There IS Such a Thing as Too Much Responsibility

This is different than you’ve seen from me before. I wanted to share a transcript from one of my more unusual clients. If you enjoy it, please let me know, and I can share more like this. 😉


Peter: Everyone I get close to gets hurt.

Josef: Say more.

Peter: I constantly have to worry about the people I love. It’s a dangerous world, far more than people realize. But I can’t even tell them about it, because that alone makes it dangerous for them.

Josef: You must feel really alone.

Peter: Sometimes, yes, but I think that’s just how it is.

Josef: Maybe. But let’s go back to why you’re here. What’s not working in your life?

Peter: It’s my girlfriend, MJ. Whatever I do doesn’t seem to be enough.

Josef: What does she want?

Peter: If I knew that, I’d give it to her. I’d do anything for her.

Josef: I can feel how much you love her.

Peter: So much, and that’s the problem.

Josef: How so?

Peter: The more I love someone, the more dangerous it is for them.

Josef: That’s quite a pickle you’re in.

Peter: I know, right?

Josef: What if what MJ wants is not actually something you can give, but something to let go of.

Peter: What do you mean?

Josef: Well, my guess is that she wants to be closer with you, and you’re keeping her at a distance. What would happen if you let go of being her protector?

Peter: I don’t even want to imagine it.

Josef: What comes up when you do?

Peter: The first thing is fear, then guilt. Something terrible will happen and it will be my fault.

Josef: Does that remind you of anything in your past?

Peter: Well, I’ve felt that way ever since I let my Uncle Ben die.

Josef: “Let” him die?

Peter: That’s what happened. I had the opportunity to stop his killer, and I didn’t.

Josef: Okay, so that’s one way of looking at it. I appreciate the responsibility in that. And when you believe that thought, that you let him die, how do you feel?

Peter: Mostly guilt, and the fear that it could happen again to someone I love.

Josef: That’s an awful lot to bear.

Peter: I feel it every moment of every day. It’s exhausting.

Josef: Stay with that for a moment. Let yourself feel it.

Peter: I can’t go on like this.

Josef: I believe you. What if there were such a thing as too much responsibility?

Peter: Then maybe I could be free.

Josef: Exactly. So you’ve held that you “let” your uncle die. How else could you look at it?

Peter: [heavy sigh] That he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Josef: And what’s it like to hold it that way?

Peter: Much better. I can relax. The guilt just kind of drains into the floor.

Josef: Good. We’ve been chipping away at this for a while, and you’re getting better and better at letting that go. Peter, I can only imagine what it’s been like for you, being as powerful as you are, but still having limits. You’re not Superman, right?

Peter: Haha, no I’m Spider-Man.

Josef: Right, and even Superman has limits.

Peter: It’s true, he does.

Josef: So the challenge for you is managing your own expectations of yourself. Your uncle was always saying, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and that’s true. But what’s also true is that no one, not even a superhero, has absolute power. I love how you push yourself to be stronger, but watch how that can be a form of control.

Peter: I know, there’s this part of me that thinks I can make anything happen. You know, the “amazing” Spider-Man.

Josef: I get it, and the superhero part of you can hold the “making the impossible possible” aspect. But what about the human, Peter Parker aspect of you?

Peter: He knows he can’t save everyone. He’s human. He’s fallible. He doesn’t want to be a superhero.

Josef: Good, now who is the you who is big enough to hold both of those parts?

Peter: Wow, that’s a good question. I can sort of feel it. A place where the opposites disappear, and everything is just fine. It’s freedom.

Josef: Good, anchor yourself in that. That’s you. Both the human Peter Parker and the Amazing Spider-Man need that You. Then you can be a superhero who doesn’t have to be perfect, and be of service without being over-responsible and guilt-ridden.

Peter: Wow, yeah, it’d be awesome to come from this place. I feel strong, but open, too. There’s no stress here. I just do my best and trust the outcome.

Josef: Exactly. That’s all you can do. So I have an idea about how you can continue to work this guilt issue about your uncle, and get closer to people without it being stressful.

Peter: I’m game.

Josef: Have you thought about telling MJ that you’re Spider-Man.

Peter: Oh man, I knew you’d bring that up eventually.

Josef: Good intuition, what’s it telling you?

Peter: That until she knows, we’ll never be really close. And she can intuit I’m holding something back.

Josef: I think you’re right. Secrets don’t work very well in relationships. And how is it for you keeping that secret from her?

Peter: I hate it, but it’s what I’ve felt I had to do to protect her.

Josef: I get it. I really do. What if you loved her enough to not protect her from her own choices?

Peter: What do you mean?

Josef: Well, if you’re transparent and tell her you’re Spider-Man, she’ll understand the risks. She’s not stupid. Then she can choose whether or not those risks are worth it. Right now, it’s a risk she didn’t actually choose, you see? To this day, she doesn’t know why the Green Goblin held her hostage six months ago.

Peter: Oh man, I’ve been treating her like a child. Robbing her of her choice.

Josef: Good work, Peter. That’s what over-responsibility does.  And if the Goblin knows she’s important to you, who knows what other villains do, too? Is it fair for her to not know?

Peter: No, not at all. I’ve been so caught up in my own guilt and martyrdom I didn’t realize what I was doing to her. I thought it was care for her, but it’s been a lot about me.

Josef: Congratulations, Peter, this is a big moment.

Peter: Thanks. Wow. So I’m going to have to think about telling MJ the truth. It’s going to be a process.

Josef: Take your time, Peter, it always is. The biggest secret you’ve kept, bigger than your secret identity, is this guilt, and I think you’re ready to let it go. There’s freedom there, waiting for you.


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