I consider myself a recovering over-responsibility addict. I experienced it on a grand scale. I felt responsible for ending suffering on the planet. No big deal! I thought this feeling of responsibility made me a good person, and to be honest, I thought it made me better than other people. With all this white privilege comes great responsibility. At some point along the way of my innocent humanitarian mission, my wanting to save the world became more about me than it was about the world. I imagine colonialists went through a similar process. Oh, did it hurt to realize I was only human pretending to be god! I don’t actually know what the hell is going on here, and neither do you.
The fine line between being responsible and being over-responsible is a tricky one. It is all a matter of where you are coming from inside your own consciousness. To take responsibility for a child as a parent is likely the trickiest of all. At what point does being responsible eek into violating someone else’s sovereignty? At what point does what you think is right for someone else become you playing God?
I once did Ayahuasca and experienced my addiction to over-responsibility acted out before me. We had just taken the medicine and were waiting for it to take effect. I was sitting cross-legged on my mat on the floor and felt heat moving up my back and into my throat. The nausea was mounting and a feeling of dread came over me. Oh no, I’m going to throw up. I’m the first to throw up. Why did I volunteer for this? I don’t wanna. Ugh! The nausea ratcheted up and I felt myself flung into action. Ok, fine! Let’s do this! Of course, I’m first. I got this everybody. Don’t you worry, I’ll purge on behalf of us all!
I dramatically got on my hands and knees, grabbed my bucket, took off my sweater, and assumed the position. The shaman came over and started blowing smoke in my face to support the purge and I felt chosen and special. I was being designated “First Vomiteer.” Suddenly, I saw myself as the puppet of this story– being responsible for everyone and everything– all played out before me. I started to laugh. I sat back and the nausea subsided and felt a strange calm come over me. The chorus of the world, of everyone and everything, was laughing with me. It felt like collective consciousness was lovingly jabbing me with its elbow saying, Oh honey, we got this. You don’t have to be in pretend-charge anymore. We have our own path, our own experience, and nothing you do or don’t do will change what our path is meant to be. You only violate yourself and disrespect our journey by taking responsibility for what isn’t yours. We got this. I got this.
It was as if the yoke of over-responsibility was suddenly lifted and I lost my special assignment to save the world. Underneath all that mission was a vulnerable human just trying to figure out how to make the world safe for everyone, so that I could be safe. Primal fear is genius at dress up. The new experiment is to retire from martyrdom and serve from an authentic and vulnerable place inside– a more honest place– and see what wants to happen.
Bristol Baughan is an Emmy-winning and Oscar-Nominated filmmaker, author, and private coach. She is a TED Fellow and Founder of Inner Astronauts, a custom experience and private coaching company supporting people in coming more fully alive in service to the world. Bristol holds a B.A. in International Studies from the American University School of International Service and an M.A. in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.
Artwork by Michelle Favin of Whys LA for Poppy & Seed. Connect with her @whyslosangeles.