Personal Empowerment: Keep the Weight of Responsibility for Change Where it Belongs

If you find yourself “drained” in a relationship, chances are you’re doing way too much to make things work and not keeping the weight of responsibility where it belongs.

I’ve been posting a series of articles on how to keep yourself empowered in your relationships, especially if some of those relationships involve someone of deficient or disturbed character. Some of the empowerment tools we’ve already discussed include never accepting excuses for inappropriate behavior, defining and enforcing appropriate limits and boundaries, and becoming a better judge of character:

One very important resource in the arsenal of self-empowerment is holding the irresponsible party accountable. Generally, when you confront a person of deficient character on their misbehavior or irresponsibility, they’ll do their best to somehow make you feel responsible or guilty. Whenever you put the ball in their court, they’ll do their best to throw it back to you. You have to resist this attempt. When it comes to irresponsible or inappropriate behavior, it’s the responsibility of the person exhibiting that behavior to change it. It’s in the nature of neurotics, however, to take undue burdens upon themselves and to feel responsible for everything. This “enables” the disturbed character to evade responsibility even further.

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When I was doing early research for my first book In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), a woman had entered counseling with her husband at a time when she was near the end of her rope. I marveled as she confronted him quite directly one day, saying: “If you don’t get a job and stop going crazy with your buddies every night and spending money we don’t have, I’m going to leave.” She had put the burden on him to make some necessary changes. In the blink of an eye he retorted: “I think I’d feel more like being around more if you weren’t so demanding and critical all the time,” clearly trying to lay responsibility on her. Then, to my utter amazement, I watched her begin to back-peddle and eventually start taking some responsibility for his long history of abusive and thoughtless conduct.

Most of the time, when disturbed characters and manipulators divert attention from themselves and deflect responsibility, they do so in subtle, hard to detect ways. But whether their shifting of responsibility is obvious or covert, it’s important that the burden for changing their pattern of irresponsibility be laid clearly on them and that you don’t succumb to their tactics of shifting blame.

Disturbed characters also bring the same responsibility-shifting tendencies into therapy and counseling. They can completely “drain” an unsuspecting or unaware therapist. Over the years, I’ve learned that I can offer support for what they are willing to do to change bad habits, but I make it quite clear where the responsibility for change lies. This is why other therapists I know act surprised when I tell them how easy I’ve found my work with disturbed characters to be. It’s because I don’t fall into the trap of doing all the work that they should be doing. Rather, I give support and encouragement for work they can clearly demonstrate that they’ve been willing to do. Offering support and encouragement takes virtually no energy at all. Neither does confronting and labeling problem behavior. If you find yourself “drained” in a relationship, chances are you’re doing way too much to make things work and not keeping the weight of responsibility where it belongs.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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