“It’s not your responsibility.”
This is something that others would tell me, and something that I would tell myself constantly.
“It’s not your responsibility to make sure that your parents are happy.”
“It’s not your responsibility to be your friends’ counselor and emotional support.”
“It’s not your responsibility.”
When we look at the word “responsibility” we can break it down into “response” and “ability”. Therefore, we can understand responsibility as our ability to respond — whether it be to others, to ourselves, or to events. If we do not have the ability to respond to our friends’ problems or to our parents’ happiness, then it is not our responsibility to manage that for them.
Sometimes we may not have the ability to respond to our own problems and concerns. But I would say that we still have the responsibility to take care of ourselves. Why? Because we know ourselves and our needs best. Even if we may not have the ability to respond to our own problems, we can seek out therapy, resources, tools, guides, and more to help us gain that ability and to better support ourselves. We have a responsibility to care for ourselves, but we do not owe a responsibility to others.
Despite this, we may be conditioned to believe that we do owe a responsibility to others. Whether it be fulfilling filial duties to your parents or having a responsibility to take care of siblings or friends, we might feel a strong responsibility to serve and care for others. When we are unable to fulfill this responsibility (due to not having the ability to respond), we end up feeling guilt, shame, anger, and resentment.
You don’t owe anyone anything.
By internalizing the responsibility that you feel you owe others, you are being hard on yourself and setting expectations for yourself that drain you. Freeing ourselves from this idea helps us overcome stress, guilt, resentment, and anger that may come with the responsibility. These feelings and emotions are our body’s way of telling us that it is not able to fulfill this responsibility.
Reflect on what responsibilities you’re really responsible for.
There are things that we can do for others that are helpful. There are things we can engage with for the wellbeing and benefit of others. But it isn’t necessarily our responsibility to do those things. We do not owe it to others to complete those tasks, even if they may be helpful. We can allow ourselves to help our friends, family, and community members, but be careful how it is framed in your mind. Framing it as a responsibility creates the expectation that this is something that you had to do, instead of something that you chose to do.
It is alright to feel emotions.
It is alright to feel resentful, anger, sadness, and any other emotion that comes along with your reflection. When we realize that we may have done things that we thought were our responsibilities, we might feel angry at ourselves and at others. Feeling these frustrations and emotions is a part of our growing journey.
Thich Nhat Hanh, in their book “Anger”, shares that we each have seeds in our bodies. One of them is a seed of anger. When this seed is watered, it grows. Sometimes we may water this seed and allow it to grow to be a large plant within us, but we must remember to also water our seeds of “compassion” and “love” for those are the seeds and plants that will help us accept and manage our anger and grow as individuals. There is nothing wrong with feeling anger and feeling emotions. It is a natural process of being human.