Are You “Taking Care” of Others, in Order to Avoid Responsibility for Taking Care of Yourself?

Robert Terson

“Sally” is living a life that is total chaos. Every aspect of her life is in such a miserable state that she’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown. She’s without a job to support herself and her teenage daughter; she’s so far in debt that she can’t sleep at night; her ex-husband, a raging alcoholic, is constantly harassing her; she’s become a hoarder to the point that movement around the house is like a trip through an obstacle course; and her hopes of finding love again are seemingly next to nil. “Who would want me?” she despairs.

This is a woman whose life is swirling round and round the toilet bowl. If she doesn’t start taking corrective action soon, that life is going to be flushed. She’s an intelligent, talented woman, so it isn’t that she doesn’t know what corrective action needs to be taken—she does; it’s just that she’s so immobilized by fear, that she “can’t” get moving, “can’t” do what she knows must be done—make calls, see people, etc.

As I questioned Sally, I discovered she was subjugating her own needs, her own life, for others—her child, relatives, friends, you name it. For example, she “had” to cancel an important call with me so she could take her daughter to school. When I asked why her 18-year-old daughter couldn’t be responsible for herself, for finding her own way to school, there was silence on the other end of the line. The truth is, Sally’s been “taking care” of others for so long now that whenever she tries to back off so she can take care of herself, they’re irate with her. What do you mean I have to find my way to school by myself! What kind of crap is that!? What do you mean you’re not going to do my homework for me! You’ve always done that! It’s your job, isn’t it?

“If I don’t make sure certain things are done,” she said, speaking about her daughter, “they’re not going to get done.”


“I don’t want her to fail.”

“Oh, it’s not okay for her to fail, but it’s okay for you to keep living this disastrous life?”


I believe Sally is putting others first, taking responsibility for them, so she can avoid taking responsibility for herself. She’s actually using these people to run away from life. How can she be expected to go out looking for a job when she “has” to take care of her darling “baby” girl? Or her girlfriend who has to talk to her every day because there’s no one else to talk to. Or…

Successful people find a way to take the action necessary to succeed in life—personally and professionally. They’re 100% responsible for themselves. They know there are no excuses, no alibis. They’re ruthless about their time. They’re not going to allow anyone or anything to get in their way, including their loved ones. They know that the best way they can help the people in their lives is by being a good example to them, not living their lives for them, not taking responsibility for them, not being their doormat.

You have to love yourself enough to put yourself first, to make sure your own life is on solid ground; otherwise you’re just kidding yourself, playing games with yourself…

…Until the toilet flushes.


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