Neurotic Responsibility: Creating More Mutuality In Your Relationships – Episode 87

Neurotic Responsibility: Creating more mutuality in your relationships - Episode 87Using the Introspective Guides, Robert and Dave pick up where they left off last week on the topic of Neurotic Responsibility. This imbalance in relationships is part of our conditioning and can be hard to recognize. It occurs when one person in the relationship feels the problems around them are much more their responsibility than they rationally are. It feels good to give and can last for a lifetime. It can most frequently be recognized when the “giver” has unusually strong needs arise like becoming sick or a deep financial loss and it becomes apparent that the one that is neurotically responsible has been doing a lot of giving and not nearly enough receiving. Robert and Dave, share their personal and professional experiences with this dynamic and offer examples and tools so you won’t have to wait to find a deeper connection and more mutuality in your close relationships.

This episode gets at the nuanced ways in which both people in the relationship can be taken care of. From Robert’s experience as a psychotherapist, he has observed that the finest love is that of great mutuality, humility, and co-responsibility. Again referring to the Introspective Guides, Robert and Dave clarify ways to locate traits such as guilt, excessive pleasing, enabling, and suppressing your own needs that indicate neurotic responsibility tendencies. This could reflect an entire relationship dynamic or just one aspect. From this moment of awareness and intention to care, Robert offers a sequence to break this pattern little by little to create more mutuality and intimacy. The Introspective Guides will help you articulate these new insights. Robert reminds you to open to growth with humor, courage, self-trust, and love.

Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, “Awareness that Heals”
The Introspective Guides (Free Download)

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Announcer (00:00):

Awareness That Heals, Episode 87

Robert Strock (00:03):

Neurotic responsibility is seen as love. It’s like really wanting to please your partner. How could that be wrong? But the key to a deeper love is how do we take care of both of us? And neurotic responsibility is a way of it feeling good, but it’s a distorted way of giving and receiving.

Announcer (00:22):

The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock, has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book “Awareness That Heals: Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges,” to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw. Together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings and at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.

Robert Strock (01:03):

Thanks again for joining us at Awareness That Heals where we focus on bringing heart and wisdom to our life’s challenges. We start again and again with being aware of what is most difficult for us because that’s where we can most grow. And we realized that these difficulties are universal and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. So, we’re highlighting the importance of bringing what is challenging out into the open in front of your eyes and how we can best care for ourselves at these crucial times. This combination of awareness of what’s difficult and moving in a direction to care for ourselves sets up the ideal conditions for us to have the greatest potential to be fulfilled in our individual lives and to contribute to the world by finding and living from our best selves. Today we’re gonna be focusing on the Introspective Guides and something that is very subtle that we are finishing up the prior episode on neurotic responsibility.

This is for people and as I mentioned in the last episode, it’s also a big part of my conditioning that feel that the problems that are around them are much more their responsibility than they rationally are. Where one partner feels overly responsible and the other partner feels underly responsible. It occurs when your girlfriend, wife, boyfriend, husband is upset and you focus mostly on what you might have done that caused it, even though you already have likely admitted it to yourself, to them. And you still are caught in feeling guilty or inadequate or critical of yourself. A pit is still in your stomach, you’re unhappy, you’re down, you’re anxious, you’re trying to excessively please. In these situations, the key is not seeing the other’s responsibility in a balanced way as to the degree that it is. This is incredibly hard for most of us to see.

And as we talked about in the last episode, it’s difficult to see because it feels good most of the time. It feels good most of the time for most people until later in life when they realize, Hey, wait a minute, I’ve been doing all this giving and I haven’t been receiving. And then oftentimes it doesn’t happen until somebody gets sick. So we’re trying to catch this before you have to wait later in life. So don’t discount that, that this might be you. In my experience, this is active as a significant part of at least one out of three people in a major way, in a subtler way, it’s much more common. It frequently is not in the open, but it’s palpable inside, even though you might not be paying attention to it. When this isn’t out in the open, it reinforces the partner to feel more entitled cuz you’re, you’re saying to them, I wanna please you.

