When Giving Up Responsibility is the Responsible Thing to Do

I realized a while back that my sense of responsibility, my uber-conscientiousness, was getting in the way of my support for clients. It’s a bit of a paradox.

Responsibility is a well-worn groove in my psyche, something that was pounded into me by the catechism and other influences as I was growing up. The word is often conflated for me with guilt and blame. As a teacher/therapist once told me, “Chris, I don’t know what happened to make you so hard on yourself, but it’s deep.”  

But this trait which I valued early on, and which was commended by the authority figures in my life, turns out to be less useful these days. When I’m coaching, rather than making me sharper, it can get in the way of my being present and having access to all my resources. Because I have too much at stake. My value as a coach and person is on the line.  

Like, if I’m not careful, I’m going to screw this up.  And I’m the “expert,” responsible for “saving” my clients, so I have to be super-hypervigilant for all the ways and means to do that.   

(Of course, there is a golden lining here: if I’m to blame when things go wrong, then I can take the credit when they go right.  Which suits my corresponding Savior Complex just fine.)

But you know what? Approaching the work like that is exhausting.  And not very fun. And it becomes a limiting factor with respect to the number of people I can work with in a day and over the long haul. It takes a lot of energy and focus to walk that tightrope every session.

It’s also not a very flattering or useful construct for my clients. It demeans their agency and capability. When I become aware that that storyline is active, I pause and remind myself that we’re both experts, bringing unique and invaluable perspectives to this collaboration.  We’re on a journey of discovery together.

Lately, I’ve been redefining responsibility as “response ability”: that is, what can I do to make sure I’m as responsive and creative as possible, so that I’m able to meet the unfolding (and fascinating) process that is my client with maximum resourcefulness and effectiveness?

And it turns out it looks a lot less like efforting and a lot more like relaxing.  Experimenting. Trusting (myself and the client). Playing. Dancing. All things that I have done in sessions, by the way.

What is weighing on you that might actually benefit―and produce better outcomes―from being easier with yourself? Maybe the most responsible thing you can do is to give up some of that responsibility.