Figuring Life Out phase of therapy.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Maria, you don’t feel like it’s working because you’re not making sense of what you guys are talking about – or because you’re not sure what to talk about?

      Don’t know the details, but I know this for certain:

      YOU are not a fuckup.

  25. RW says:

    You probably meant Palestine I’m thinkin.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @RW, heh. Funny story (that I already emailed you) – I so DID mean Palestine. Not sure how Pakistan came out of my fingers. But when I was rereading it after publishing (because that’s when everyone should edit), I read Pakistan and thought – WTF?? PAKISTAN???

      And then I figured – meh, Pakistan has issues, too, that I could probably fix.

  26. muskrat says:

    What if, like, you’re stuck in a pit, and the pendulum is just swinging above you while the rats nibble at your bound body?

    My only problem with therapy is–when does it stop? My sis-in-law has been seeing a therapist for like 15 years, and I don’t see that she’s any better than the rest of us who keep our change in our pockets and blog every once in a while or go for a run or have a few/several cocktails. I hope the people I like, like y’all, can benefit and then stop at some point like a doctor stops curing a patient with physical injuries.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @muskrat, well, for ME, I went with a clear goal in mind both times. I decided when I had reached that goal in individual therapy, and our marriage counselor is currently trying to kick us out. lol

  27. i came back and read this again, this time not on a stupid blackberry when i had time to appreciate it a bit more than i did before.

    damn great writing. i love everything about this post. and i am tempted to say you make me happy because you truly do contribute to my happiness. my life is better because you are in it.

    hmmmm, this comment isn’t going where i wanted it to and the first one sounded all bitchy. communication is not number one on my list today. just know that i’m all kinds of thrilled at your aha moment.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @hello haha narf, he he he, I hear ya, Beck. And I don’t think taking responsibility for our own happiness is the same as being unaffected by the gifts that other people can add to our lives.

  28. Faiqa says:

    I hear you. I totally do. And because I, unlike you, have not undergone loads of therapy and tend to continue occupation of the “too much responsibility side,” I feel the imperative need to tell you that it is not *Pakistan* and Israel that need to work their shit out but *PALESTINE* and Israel.

    I blame this slight lapse on the fact that you’re obsessed with me and had Pakistan on the brain as a result.

    Although, Pakistan is not a big fan of Israel. So, if you were trying to be nuanced, then, never mind, and, wow, impressive.

    And I love you. So don’t hate me for correcting you in front of the 2 million people that read you. Because they aren’t reading my comment, anyway, right?

    What was your therapist’s number again?

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Faiqa, I have NO idea why I typed Pakistan – maybe because of my obsession with you. Probably.

      But when I went back and proofed it yesterday I thought “meh, Pakistan has issues too, and I didn’t TECHNICALLY say that Pakistan and Israel need to work out the problems they have WITH EACH OTHER, so really, this is just FURTHER illustrating that I take on NUMEROUS problems. Man that edit button is far away…”

      True story.

  29. Mandi Bone says:

    As always a wonderful post. It is hard to remember that we are not in charge of other people happiness.Hell it is really tough not to be in charge of everything in the world.

  30. I’m somewhere between the middle and the too much responsibility end, probably closer to the too much. Okay, I won’t lie: DEFINITELY closer to the too much. I’ve been working on it.

    I once dated someone who was on the opposite end. I mostly took care of him and he mostly blamed everyone for everything that happened to him.

    Mike, on the other hand, is much closer to the middle. He takes a lot to heart, but he can also shut it off and not let himself be affected by things outside of his control. He’s almost too good at it. I’ve learned a lot from him, though, which is why I’m not completely on the too much end.

    And hey, this was a good post. You’re not one of those annoying therapy people — yet! ;)

  31. Britt, I loved this post. I tweeted it and linked on facebook. I really wish I could email it to a commenter of mine, because this line made me automatically think of her:

    “Seriously. Someone should probably punch those people in the face, or kindly remind them that seeking mental health help does not necessarily qualify them to give mental health help.”

    I love it when you crank out a particularly heart wrenching post in which you come to your own conclusions and never ask for advice, a commenter comes along and tries to tell you how to solve your life’s problems. I know I’m putting it out there and opening it up for discussion, but that’s exactly what I’m looking for. Discussion, not advice.

    Sorry for the vent.

    I also loved this post because I am so on the too much responsibility side and sometimes others push me there. My son has been having some issues at school and his teacher comes to me like a little tattle tale to give me the run down of how hard he has made her day with an expectation that somehow I’m going to fix it. Next time maybe I’ll recite your line:

    “It’s almost like they have feelings of their own. And once in a while they even make their own decisions, and those decisions can have consequences.”

    She may not like it, but at least I’ll be smiling.

    Thanks Miss Britt!

  32. Stacey says:

    I’m still working on the “it’s ok to feel my feelings” thing. I’m not enlightened enough to figure out how everyone else’s feelings fit into the picture.

  33. Karl says:

    I think you hit it on the head when you said that going into therapy with clear goals is important. I feel like therapy is beneficial, but not if you’re not making progress.

    I tend to take on way too much responsibility, AND not enough all at the same time. Because I’m complex. Ahem.

  34. And this post more than any of the others, is the reason to read your blog. Thank you. I am sending my husband the link. It explains, more eloquently than I possible can why I feel responsible for EVERYTHING almost ALL THE TIME.

    Thanks for speaking for me.

  35. macsimcon says:

    I’m Bernadette’s husband (really!) and she’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She’s smarter than I am. She’s the woman I spent my whole life looking for. That said, no one has the kind of power necessary to take responsibility for everything. Just take responsibility for what you do, not what others do. Don’t take the credit or blame for something you didn’t do.

    For example, I have a family member who is just crazy, and insists on hurting other people. I don’t feel responsible for that person, I feel embarrassed that such a person is a member of my family. I can’t change that person, but I definitely point out to our children that what that person does is wrong, that we don’t want our children to treat people that way.

  36. Nancy says:


    Now, can you get me out of the responsibility quagmire before my ulcer eats out my inside gooey bits? thanks!

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