And they’re liking it. It’s only when it’s out in the open that it has a chance to be engaged. So if unwittingly you’re not aware of it reinforces a role where one is overly responsible and the other one is not responsible enough. This would be very valuable if you’re on either side of the pattern, especially if it’s in an extreme way. But even if it’s only in a minor way, catching the issues where you’re not sure if it’s your responsibility or your partner’s that’s really the nuance that we’re trying to get into to say, how do we take care of both of us? When you really realize the key to a deeper love is how do we take care of both of us? And neurotic responsibility is a way of it feeling good, but it’s a distorted way of giving and receiving. So before we go more deeply into this, I’d like to introduce Dave, my partner at The Global Bridge Foundation, and my dearest friend, as most of you know by now, for over 50 years.

Dave (05:13):

Robert, thank you. And I will be brief. I hope everyone is listening to this after having listened to the first of this two-episode series. And, importantly, how this can be a lifelong pattern with a lot of unawareness if you succeed in adjusting to a successful pleasing of other people and being neurotic with unawareness.

Robert Strock (05:38):

Yeah, I, I think the highlighting of what you’re saying is it, it’s so subtle because it is, in a certain way, overgiving, so it’s very hard to sort it out. And somebody can say, well, who are you to say it’s overgiving? Well, who I am to say that is, it’s nice when the relationships can be mutual. That to me, my observation of the finest loves is there’s a great mutuality and there’s a humility to keep looking at that. There’s a co-responsibility to being overly responsible and overly giving. So, there’s no blame being assigned to either party. There’s just an encouragement of awareness because neither one is being done intentionally. You know, the person that’s over-giving isn’t saying, oh, I’m gonna be overgiving just, just because that’s the natural way to be. This is an unconscious event. So, as we highlighted in the last episode, the Introspective Guides that covers the more challenging feelings, we don’t see neurotic responsibility.

So, I thought we might start off today with looking at some of the other ways to have it be more clear as to ways we, we might describe how you can locate this in yourself and see, oh, yes, that I identify with. I didn’t quite know that was neurotic responsibility, but now I do. So, the first and most obvious one, if you’re, if you’re seeing it, is love that that neurotic responsibility is seen as love. And matter of fact, it, it might even be seen as the pinnacle of love. You know, if you, if you look at it like a in lovemaking, it’s like really wanting to please your partner. How could that be wrong? There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s something wrong with your partner not wanting to please you. So, it’s very easy to just stay with the one side if that’s your conditioning.

And then another factor that is in the Introspective Guides is guilt. If you’re someone who’s very prone to guilt, you really want to take a look and, and, and see, am I suffering from neurotic responsibility? Now, that’s not to say that guilt doesn’t also represent guilt and that it can be independent from neurotic responsibility. Sometimes you do shitty things and guilt is an appropriate emotion, but we’re talking about guilt at a time when actually you’re responding in a way that’s quite wholesome. The other thing to understand is that when you’re in neurotic responsibility, you are reinforcing your partner to be more egotistical. You’re encouraging what I would call ego-making. You’re encouraging your partner to be, you know, just more self-centered at your expense and probably at the expense of other people as well, which is why it’s so important. Another word I would use is entitled, yes, entitled with certainly be another word.

Another feature of it is you suppress your own needs. Another way of recognizing that it’s highly likely that you are more of a candidate. Now you may be suppressing your own needs and you may also be suppressing your partner’s needs. So, it’s all too common for a relationship not to relate very much to the inner world. So it’s important to recognize that it’s really normal even, not to talk about difficult feelings with your partner and not to talk about what your needs are or not to even know about them. So when we go into the subtlety of neurotic responsibility, you’re gonna need to be someone that’s interested in your feelings and your needs to really be able to relate to that. And if you don’t relate to it that much, I really encourage you to look at the Introspective Guides so you can highlight your awareness of both of those aspects.

