Do It All or Pass the Ball? The Over-Functioner’s Playbook

Portrait of female basketball player in studioImagine you are on a basketball team, engaged in an important game—but you are the only person actually playing. All of your teammates are standing around talking and laughing as you dribble the ball up and down the court, shoot all the baskets, and defend against the opponents. You are paying attention to every detail, calculating and managing all the possibilities. You are making the game happen—an army of one.

At first it might be exhilarating. Then it becomes overwhelming, exhausting, and unmanageable. Still, no one else steps forward to help out.

That’s what it can feel like to be an over-functioner. People don’t over-function in isolation. When there is one person “doing it all,” there are one or more people doing little to nothing.

It takes a system to over-function, but it takes one individual to change the system. That person can be you. Here’s how to make the change happen.

1. Leave Emotional Space for Others

In other words, pass the ball. Often, over-functioners are so busy getting things done that other people don’t see an opening to help out. Yes, over-functioners can be good at telling people what they should be doing, but there is no room for others to notice a task that needs to be done, volunteer to help out, or feel good about their own accomplishments.

If you aren’t passing the ball to your teammates, they can’t help. They may become angry, disillusioned, or resentful.

2. Let Go of Some Control

When you pass the ball, pass it. Don’t keep trying to get it back or control its path with verbal directions. Over-functioners typically like order and efficiency. They often have a clear picture of how things should be done. It can be hard to watch others do a task in a way seen as less than optimal, or to stand by as others choose a task not seen as a top priority.

If one person always has his or her hand on the ball, no one can play a good game. This applies to home, work, and social life, not just sports.

3. Wait in the Place of Discomfort

Allow yourself to experience the drama as the game unfolds. If you want change to happen, you sometimes need to be willing to be uncomfortable. Many over-functioners have been in their role for a long time, sometimes learning it from another generation. Over-functioning becomes familiar, if not pleasant. If you see yourself as an over-functioner, try to stop doing something you would typically take responsibility for (like doing the dishes, organizing schedules, or managing finances), then resist the urge to step back in if others don’t immediately take responsibility.

You can’t control others, but others will respond to what you do or do not do. If something is important to someone else, too, that person will notice and feel the effects when you stop doing the task. He or she might eventually start helping out.

4. Know and Communicate Your Personal Priorities

You can’t win playing both defense and offense by yourself at the same time. Often, over-functioners see everything as a priority. Try making a list (mental or written) of your tasks and responsibilities. Put them in priority order. Which items must be done by you? Which can you delegate? Which are you willing to let go?

Next, make sure other people on your team (family, workplace, group, committee) know your priorities so they can discern where they might fit in. Take time to listen to other people’s priorities as well. Be willing to adjust your actions to help others fulfill their goals.

5. Go Team!

It takes a team to function effectively as a family, a work group, a social group, or a religious group. You cannot be both the coach and the most valuable player. Think of yourself as part of a larger whole.

Know your role. Don’t step into other people’s positions. Share responsibility. Shoot when you’re open. Otherwise, pass the ball.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn M. Acquafondata, DMin, LMHC, therapist in Rochester, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sana

    Sana

    November 10th, 2015 at 8:02 AM

    I am the proverbial ball hog in life. NO I don’t play ball but I know that i have this tendency to think that I can do it all and that I am the only one that can do things right. You know the old adage about f you want something done right just do it yourself? Yep that is me in a nutshell. I know that it frustrates the heck out of my husband and clearly it upsets me too because I want help but I have this tendency to push it away because I always think (know?) I can do things better.

  • Tiff

    Tiff

    November 10th, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    Lots of things could be so much easier if everyone could just learn to be more of a team player.

  • Sonia

    Sonia

    November 10th, 2015 at 3:10 PM

    I have a hard time letting go of the control. I want to always be in charge and be a part of the game so it is difficult for me to even acknowledge that there is someone else who may could greatly contribute or that I could work well together with as a team. I think that as I was the oldest child I was always in charge so that is sort of how I have been all throughout life in my many different roles.

  • Chris

    Chris

    November 11th, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    Is it that no one will really step forward to help or is it that they have just stopped trying due to constantly being turned away.

  • Laine

    Laine

    November 12th, 2015 at 5:24 AM

    I never really think about how my actions probably effect others but then I read this and I see that the things that I do in my own life to make myself feel good are probably the very same things that are making another person in my life feel terrible. I am so used to just doing things and getting them done but by doing that I am not allowing others to spread their own wings and show what they are good at too.

  • marquise

    marquise

    November 14th, 2015 at 9:29 AM

    In a lot of ways it all depends on what you want the outcome to be. Do you want to make friends and be a part of a team? Or do you look for the praise from others when they know that you have been doing all the heavy lifting? There are many who don’t really care about being a part of that team, all they care about really is doing something and letting everyone know that they were the one who got things done.

  • Caroline

    Caroline

    November 17th, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    Sitting and waiting for things to play out? Ugh, so hard!

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