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Too good for your own good?

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis is a marriage and family therapist (39 years) and author of numerous relationship books -- on marriage, for singles, about adult siblings.  Her latest is Why Don't You Understand? A Gender Relationship Dictionary. Fo...

Recognizing over-responsibility

I love being a woman; it seems so much more fun and enlivening than being a man. In growing up, however, we women are "trained" to behave in ways that are absolutely unhealthy for us. I'm talking about being overly responsible and keeping the peace -- at our own expense. I'm talking about being too good.

Unhappy wife who is too responsible

Maybe you were lucky to have never learned these things; maybe you learned them but were lucky enough to have overcome them.

Read the list for recognizing over-responsibility below and see if any of them fit. If not, consider yourself exceedingly fortunate; you have avoided female gender traps that have been passed down through the centuries. (Yes, I know: Men have their gender traps, too.)

If you say yes to any on the list, you need to take stock. Do you want to keep doing them? Chances are, they've become so much a habit -- so much a part of who you are -- you don't even notice when taking more responsibility than necessary.

you are too Responsible if:

  • You protect people's feelings by not saying what's on your mind.
  • You have a hard time saying no.
  • You assume you know what's going on in another person's mind and adjust your behavior accordingly.
  • You feel guilty or angry if other people are upset.
  • You feel you can't ask for what you need or want.
  • You feel it's up to you to make people happy by giving them your time or attention.
  • You do things for other people that they could or should do for themselves.
  • You feel you should advise, direct or comment on the way other people do things.
  • In any family, work, group or other relationship activity, you take on more than your fair share of the work.

Making changes

If you choose to make changes and give up being too good for your own good, be aware how that will affect others; your change will require them to make changes, too -- changes they may not want. For example, not picking up your teenager's clothes will require a shift for your child. She will have to do it herself; in fact, she may well try to navigate you back to doing it for her. The same will be true for things you do for your husband/partner, people at work, even your friends and parents.

The result

Take Gloria's example: Upon returning from a recent women's retreat where she worked on this very issue, she exclaimed, "What a relief! I have so much more energy. It was tough at first, though. I kept thinking it would just be easier to do things for others than to put up with their fussing, their bad moods or just waiting. But I'm so glad I stuck it out. Our family life runs much smoother now, at least for me. I'm smiling so much more."

What is the cost of your keeping the peace? What do you lose by being too good for your own good?

It's great being a woman, but we need to remove the "trainings" that are not in our best interest.

The above list was excerpted from Too Good For Her Own Good: Breaking Free From the Burden of Female Responsibility, by Claudia Bepko and Jo-Ann Krestan (Harper & Row Publishers, 1990).

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