So, another area that would reveal that you might be a candidate for neurotic responsibility is that you have a hard time when you wanna break up. You have long, slow breakups because you feel guilty and responsible and you’re not sure whether you’re, you’ve caused the pain and you’re double checking yourself. And you don’t wanna hurt the person. You’re, you hate hurting your partner. So, that’s another way you can see it. Another way you can see it is when you’re really strongly self-critical or self-doubting, that can be another feature of neurotic responsibility. Now, these are not all direct corollaries, but they are significant ones that you, would make you question more, is this me? Do I have not only the self-criticalness and self-doubting, but am I also neurotically responsible? And then the other one, the last one that I wanted to mention, which is very much like what Dave mentioned is “enabling.”

It’s very much like helping the person be more entitled. It’s the extreme version where you’re enabling the other person to be whatever way they want to in an egocentric sort of way. So, as I list these characteristics, do you see the tendency in you or perhaps you are the one that’s receiving the tendency in your partner? Really ask yourself if, uh, if this is the case and how much is this the case? And where is this the case? And are you motivated or is this scary? And it’s very, very important to see that it’s gonna require some humility if you’re the receiver. And it’s gonna require courage if you’re the one that is really wanting to stand up for your own needs to change the dynamics of the relationship. So, it wouldn’t be surprising if your first instinct is to see it real quickly and then to space out and say, ah, I don’t really wanna deal with it.

I like the way things are, but I promise you go on another decade or two, it’s very likely that you’re gonna end up feeling the absence of your needs being served, or you’re gonna feel some degree of selfishness or guilt later in life. There’s a decent chance that you’re gonna realize that your partner loved you better than you loved them or vice versa. And again, I wanna reiterate what I’ve said earlier. This can be centered around one issue. It might be your sex life, for example, where you are really generous to your partner and your partner isn’t at all. And it’s so common in today’s world. Therapists are seeing it all over the place. And I’m seeing it all over the place that for example, a woman is not expressing her needs and the man just wants to get off and the woman wants just to get it over with.

And she’s not saying, you know, would you be a little slower or would you have a little more foreplay? Or could we kiss a little bit more? Could you look at me? Could we not do it when we’re in a fight? All kinds of needs, need to be expressed. And so, this tendency to be overly responsible or underly responsible, the man just wants to get off. The woman is attempting to please, and she feels responsible to do that, but she doesn’t feel entitled to be able to express her own needs. Now, this can happen in all kinds of other ways. It can happen to do with control with money, it can happen to do with one person always getting to decide where they go on vacation or where, where they go out to dinner. So it’s important to isolate this to specifics in your life so that you can have a better chance of creating more mutuality in any aspect of your relationship.

One of the ways I’ve described neurotic responsibility is being a narcissist maker, that you’re actually reinforcing the other person to feel more important than you just pause for a second and hear that you’re reinforcing. Now you’re not conscious of this, that’s why I’m saying please pause that you’re reinforcing the other person to be more important than you. And that means you’re gonna be left alone when you don’t wanna be alone. When you want to connect in some way. The stakes are high, and if you’re not conscious of it, there are no stakes. So it’s, it’s so important to see that this pattern needs to be broken or it’s just such a killer of intimacy and you don’t wanna enable, or as Dave said earlier, have your partner feel more entitled to be the center and you be on the periphery of the center.

Dave (14:17):

I have been that pleaser for a very long time, and iterations from being 20 onward. And I’ve seen two types of folks that in relationship I’ve been interested in. One, already starts by feeling self-important. And so it may be said that I’m reinforcing that, but they, they they started with a pretty high percentage of themselves feeling like “I am entitled.” And the second is somebody that feels very low self-esteem where its needs oozing out that I am so gratified to be able to fulfill, anticipate, and be with. It’s almost like two ends of that poll.

