I must have done something to make that person act that way… He broke up with me, so I must not be good enough… My daughter is acting out; therefore, I haven’t done my job well as a parent…When the people in our lives fail to behave or act as we see fit, instead of making it about them, we often point the finger at ourselves. Not only do we judge ourselves for our own struggles and behaviors, but we make the way others behave and feel a reflection of us. Why do we feel responsible for other people’s actions towards us?
I GREW UP FEELING RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S ACTIONS
I remember first feeling I was responsible for other people’s actions when I was a child. My mother would do horrific things to me and tell me it was my fault. She would tell me that if I did what she wanted me to do, then she wouldn’t have to do those things. It was at that point that it was engrained into me that I was to blame for how others acted.
When relationships with boyfriends ended, I would go over in my head every conversation, every interaction, everything I did. I felt that I must have done something to make that person not want to be with me.
It never occurred to me that it wasn’t anyone’s fault, and that sometimes people grow apart or Aren’t meant to be.
My longest relationship outside of my husband was for four years. We were about to get engaged, but the ongoing issue in our relationship was that some of his family members were cruel to me. I was more religious than him, and they didn’t like that. When he abruptly ended our relationship, I felt heartbroken. I never stopped to think that maybe the end of our relationship wasn’t because I was damaged or unlovable, but instead because he lacked the maturity to stand up for me.
When my husband started using pills, I again felt it was my fault. Every time he would lie and tell me he didn’t use, or tell me that it was my fault he was using (addicts are very good at blaming others for their habits), I would blame myself. His actions were because of me, his lies were because of me, his usage was because of me. If I had been a better wife, had been a better person, he wouldn’t be doing this.
false judgment based on things out of our control
I felt I failed as a mom when I couldn’t control my daughter’s hyperactivity. When she started struggling at school I immediately felt that I had somehow wronged her. My initial reaction was to feel responsible rather than look at the underlying cause of the behavior.
I spent most of my life feeling like a failure because not only was I the cause of every single person’s issues, I was also the cause of my own. I made myself responsible for everyone and everything. When I put the world’s problems on my shoulders, how could I not expect to feel like I kept playing the losing hand?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the way we are treated is a reflection of us. To some extent that is true- we do have a say in the behaviors we accept from others. We don’t have to be around people who mistreat us or do wrong by us. Boundaries are crucial in order to protect our needs and well-being. However, the words and actions that our friends, coworkers, husbands, wives, children, parents use are their choice, and their choice alone. The only person who we should be accountable for is ourselves.
BLAMING OURSELVES FOR THE STRUGGLES OF OUR CHILDREN
Some may argue that we are accountable for our children, and to a certain extent that is true. We are supposed to teach and guide our children. We are supposed to model and teach kindness, morals, values, compassion, empathy, healthy coping mechanisms, emotional regulation, and the importance of owning up to our mistakes. However, we cannot force our children to do anything. We provide them with the map, but whether they choose to follow that path is up to them. That doesn’t mean we cannot help them when they steer off course and encourage them to stay on the right path. However, at the end of the day, we can do everything right and still they might lose their way.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the path that we think is best for our children may not be the path they feel is best. We often envision what are children will be like and who they will become as adults.
We have good intentions, but we project those visions onto our children.
For example, if you are a doctor, and your father is a doctor, and his mother was a doctor, chances are you are going to assume your child will become a doctor. What happens if your child can’t stand the sight of blood? What if your child wants to be an artist instead?
I mentioned above how I felt I failed as a mother when my daughter struggled in school. I was able to do well in school, so why was my daughter having issues focusing? Why wasn’t she able to do what the other kids did so naturally? I felt I was to blame. When we found out she had ADHD, it shattered expectations I had. I was a straight A student, and I imagined my daughter thriving academically too. I projected who I was onto her.
That is where the answer to my lifelong question of, “Why do we feel responsible for other people’s actions, and how do we stop doing that?” comes into play. We blame ourselves for others because we set up expectations for other people. However, we cannot control how others will act. When we accept people as they are without expectations, we are able to see their choices and decisions as their own.
TAKE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS AND HOLD OTHERS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIRS
When I put aside my vision of how my daughter should be and saw her for herself, I was able to see that she is special and wonderful just the way she is. I was able to give her the support and tools she needed to thrive. My map for her changed because I hadn’t made that map for my daughter; I made it for myself.
The people in our lives are not us. Therefore, the way they act and speak will not be the same as what we would say and do. We need to see each person as they are, good and bad, and realize that their thoughts, behaviors, emotions, successes, and failures define THEM, not us. If a person does something to hurt us, that reflects them. If a person does something that is wonderful, that is about them too. For example, I can applaud my daughter for her efforts and support and help her with her challenges, but her mistakes and successes are her own. If we can let go of the expectations we have for the people we have in our life and accept them as they are, we will no longer judge ourselves.
Here is the ultimate truth. IT WAS NEVER ABOUT US.
Just as someone else isn’t to blame for our choices, we don’t get to make ourselves responsible for other people. Codependency isn’t just about relying on someone to make us feel better about ourselves. It is also knowing that each person has the freedom to make their own choices, and it is up to us to decide if we can accept those choices. It is not up to us to change people.
Therefore, I strive to be the best daughter, sister, mother, wife, and friend I can be. I will focus on my actions and behavior instead of others. People are responsible for their choices in life, and I am responsible for mine. I will accept each person as they are, not who I want them to be. If I cannot accept the way someone treats me, then I will not have that person in my life. I try to let go of any expectations of how marriage, friendship, parenthood, and any other relationships should be, and see each relationship as it is.
No good can come from blame and judgment. It does not change the current situation, but only causes feelings of shame and guilt. I cannot promise I will never judge myself again. Old habits are hard to break. What I can promise is that I now know that in acceptance of others and myself I can let go of judging myself. I see others as they are and I see myself as I am. None of us are perfect, but I am proud of who I am becoming, and I am proud of the people in my life- just as they are.
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6 thoughts on “Why Feeling Responsible for Other People’s Actions Sabotages Your Life”
Naomi P Lane says:
This is a powerful post that will help many people. Thank you for sharing some painful intimate details of your own life. That took a lot of courage. My first husband’s mother used to blame me for his behaviour of cheating and using drugs and alcohol. I internalized that I must have been doing something wrong. It was fear of letting him go, which was what I needed to do. It is so true that we cannot control others; we can only control our reaction to their behaviour.
I appreciate your support, and I thank you for sharing about your own experience of feeling responsible for your husband’s infidelity and substance abuse. I am glad that you were able to walk away from the marriage and realize that his choices are his own, and you can only control yourself.
This is an eye opener article for me. Each line makes great sense. Thank you for such an insightful article.
Thank you! I’m glad this resonated with you and you found it helpful!
You’ve written it so wonderfully. Each line is a lesson. I wish I had known this earlier in life, because I’m also a person as described in your article, taking responsibility for others’ actions. Thanks for sharing this!!!
Thank you for your sweet comment and support. I’m so glad you found my words helpful in your own journey to stop taking responsibility for others’ actions!