My friend Pete recently let me in on a paradigm shift I found helpful. He was talking about a friend of his who, for some reason, was taking up a bit too much of his mental space. He was beginning to feel responsible for a friend’s bad decisions. Another friend of Pete’s said that Pete needed to be responsible TO his friend, not FOR his friend.
Pete explained this meant he was responsible to be kind to his friend, understanding, helpful, professional if that’s what the relationships required and so on. But his friend’s decisions and even his emotions were that of his friend not of Pete’s.
A lot of this goes back to Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s terrific book Boundaries, but I found the little phrase be responsible TO and not FOR helpful.
So, if you’re feeling guilty about somebody else’s mistakes, their depression, or their being irritated, it might be good to ask yourself if you’ve done anything wrong that has caused that, and if not, the problem really is their problem. You can be responsible to them — to be kind and comforting — but when you become responsible for them, you are going to grow tired of the relationship, because you are going to feel guilty about issues that are not yours, but theirs.
*this is a re-post from the archives