By Jess Stonefield
The older we are, the wiser we get—and the more wisdom we have to share with those around us. We know how to do things correctly. We know how to get things done faster. We don’t want our kids to make the same mistakes we did. We want them to marry the right people, get the right job, choose the right stocks. We can help fix other people’s lives, obviously. And if we’re retired, we have even more time to do it.
I first heard the term “over-functioning” in the book, The Emotionally Healthy Woman by Geri Scazzero. (Guys: don’t be fooled. Men can be over-functioners, too.) What is it? It’s taking on the weight of everyone’s problems as if you’re the only one who can solve them. Think of it like a God-complex for everyday life. Over-functioners are good at many things—but we find it nearly impossible to watch someone else’s life ungracefully unfold.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “I got this,” “I’m good,” or even “mind your own business” from your family or friends, chances are good you’re over-functioning. Yes, you’re very helpful. You’re great at showing, educating, inspiring, convincing, and supporting. You can remind … inquire on behalf of … keep issues front and center … worry about someone else’s “stuff,” all while battling your own. You mean well. But over-functioning isn’t good for your relationships or your health.
If you’re like me, and you love helping people, being the hero, and offering a solution to ALL THE PROBLEMS, consider the following. Turns out there are a few solid reasons you need to stop over-functioning.
- It’s annoying. We think we’re helpful, right? (Buzzer.) Imagine if you had a friend or parent who was constantly offering a “better” way to solve your problems. Who always knew better, had stronger intuition, was in a bigger hurry, and wouldn’t accept “no” for an answer. Sound like fun? IT ISN’T! Especially if we’re over-functioning our grown children.I recently purchased a house and felt strongly that my ex-husband would take great joy in home ownership, too. So, I started house-hunting for him. I went to open-houses. I sent him listings, found him a realtor and did ALL THE THINGS. The only problem: he wasn’t actually ready to buy a house. Meaning, I was like an overzealous gnat, spinning my wings for no good reasons—all in the name of being helpful. I wasted my own time—and got on his nerves—all in the name of “helping.”
- It’s judgmental. When we over-function, we’re basically telling someone, “I see how you’re living your life right now, and it’s pretty lame. If you want to be cool like me, you need to do x, y, and z.” Who wants to have a friend or parent follow them around with that kind of attitude? In that sense, over-functioning is actually kind of mean. It refuses to acknowledge that we all have different ways of doing things, and all of them are equally valuable.
- It’s a waste of time. Have you ever put tons of effort into solving someone else’s problem, and they ended up ignoring your advice and moving on in the same old direction they were already headed? When my ex-boyfriend decided to sell his $1.2 million house, I was on it. I knew he was a slow operator, so I knew I could help him out. I got quotes on needed repairs. I did market research. I made plans and diagrams and figured out a sales strategy that would make a sale smooth and easy. Guess what: Seven months later, his home is STILL NOT on the market. Why? Because people do things the way they do them! No amount of over-functioning is going to change that. Think of how much time I could have dedicated to solving my own problems if I hadn’t been so focused on solving his!
- It’s stressing you out. Look—those of us who struggle with anxiety are even more apt to over-function about other people’s lives because it offers us at least the semblance of control in this universe. The thing is, it’s also adding to our stress—impacting both our health and our mental well-being. When I did all the legwork to help my ex-husband buy a house, it made me hugely stressed and angry that he was missing his chance to get in the low end of market. When I saw days tick by as my ex-boyfriend still failed to put his house on the market, it was my chest that was hurting due to the delay. He wasn’t meeting my goals. He wasn’t doing things how I would have done them. And I was the one anxietized by the outcome.
Whether we call it over-functioning, co-dependence, God complex, stress addiction, or something else altogether, please know this: our intentions are good. We are good people. We love our family and want what’s best for them. But for the love of God, it’s time to mind our own business. Our family members—and our own anxiety levels—will thank us.
Jess Stonefield is a contributing writer on aging, technology, senior care, housing and the greater longevity economy for publications such as Forbes.com and ChangingAging.com. She is a communications expert for Senior Living Fund.