The sad truth is that if you over-function you actually train the people around you to under-function.
Lets start with examining the issue of over-functioning. If you are an over-functioner think about what was going on in your past. Did you have to take responsibility early in life because of the loss of a parent or one that was affected by the use of drugs or alcohol? Did you grow up in a single parent home where you saw your mom do everything and you just assume that that’s what women do? Sometimes there is a vacuum of leadership or a need in a family that is big and a child feels they have to step in and and take responsibility. Were you that child? If you are a first born child in your family you may have felt cast into the role of being the responsible one. If you have come from a hard place in life where you experienced rejection or abandonment you may have learned that in order to survive you have to do it yourself, and that others can’t be trusted. It sometimes amazes me when I think of the survival skills kids have had to learn to cope in life. If you are an over-functioner it’s likely not a role in life that you chose. This role may have been part of surviving in the past, but it may no longer be serving you well.
Some of the most beautiful and compassionate words in the bible are:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt.11:28-30)
If you have come from a hard place in life, you may need to learn what it means to carry a lighter load. There is wisdom in accepting our physical limitations, and learning to have reasonable expectations of ourselves.
Now lets turn our attention to the issue of under-functioning and think about what was going on in the past of an under-functioner. Perhaps they grew up in a home where mom did everything for them. Perhaps they never had to do the laundry or clean up after themselves. If that was the case they could have learned not to take initiative, because eventually someone else would do it. If the man in the house was under-functioning that role modeling could also have been passed along.
In talking to people who under-function often they feel discouraged that no matter how hard they try to pitch in and help it’s never good enough, so they just give up trying. Often they feel hurt, unappreciated and disrespected and as a result they withdraw emotionally into their own world. This is their way of seeking to insulate themselves from the pain of disapproval and criticism. Living with a frustrated and angry over-functioner is a set up for perpetuating the cycle of under-functioning. The cycle is difficult to break especially when the roles get more and more engrained. If this sounds like the someone in your life that you’d like to motivate, here are some ideas.
In order to reach them you will need to build a connection. The best way to connect with them is to understand what they are experiencing. They likely hate being in this destructive cycle as much as you do. If they are starved for validation and approval, offering genuine appreciation will get their attention and give them energy and hope. If he is a good provider let him know how important that is to you. If you express genuine appreciation, it will help to reinforce your connection. Feeling good about being able to make a positive contribution is a primary motivating factor for most every man. When someone is already feeling down on themselves, complaints and criticism will just reinforce their feelings of failure and cause them to lose heart.
It’s important to have realistic expectations for ourselves and for others. Recognizing our limitations, as well as those of others, is part of discerning what responsibilities are appropriate to carry. Limitations can come in various forms. Some people have so much on their plate that adding one more thing pushes them over the top. Another person may be dealing with aging or a health issue that limits what they are capable of doing. Accepting and honoring one another's limitations is important.
Life can be a whole lot easier when each person carries their fair share of the load - not to much and not to little. Doing an honest evaluation of what responsibilities are appropriate to carry and then carrying these with joy, is part of what it takes to do life well.