what-women-wantThere was a movie a few years back called “What women want”. Mel Gibson was the lead, an ad man. He took a series of womens’ products home to test drive them and, in the process, accidentally electrocuted himself. When he woke up, he had the uncanny ability to hear womens’ thoughts. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story here. The movie doesn’t explain the connection between electrocution and mind reading, and why he could only hear women’s thoughts. And you have to get past the sexist stereotypes that men are clueless and the only way men can understand women is through mind reading.

But apart from all that, it’s a fun plot. At first, it’s a boon for Gibson in his advertising job. He can literally read women’s minds to know how to pitch products to them. But when a large group of women run past him in the park, the noise is almost deafening. And when he overhears the morose and withdrawn office worker contemplating suicide in her mind, he doesn’t know how to handle his new awareness. He desperately wants to turn off the voices.

Now, think about the same concept in relation to your awareness of what’s going on in the world. We get bombarded with pain and suffering, whether it’s from watching the news, or reading the body language of people around us. We know too much because we see it all around us. There’s not enough room in the world to hold all the pain. Or so it seems. We need to know in order to be responsible citizens. But how do we stop our knowledge from tipping into overwhelm? Sometimes you wish you could turn off your intuition. The noise is too loud and the solutions too remote.

It happened to me the other night. I turned on the local news, and was overwhelmed by the long list of tragedies and this was just in West Michigan. There were shootings, accidents, kidnappings, bankruptcies, unemployment numbers, domestic disputes…… It was SOOO depressing and left me feeling paralyzed. Some days I can barely cope with my own petty challenges. I try to do my best for my family’s needs. But taking on the needs of West Michigan, let alone thinking about kids in Africa who are starving, feels like too much. If Oprah and Bono can’t solve the problems of the world, what can I possibly do?

The overriding feeling that many, many people have now is being overwhelmed. Anxiety has overtaken depression as the leading mental health issue in America today. Around 20% of American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, and its starting earlier and earlier. Psychologist Robert Leahy points out: “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”

Where am I heading with this? Last week I wrote about taking responsibility. I mentioned responsibility’s mantra, IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME. When you see something that needs to be done, get in and take responsibility. But is there such a thing as taking too much responsibility? What happens when you feel overwhelmed by the needs of the world? How do you persevere when it feels like you’re running backwards into a stiff headwind? These are some of the questions I want to address this week. I will offer practical ways to remove unhealthy burdens from your life and live with calm urgency. I will look at feeling the pain of others without letting it destroy you. Most importantly, I will point you inwards where you intuitively know the balance between responsibility and equanimity.

What is equanimity? You may have seen the tongue in cheek sign in stores; a phrase co-opted by grandparents everywhere- ALL care, NO responsibility. Reframe the sign so that it reads- ALL care, ALL responsibility and ALL acceptance. All at the same time, all held in careful balance. This is equanimity.

Here are 10 indicators that you may have a responsibility imbalance.

You need to fill conversational silences.

You apologize for things you had nothing to do with.

You take on the blame for events and circumstances that are beyond your control.

You make excuses for people who are behaving badly.

Your first inkling is to rescue people.

You feel paralyzed by the size of challenges.

You lose sleep, worrying about world problems.

You feel like you always have to be the life of the party.

You deprive yourself of basic rights because others are missing out.

You struggle with guilt.

You hear about many veterans who feel guilty for having survived while fellow soldiers died. It’s almost las if they feel they have no right to move on when so many others didnt have that opportunity. Can you relate to the burden of guilt or being overwhelmed by responsibility in some way in your life?

The alternative to being overwhelmed is not inaction. The good news is that there is a way to feel the pain of others, without letting it destroy you. There is a way to take responsibility for the problems of the world without being crushed by the burden. There is a way to take practical steps toward change without needing to know the end point or the timing to get there. This is the balance between responsibility and acceptance.

In the words of Lao Tzu, “Do what you can, and then step back.”

Do what you can, with the wisdom and energy you currently have, and then accept that this is enough. For now.

Create the space for others to take ownership of their lives, and accept where they are. For now.

Find your passion, and be the change you want to see in the world, and accept that the world is becoming all it needs to be. For now.

I just added this one, after a helpful comment from Ara (below). Think globally, and act locally. In other words, balance a large perspective with sustainable actions.

It’s like the balance between ripples and a pond. Create ripples of change and action in your life and in the world around you. But do so out of a place of inner stillness that resides beneath the surface where all is calm and in no hurry. Trust that everyone and everything is unfolding in the exact time and way it needs to, including you.

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  1. Shandra says:

    I really like the “for now” towards the end of the article. It’s a good reminder that things won’t stay this way forever. I can do this, for now.

  2. […] the first article of this series, I outlined 10 indicators that you might be headed for overwhelm because you are […]

  3. We need to take control, but the problems become so big and numerous that we easily talk ourselves out of doing anything. I feel this is a common occurence, especially when we feel no connection to our immediate community. The “think globally, act locally” idea is a great place to start mending humanity’s tapestry back together.

  4. ian says:

    thanks Ara- that is a GREAT comment. I will add that to the text. Its important.

  5. […] in the world, and for the change you want to see in the world, without becoming overwhelmed. The first piece looked at 10 ways to know you have taken on TOO much responsibility. The second piece looked at 10 […]

  6. Hussein says:

    Thank you for the interesting article

  7. Anne-Marie says:

    What a wonderful piece, Ian!  Once again, your blog topics seem to come in right when I need them most… so THANK YOU for that!

    “Do what you can, with the wisdom and energy you currently have, and then accept that this is enough. For now.” Such a powerful statement. I’m going to work at keeping it in mind when the anxieties are piling up.

