I’m in the process of breaking a long-standing pattern of over-functioning. I can’t believe it’s taken me five decades of life to identify and do something about this issue!
There are under-functioners and over-functioners.
Underfunctioning people are overly dependent on others.
At times under-functioners are unemployed or underemployed, etc. Even if they are employed they lean on their partner and others for things they should be doing themselves.
Under-functioners may have difficulty making decisions. They count on others in their life to handle basic tasks that are their responsibility. They typically need validation.
Overfunctioning people do things for others that they were never meant to do.
Overfunctioning people are extremely responsible and reliable. Often these people were given too much responsibility as children and may have even been pressured into “parenting” their own parents, in a support role (as a confidant or caretaker, etc.) from a young age, instead of being allowed to just be children. Overfunctioners have a hard time seeing people around them struggle. They can’t stand seeing things “fall through the cracks.” They will scramble to pull things together even if they become exhausted or burned out doing it. They don’t want anyone they love to fail or hurt. So they feel as if they have to step up to solve their problems, encourage them, motivate them, organize for them, and generally “save the day” whenever they need it. When it comes to work around the house, or even within other settings such as work or church, they often feel as if it’s better to just do a task themselves rather than trust someone else to do it as well or as efficiently.
The bottom line is:
We overfunction when we do for others what they can do for themselves.
Some people live a life of over-functioning and don’t even realize it. Some of the subtle ways we do it include:
- Finishing people’s sentences
- Debating someone’s version of events
- Giving people constant reminders
- Warning people about another person’s mood
- Saying, “If I don’t do it, it’s just not gonna happen!”
- Taking steps to keep others from having to experience consequences
One day I just hit a wall when it came to overfunctioning. I don’t remember when that day was. It wasn’t like it was a day of colossal meltdown or tragedy of some regard. I just know that at some point in the past few years, I said to myself, “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m stripping myself of over-functioning and letting the chips fall where they may.”
Maybe it’s just that I’m too exhausted to do it anymore, I don’t know. I do know this…
Overfunctioning will eventually leave you in a depleted state!
As women leaders and especially those of us who are pastors’ wives, we are prone to over-function. A lot of this is unfortunately bred by the culture we have been raised in especially those of us in my generation (Generation X) and older. We were taught that we were to notice anything slipping through the cracks and pick up the slack. I have often preached that “God won’t give you strength for unordained tasks.” I believe that and yet for most of the years of our ministry, I believed that anything Larry needed was ordained simply because he was my husband. I do not believe that anymore. And I believe many pastor’s wives are literally killing themselves with this way of thinking.
I am STILL undoing years of bad teaching and false expectations, shedding this from my life. And I am still healing from years of behaving in such a way that I thought it was my job to save Larry or save the church. Only one person came to do that and it’s Jesus.
So what does this look like in my everyday life? Here are some practical examples:
My young adult daughter is going to be taking a road trip and I was worried sick at first that she would make it safely to her destination and back without her car breaking down. The old me would have gone online and tried to buy her a plane ticket, and insisted she fly instead of drive. The new me that is breaking free of over-functioning honored the fact that she wanted this to be a road trip and not a flight, and I avoided trying to change her mind or in some way manage the trip for her safety. If her car breaks down, she will be able to figure out how to manage that experience.
The old me went around and tried to smooth things over with people when I felt my husband may have offended someone. For example, Larry banters and jokes in a way I do not. He may say something to a member of the congregation in jest, but they may not realize he’s joking. I used to quickly follow up with a gentle, “Now Molly, you do realize pastor is joking…right?” But I don’t do that anymore. If Molly doesn’t know he’s joking and Molly gets mad, I let Molly be mad, and I allow Larry to feel the consequences of Molly’s madness, and leave it to him to solve on his own. No matter what occurs, even if Molly is so mad she wants to burn down the world, I remain silent and allow Larry to solve it, or I watch Molly burn down the world.
One of the main reasons I overfunctioned for years was because I thought it was mean not to.
I believed that loving people over-functioned. I didn’t know it had a term “overfunctioning” — I just thought it was love.
I was wrong.
Back then, I felt like if I really cared, I would overfunction.
Truth be told because I care– I now don’t!
Over-functioning is actually a lack of care for others because it prevents them from growing.
The sooner an over-functioner stops making a move to save the day all the time, the sooner the other person will be able to take responsibility and become who and what God ordained them to be.