Robert Strock (15:04):

Well, the good news and the bad news: the good news is that you’re a bi-neurotic responsibility person. Most people would only accuse one, but you’re flexible to be, uh, neurotically responsible, whether they’re unentitled or entitled, you’ll fix ’em up either way.

Dave (15:19):

Yeah, I’ll take, I’ll take all comers.

Robert Strock (15:22):

<laugh>. So what I’d like to do is explain a sequence of how we can work with this if you gain the awareness of the pattern and how you can work with your own neurotic responsibility and start to, little bit by little bit, break the pattern. And I’m emphasizing little bit by little bit because as I said, it’s been with me in my awareness for 50 years and it’s still here to some extent. I’m multi-aware of it, but that doesn’t mean, certainly doesn’t mean I, I don’t have the feelings, I have the feelings and I have even worse sometimes than the feelings. I even have some actions. And then usually I’m pretty good now at catching it afterwards but still, still vulnerable to doing it. So, the first thing is being aware as always, and as is the beginning of every episode, we need to be aware that this is a tendency and if we’re not aware that this is a tendency we have no chance.

And then we need to go to an intention to move toward caring or healing of the relationship and ourselves and realize, you know what? I want a more intimate relationship. I want it to be more mutual. I’d like to receive some in this way. It matters to me. It really matters to me and hear the tone and way I’m speaking. It matters. You know, there’s a softness, there’s a caring. And then following that, there’s a contemplation of how am I gonna communicate with my partner to let them know that you know what, I’m as responsible in this pattern as you are, which is what I would recommend, but I see certain areas where I think I’m more responsive and you are less responsive. And I believe I’ve been really stunted in my ability to express my needs and I am aware of it now, so I’m wondering if you’re open to start to consider this, whether it’s in a sexual area or whether it’s with money or whether it’s with restaurants or whether it’s with hobbies or travel or whatever it is.

I’m wondering if you’re open to shift some of the balance here. And please don’t hear me as blaming you. I feel <laugh>, I feel responsible about for this as you do. And I’m laughing because that’s my thing, neurotic responsibility. The next thing that is really helpful is to see your innocence. If you, you really track this, you’re gonna see that it’s a good thing. It’s just too much of a good thing. But if you see that there’s a purity in you and it’s just extending it too far into and over, and I won’t even wanna say generosity and over-giving at your expense, but by seeing your innocence, it makes it easier to keep your focus on the pattern. If you feel guilty for being neurotically responsible, you’re gonna wanna space out. If you see your innocence, you’re gonna be much more inclined to say, you know what? I do wanna look at this. And then as I mentioned earlier, it’s gonna require some courage because you’re gonna be at the danger of pissing off your partner. Why didn’t you tell me you needed this all these years ago? Then you might just collapse and go, yeah, you’re right, let’s, let’s just keep it the way it was <laugh>. Now hopefully you’re gonna have some courage

Dave (18:41):

And rejection. Gee, I have needs and the other person, no. Too bad, not interested.

Robert Strock (18:49):

Very realistic. Very realistic. And therefore it’s gonna require that courage and perseverance and not blaming your partner. Certainly not in the first long phase because you’ve taught them everything they know maybe, or like you said, depending on which, which one of the types that Dave referred to, you might have taught them everything they know or you might have just added to what they, what they knew. And so patience is another aspect that has to be part of this with courage and admitting to them your own form of, as we say in the psychological world, codependency, you’re giving so much because a part of you is dependent cuz you’re afraid of being independent enough to ask for your own needs. So if you admit to them and to yourself, it’s a form of codependency, it can be an inspiration and a motivation to wake yourself up into mutuality and into moving toward mutuality.

Another one is seeing the self-abandonment. It’s like when you see, oh my God, I’ve abandoned my own needs. Just seeing that is very, very inspiring. And along with that, wow, I, I might get to grow. I’m 58 and I get to grow. This is a whole brand-new thing. I’m 69 and I get to grow. It’s never too late. And then highlighting the real mutual responsibility that you’re looking to go into this with. This is a not “I gotcha” moment. This is a, “oh we were this way, maybe we can be this way. Wow. And we caught it and we have a chance.” Now it might be, as Dave said, only you catching it, but maybe, maybe your partner actually will be very willing. I’ve seen many cases when it was pointed out, the person was embarrassed, ashamed and grateful that, that it was pointed out because they actually wanted to be able to give.

