People who do too much for others often become frustrated with the amount of reciprocity and appreciation that they receive. The trouble is, they are over-functioning, which accentuates the polarities in the relationship. For instance, if one person handles all the planning of social events, meals, and travel, others lose interest, ability, and experience in handling those activities.
When one family member over-functions, the others become less capable and more dependent, both of which diminish self-empowerment. Yet, they still have secret opinions and desires. Without participating in handling “family life,” the only power left is to show dissatisfaction, resentment and annoyance.
The over-functioner is stumped and becomes bitter, because he or she has done so much! Family members become more dependent and reactive to one another, and the dependence and incapacities in functioning become more prominent.
The best way to remedy the situation is to stop over-functioning. You can be honest and say, “I’ve been doing too much and I feel overwhelmed and unappreciated. I now realize that I’m cheating both of us. I feel like you’re not grateful enough, and you don’t get to contribute your ideas and effort.”
Then ask for specific help without expecting perfection. Make sure you lighten up, loosen your control and especially do not criticize.
It may take a while to transition — old habits die hard. The key is to back off doing too much, rather than to push others to do more. When there’s a vacuum, it eventually will get filled.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD