The Difference Between Being Responsible For Someone and To Someone

Aug 06, 2020

When it comes to helping others, I get a lot of questions about the difference between being responsible for someone and being responsible to someone. Hopefully this will clear some of that up and help you make the distinction in the future.

The Law of Responsibility says that you are responsible for yourself and to others. It is realizing the boundaries of what you are to worry about and how. There is nothing wrong with helping another person. It’s one of the foundations of relationships. But the lines must always be clear as to whether you are helping them to do what they should be doing, and thus empowering them, or if you are doing for them what they should be doing for themselves.

Stephanie is losing a lot of work time helping Diane. She was always covering for her, it seemed, when Diane was overstressed and overloaded. Diane had a lot of personal issues that were taking more of her work time, and as that was happening, she was coming in later, not getting projects done on time, etc. Stephanie was a big-hearted person and was glad to help her out, at least in the beginning.

Soon, however, it became clear that the reason Diane was overstressed and overloaded was not because a typhoon had hit her life, but because she was not managing her life well. She was not dealing with her problems and not managing her overload. As a result, Diane’s problems were becoming Stephanie’s problems. She was slowly taking responsibility for Diane. She had crossed a line. Her helping was not helping. She was dealing with things Diane should have been dealing with, and in the process was doing her life for her.

A good friend would not do Diane’s life for her, but be responsible to her and tell her that she was out of control and needed to do something about her personal life to get things back in order. This, of course, is best received when you come from a place of love and empathy. Stephanie would be a better friend by telling Diane the truth, that she was worried about how she was doing and to get some help for whatever was at the root of all these issues, but to continue to cover for her was not going help.

That is the essence of being responsible to someone, to not do for them what only they can do, and to love them by providing the help that would help them do it for themselves. Your job is to encourage, confront, empower, sometimes give resources, coach, cajole, support, or other things that help them fulfill their responsibility without doing it for them. That is the line.

 Let's take the next step to address this issue together.