As a matter of fact, there are many situations where the neurotically responsible person was being given to, but kind of found ways to fluff it off. It can even take be taken that far where the valve is closed to receive. Another one is communication, it’s crucial, and humor having a little bit of fun with it, having a little bit of lightness. Another element is self-trust. It’s like, oh, I can see this. It was a good intention, I just took it too far. I like me, I trust me. So there’s a bit of self-love and self-trust. So these are all things that will really help you see the pattern. Another thing that really is very, very helpful is being able to have a clear distinction between your feelings and your partner’s feelings and your needs and your partner’s needs. Now most of us are not very literate at being able to see, ah, this is what I feel and ah, this is what I need.

And that’s what the Introspective Guides were written for, for people, which is most of us, most of us are not able to articulate 75 emotions that are challenging and difficult or 75 needs or qualities that are really beneficial and helpful to create intimacy and love. And so, if you haven’t by now, I’d encourage you to re-listen to these two episodes and, and frankly any of the prior episodes and have those Introspective Guides cuz they’re invaluable as a teaching tool to be able to identify and accept where you are and to be able to have a variety of ways to move toward your needs once you’re aware of where you are. When I talk about feelings and needs, are you able to see that it’s not that easy to make that distinction for you? You know, if I was to ask you: make a list of 20 of your most important needs. My guess is most of you would have a very hard time.

Yeah, you might say, I, well I need to be loved, I need trust. But then maybe it gets a little thin. So, a key part of seeing neurotic responsibility and a key part of intimacy is recognizing the importance and the clarity of what your needs are and what your partner’s needs are, and have your conversations be focused, a loss on what your needs are. And the reason why we start with challenging emotions is because they are a way of giving you a pointer towards your needs. It’s not that we’re valuing challenging emotions more than we are needs. If anything we’re valuing needs more than emotions, but it’s just we, we need pointers to help us become more aware of what our individual needs are that are not being met. And there’s nothing like an unsatisfied feeling to be able to highlight specifically what our needs are.

But even when that happens, if we don’t have a list in front of us, it’s not easy to say, well, I know I’m unhappy, but I’m not sure why I’m unhappy. So if you are a partner or a primary person that has elements or significant elements of neurotic responsibility, it would be really, really good to listen to this episode, several times, because this is a hardwired pattern and it’s in a way, uh, it makes me think of self-rejection. It’s a very, very hard thing to see clearly when your emotions are rejecting you and, and it’s outside of your awareness. Neurotic responsibility is a bit like that because it feels so good most of the time, both ways. Feels good to be the receiver and it feels good to be the giver. Everybody’s happy. Problem is through time, it’s not gonna last. And if it does, it’ll last and you might even have a decent relationship, but you can’t have a great relationship if it’s one-sided.

And I believe it’s possible for all of us, and especially those that are introspective to really identify what the elements are of real intimacy. And real intimacy is a feature of being able to have the courage and the humility to acknowledge what your challenging feelings are, to respond with asking for what you need as close from your heart as possible, and to be just as interested in the other person, but not much more interested in the other person or not much more interested in yourself. It’s really necessary to keep innovating new thoughts about this and where it might be taking place, new qualities, new actions, and new discoveries of your needs to take care of yourself and your partner no matter how much progress you’ve made. No matter whether you think that you’ve already done this work, I’ve already done this work for 50 years and I’m not done. I’m not close to done. Uh, as a matter of fact, I’m gonna die with it. So I urge you to continue to take great interest because this is a refinement of intimacy, a refinement of love, and a refinement of mutuality. And I thank you so much for your rapt attention.

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