Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Daisy described an incident that recently occurred at her home. “My sisters and I were organizing a picnic for our families. I was concerned that we wouldn’t find a spot available at the park they wanted to go to, so I moved the location to a park where we could reserve a table, even though it was a longer drive to get there. And then I decided on what I was bringing and assigned them each something to bring, to make sure we had enough variety. Oh, yeah, I also brought extra paper plates in case they forgot.”
Crossing the line?
When I asked her how the day went, Daisy shrugged her shoulders and said, “I think they were a little annoyed with me. One of my sisters asked me if I thought she was too incompetent to help put a picnic together. She said I was being bossy.”
I smiled and said, “What do you think?”
She thought for a moment and then answered, “You have to understand what life is like for someone like me who is living with a chronic condition. Taking care of yourself can be a life-and-death matter. So you learn to stay on top of the details.”
“I understand the importance of taking charge of your healthcare,” I said to Daisy. “But is it possible that some of life’s details are more important than others?”
Daisy thought about this for a moment and then answered, “When you train yourself to take responsibility for your health, it’s hard not to assume you should take responsibility for everything else. What can I do?”
Here’s the advice I gave her:
Ask yourself: Do I have to be on top of this? The first step in taming the take-charge instinct is to be more mindful of how easily you fall into this trap. Take a step back and ask yourself if all this effort at taking charge is (one) necessary and (two) in the best interest of your health. If you can’t answer a solid yes to those two questions, you may want to consider taking a supporting role this time around. Admittedly, this won’t be easy. You’ll probably need to reason, and to set limits, with yourself. But keep in mind that simply recognizing that you often wrestle control from everybody around you is the first step toward curbing this tendency.
Consider the consequences for your relationships. When you attempt to take charge of a situation in which other people also have a role, or want to have a role, you damage your relationship in a couple of ways. For one, as Daisy experienced, you disempower the other person, leaving them feeling as if you view them as less capable. That can foster resentment. You also deprive both of you of the opportunity to form a deeper connection through a shared project.
Consider the consequences for you. Giving in to your desire to take charge can impact you in a variety of ways. For starters, making extra work for yourself can deplete your energy. Also, trying to manage all those details you’ve decided to obsess about can cause stress. And don’t forget about how doing everybody else’s thinking and legwork can lead to resentment on your end. See what I mean? Taking charge where you don’t need to can have a negative impact on your physical and emotional wellness.
Apply the 80/20 rule where you can. I always encourage my clients to be ever mindful of where they can apply the 80/20 rule, which basically means being satisfied with things being 80 percent of where you’d like to see them. Can you be satisfied with getting your self-care regimen 80 percent right? Probably not. But can you cut yourself some slack in other areas of your life, such as being okay with a few chores around the house left undone when your health limits your energy? Or, in Daisy’s case, being okay with a little too much potato salad at a family picnic?
Don’t use your take-charge attitude as a reason for self-criticism. Here’s how our minds work. You tell yourself often enough that you have to be on top of every single detail, that nothing can slip through the cracks—in managing your chronic condition, for example—and your mind may just take that message and apply it to other areas of your life. “I have to take charge, I have to take charge. It’s all up to me.” That’s called generalizing. So if you are a take-charge kind of person, don’t criticize yourself. It’s learned behavior, and it’s fixable with practice.
Most of all, give yourself permission to coast once in awhile. Or often. Wouldn’t it be nice if success or failure didn’t rest entirely on your shoulders? What a relief that would be! And just think, that sense of relief is within your grasp. All you have to do is allow yourself not to set every situation up so that the buck stops with you. Leave room for surprises in your life! While we’re on the subject, just a quick reminder that we’re not in control of most of life anyway.
You and your take-charge attitude. Turn it on when it’s needed. Such as in taking the best possible care of your health. And then turn it off when it’s not needed. Relax! Balance is everything!
Do you struggle with taking charge too often (or not often enough?) Tell our community about it and share your advice by commenting below.