OCD and Hyper-responsibility



by artur84 freedigitalphotos.net

by artur84 freedigitalphotos.net

Today I’m sharing a post that originally appeared in June 2012:

One of the driving forces behind OCD is an inflated sense of responsibility, or hyper-responsibility. Those who suffer from hyper-responsibility believe they have more control over what happens in the world than they actually do.

In my son Dan’s case, I think a lot of his hyper-responsibility had to do with other’s feelings. He felt he was responsible for everyone else’s happiness, thereby neglecting his own. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I remember one of his elementary school teachers commenting, long before he was diagnosed with OCD, that  Dan was very well-liked, but she worried about the cost to him. He was constantly being pulled in different directions by his peers, not wanting to upset or disappoint anyone, always wanting to please and accommodate everybody.

Dan also used to give an inordinate amount of his money to charity. Any appeal that came in the mail was answered with a check, and when I once commented that it was great to care about others but he should cut back on his donations to save for college, he became uncharacteristically agitated and insisted on continuing to donate. I now realize he felt responsible for saving the world, and if I forced him to refrain from what had become a compulsion, he would have experienced tormenting guilt.

These are just two of many situations that reflect Dan’s sense of inflated responsibility, and I’m sure all those who suffer from OCD have their own unique examples. As is often the case, I can relate to this aspect of OCD, to a certain degree, even though I don’t have the disorder. When I was young, if a store clerk gave me back too much change and I didn’t say anything, I’d wonder if something bad might happen to me or a family member. My worry was fleeting, not torturous as it would be for those with OCD, but the premise is the same:  I was in charge of keeping everyone safe.

Through therapy, Dan addressed his hyper-responsibility, and learned to accept the fact that he was not responsible for the happiness or safety of others. Indeed, he could not control these things if he wanted to; his goals were unattainable. He could not prevent world hunger, animal cruelty, or the myriad of other wrongs he tried to right.

Of course, it is important for us to all work toward a better world, and make meaningful contributions to society. But the impetus for our actions should not be tied up in obsessions and compulsions, or based on our fears and anxieties. With OCD, the true meaning behind actions is not always easy to decipher, and that’s where a good therapist can help. Hyper-responsibility needs to be addressed, so that more attention can be paid to who we can really control: ourselves.


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17 Responses to OCD and Hyper-responsibility

  1. Thank you for sharing. I think there is some truth. I had received the label of OCD. There were a lot of things that I felt responsible for. I always had this sense of guilt and shame that I dragged with me most of my life. Tough stuff.

  2. Thanks for posting this again. I never really thought about OCD in that way. I appreciate the “brain gum”. 🙂

  3. Christine says:

    Yep, this is my son. I will read this to him to give him another counseling voice. Thank you!

  4. Hanne says:

    Thanks for posting this, it describes my son. He thinks he is somehow responsible for the well – being of everyone else, and this is of course dominating his life.

  5. Ann says:

    This is a huge problem for me. I’m in the middle of wrestling with an obsession right now that has me trying to make the “right” decision about something- and I feel like the wrong decision will have a negative impact on a loved one. It’s mixed in with that other bugaboo of OCD- trying to achieve certainty- since I can’t know what the “right” decision is until it all plays out sometime in the future. I want to know now!!!

    • Thanks for sharing, Ann. It’s so interesting that you can “step back” and realize exactly what’s going on with you, but that doesn’t stop the OCD from doing its thing, so to speak. I know you’ve gotten through rough times in the past, and you will this time as well. I wish you all the best!

  6. KP says:

    Leaving another comment on an older post! Your blog’s really been speaking to me lately.

    This is a problem I struggle with so often, it’s almost hard to take time for myself because I’m trying to make sure my friends are happy and safe at all times. A lot of my friends deal with things ranging from minor annoyances to suicidal thoughts as I do on the occasion of a mood flip, and whenever I can’t be there for them at all times I get a raging headache — I feel like the worst person on the planet because I just can’t always be there for them! Sleeping especially is a challenge when friends deal with their own late-night loneliness and manifestations of self loathing, too, and then that lack of sleep affects my mood and energy and so on…

    I think I’m getting better at acknowledging that this is something I do, though. Obviously I stick by my friends when its vital to do so, but I have to get better at drawing lines for myself and reminding myself that I’m not the cause of their annoyances and I can’t always fix them.

  7. Fatima says:

    I have suffered from hyper responsibility OCD since I can remember. I just recently heard the term hyper responsibility when I sought therapy a few years ago. I only saw that psychiatrist twice. None I saw since has repeated this term. I decided to look it up because I am struggling between tending to my chronic disease and applying for disability or returning to work. The problem is I always become guilt laden and filled with anxiety at the thought of not being self sufficient and a contributing member of society. I always put the care of others (I am in the helping profession) over my own needs and sometimes my family. I ignore my illness and i am now forced to face and address it. But the guilt and anxiety is causing me more stress then the toll my body is taking physically. I’m so scared I am going to make the wrong decision. How can I feel more guilty about leaving work then leaving my children without a parent???

    • Hi Fatima, I am so sorry you are suffering and hope you can find a professional who can help you sort things out in reference to your hyper-responsibility. As I’m sure you well know, you can’t take care of others (such as your family) if you don’t take care of yourself first. A good therapist will also help you see how you are not, and can not be, responsible for the well-being of everyone around you. I wish you all the best.

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