We fully accept not being able to control the weather, knowing very well that it is beyond our control. Yet things like other people’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior, because we care so much about them, we sometimes take responsibility for them even though they, too, are beyond our control. It is no wonder that responsibility feels like such a heavy burden, when we consider that it is beyond our control.
Common scenarios of the above include people taking responsibility for their loved ones e.g.: spouses, parents, children, friends. People also take responsibility for situations at work that are beyond their control. It is true that we may be able to have a positive influence, and it is often good to try our best to do so, but we must accept that influence is different from control, and need to accept the result without self-flaggelation if we did our best but failed to have the desired effect.
There is nothing wrong with WISHING that we could fix a certain situation; that is a reflection of our caring. By thinking or stating “I wish I could___________”, our caring AND the fact that it is beyond our
control are both reinforced. The only person that we have control over is ourselves. Taking responsibility for another’s well-being often has the opposite effect because the burden of responsibility causes stress. This stress may put the person into a state of “fixing” and giving unsolicited advice rather than being present with empathetic listening, which is what is needed by the other. It may also lead to too much pressure, control, or worry, as well as resentment, frustration, and lack of acceptance of limitations. The stress can make people less effective in handling the situation.
The phenomenon of taking responsibility for things that are beyond our control is very common when something tragic or horrific has occurred. We struggle with feelings of helplessness, guilt, and the feeling that we should have been able to do more to have prevented the tragedy, though there was nothing else that we could do. While the feelings are very understandable and fairly ubiquitous, peace can only be found by accepting the truth: we were limited in what we could do, and that we did what we could – we are not God and often are quite helpless in some situations. Survivor’s guilt is one example of this: a very common yet irrational feeling of guilt about surviving when another didn’t survive, even when the situation was beyond our control.