    And I love the “Trust that everyone and everything is unfolding in the exact time and way it needs to, including you.” This is a concept I’ve been trying to keep in mind more frequently these days.

    Trust. Faith. Grow.

    Wishing you (((PEACE))) –

  8. […] your control, such as outcomes and other peoples’ actions. So far in this series, I have outlined 10 ways to know if you are becoming overwhelmed, and 10 practical ways to overcome overwhelm. In the third […]

  9. Am I glad you wrote this (beautifully, I might add) because I certainly needed to read this. I’ll be whispering Lao Tzu’s ‘do what you can and step back’ from now on. Thank you!

  10. Rui says:

    wow very good article Sir… i also admire the “Think globally, and act locally”, its like what my professor taught me… “start small, dream big, think global”,.. im not sure if it fits the idea but i guess it has a common denominator…=)

  11. Carol Shimp says:

    This is a good phrase. “Do what you can, and then step back.” It has a lot to do with unconditional acceptance. Knowing we can buy coffee for a friend but we can’t help their situation.

  12. […] You Are Taking Too Much Responsibility Posted by MagMan on 20/11/2011 in Papers | Subscribe soulseeds.com posted by friends:  (3) @Soulseedsmedia: 4 articles on overwhelm, […]

  13. Horatia54 says:

    Dear Ian,

    I’ve noticed you’ve got “enTheosAcademy on the cover of a CD. This translates into “by God.” Does this mean that you believe in God? 

    Blessings, Horatia54 

  14. Wondrous Ones,
    In focusing on ‘saving’ yourself,
    you produce an overflow of helpful and nourishing energy,
    you are then more able to ‘save’ others.
    Surround yourself with things that bring you peace,
    nourish, and inspire you, and thus we are all ‘saved’.
    If you can’t stop watching the news, then temper it with
    Good News (I am not their affiliate, but I do read their news often).
    Know you are enough and are doing enough right now.
    Creative Christine

  15. Adriene says:

    Your post hits the nail on the head. It can apply to everyone but I think women are especially prone to taking too much responsibility for others and not enough for their own self care.

  16. Excellent post & excellent advice.

  17. Michal says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Adriene:
    Meaning women have been conditioned from the beginning of Creation as motherly  Nurtureers & Caretakers of everyone else except ourselves.  It is only when we drink from the cup 1st, that we can offer the cup to others.  The Living Waters of the Divine are already inside of each one of us but we Must quench ourselves from Within First before we can share the cup of Spirit with the world/ globe/ cosmos.
    …In an Endless Attitude of Gratitude & Blessings of Bountiful Abundance… Thank you Ian for this INspirational INsight that your website so freely offers! 🙂

  18. Ande says:

    Wonderful post – especially helpful to folks who see and feel too much!  Reducing ‘too much information’ is healthy.  I agree with Adriene and Michael re: women feeling the burden of care giving, etc. – give oxygen to the Mother first!  Also reminds me of Teri Hatcher’s book ‘Burnt Toast.’  Cheers!  @AndeLyons

  19. eryanbrown says:

    Gosh Ian I just Love you…….
     “practice ways to remove unhealthy burdens” this is really deep. I think it has finally gotten to me as I recently took on the pain and suffering from a friend returning home as me and my husband went to diffuse a suicidal/homocidal situation. Somewhere else you mentioned, something like in the past I was able to deal with many situations and they not bother you. I mean like the very young…………I am at lost for words as I am truly thankful to be able to read and absorb your work

  20. Zeigen says:

    This is JUST what I needed to read right now!
    Moments before I was stressing out – internally itemizing all of my struggles and things on my never-ending “to do” list of life. Granted, I do have some heavy burdens going on currently and feel like I’m being drawn and quartered at times. The only thing that’s constant is change and the best is all I can do. Period.   
    Thanks for posting this! 

  21. […] This article by Soulseeds has some good points too, but some I am unsure about generally in my own beliefs – things are unfolding just as they should.  I’m not a fatalist, I don’t believe there is a pre-ordained outcome to a preplanned process; […]

  22. Verona says:

    I think many people are feeling overwhelmed these days because of the economy and just trying to keep up with inflation.

  23. Deyka says:

    thank you Ian. I needed to read this and helped greatly.

  24. I like your list. It sounds a lot like codependency.After over 30 years in recovery, I’ve learned a few things. Two sayings that helped me a lot are: “Live and Let Live” and “Mind your Own Business.” I call them “Remind Mantras,” worth repeating. I recommend the 4 Don’ts:
    1. Don’t Watch; 2. Don’t Judge; 3. Don’t Expect; 4. Don’t obsess. 
    Get 14 Tips for Letting Go at http://www.whatiscodependency.com
    Darlene Lancer, MFT, author of “Codependency for Dummies”

  25. Kathy Wilson says:

    I love this post. It took me years to figure out some of the things that seem like common sense the way you  describe it.

  26. Heulwen Renshaw says:

    Can one possibly be in a state of ‘anxiety’ without knowing it?  I have a nine year old granddaughter who is forever watching out for her 6 yr old sister, getting herself  into a right state if we happen to be at a beach..shouting at us to “watch the quicksand” in a screaming manner. Her mother calls her a ‘Drama Queen’, but I think it’s more serious, she really does get in a state about certain things, she has an old head on young shoulders. She also finds excuses not to go to bed, asking me to watch a comical DVD with her.  Perhaps that is her way of coping with stress. (Stress? at such a young age?)

  27. ian says:

    hi Heulwen, that does sound like more than regular stress- maybe an anxiety disorder worth getting checked by a professional. Or else just a very empathic kid. But empathy can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to channel it. Good thoughts Heulwen

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