Are you responsible for the way others act?

Mother and child sitting on the beach

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Now, everyone likes to be on good terms with people around them. But sometimes even close friends or family don’t act appropriately. So how much responsibility should you take for changing their behaviour? Are you responsible for the way others act?

How far does your responsibility extend?

Take the example of an adult relative who behaves poorly at a family party in your house. Perhaps they shout at everyone or make rude comments.

Are you to blame for the way they act?

Their responsibility

No – you’re not responsible in any way for how they behave. They chose to act that way. Even if they were drunk or high on drugs, they chose to take those substances. Everyone knows the impact of illicit substances on behaviour.

And if they’re plain bad-tempered or rude, they still need to accept the consequences of their behaviour. No excuses.

You can’t control their behaviour

So you can’t control what they do. It’s not in your power to make them act appropriately, although you can suggest alternatives.

And you can’t be blamed for their behaviour. You do have a right to be annoyed at the turmoil caused, though, and to empathise with family members who are upset.

Choose how you react

You can’t control someone else’s behaviour, but you can choose how you react.

For example, here are some options. You may be able to think of some others.

What you do depends on the exact circumstances of each situation. And if needed, ask others to support you in any of these steps, so that you keep yourself safe.

1 You could ignore the behaviour if that helps the person calm down. However, you and/or someone else probably need to discuss it later with them. If you ignore the behaviour totally, you send the message that it was OK.

2 You can quietly let your relative know their behaviour isn’t appropriate. Then calmly suggest how you would prefer them to behave, so everyone feels more at ease.

3 Alternatively, suggest they take a break for a short while. For example, they could sleep it off, sit outside, go for a short walk, or watch TV in another area.

4 If they’re very disruptive, you could suggest they leave.

If they become aggressive at this suggestion, leave their presence immediately. With luck, they may calm down a little, and leave of their own accord after a short time. 

5 In extreme cases, you could call police to remove them.

Inappropriate guilt

But don’t feel guilty if your relative damages their relationships with others. You’re don’t have to fix these relationships, either.

Of course, you may well be upset at the way the family is fragmenting. But if this person’s actions have caused problems, they need to face this.

You’re not responsible for the way others act. 

You have choices

You can also choose how you respond to your relative in future.

For example, you can:

See them less often

Decide not to invite them to your house

See them only in public places you can leave easily, and/or with others present

Not see them at all, unless they show positive change over a long period of time.

You may be sad and upset at their behaviour. You may even understand why they feel and act the way they do.

If you wish, you can suggest options that might help them. But they may ignore what you say, because you can’t control what they choose to do.

Stop blaming yourself

So don’t get stuck in a loop of guilty thoughts and self-blame.

For instance, telling yourself over and over you “should” have known this would happen. And that you “should” have stopped or fixed the situation. Or that you “should” have helped your relative cope with life.

Notice as soon as you start blaming yourself.

Acknowledge the situation was unpleasant. Then remind yourself that your relative chose to act that way. And they’re also responsible for getting their life in order.

Then focus on a more pleasant or absorbing activity.

These thoughts will pop up time and time again. Notice every time, and stop yourself getting caught up in them.

You can still care

However, you can still care about someone who acts inappropriately. As suggested above, you can encourage them to learn more helpful behaviours.

Be careful of investing too much of yourself in their progress, though. If you do, you’ll take on too much responsibility again.

You’ll be following every up and down in their life, as if you were actually experiencing it yourself. You won’t be able to get on with your own life. Remember, you aren’t responsible for the way others act.

Remove yourself from their issues

So it’s more helpful to remove yourself from their issues. If appropriate, be an interested observer who listens, and occasionally suggests ideas. 

However, don’t expect your advice to be followed. Accept you’ll be annoyed and disappointed many times, especially if you do get very involved.

Far better to remain a little detached. You’ll be more able to withstand the rocky road they may have to follow. And probably, you’ll be more effective in supporting them in the long-term.

So step back, and allow others to take responsibility for their own lives. Trust that they’ll find their best path in the end.

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