March 10, 2023

Overfunctioning: Doing for Others What They Can Do For Themselves

Are you an overfunctioner? How many times have you found yourself doing for others what they can and should do for themselves? We all too often carry burdens that aren’t ours to carry. Instead, they’re ours to manage, navigate, and equip others to carry for themselves.

In this episode, Jamie and Heather admit their overfunctioning tendencies and identify where they want to grow.

Check out the episode:

Overfunctioning Inventory

Overfunctioning exists on a continuum. In her book, The Emotionally Healthy Woman, Geri Scazzero provides an assessment to determine where you fall on that continuum. How many of the statements below do you identify with?

  1. I generally know the right way to do things.
  2. I move in quickly to advise or fix things lest they fall apart.
  3. I have difficult allowing others to struggle with their own problems.
  4. In the long run, it is simply easier to do things myself.
  5. I don’t trust others to do as good a job as I can.
  6. I often do what is asked of me, even if I’m overloaded.
  7. I don’t like to rock the boat, so I cover for other’s shortcomings.
  8. Other people describe me as “stable” and as always “having it together.”
  9. I don’t like asking for help, because I don’t want to be a burden.
  10. I like to be needed.


According to Scazzero, if you identified with three or more statements, you may be overfunctioning. If you identified with four to seven statements, you’re a moderate overfunctioner. And if you identified with eight or more, you’re in trouble! But don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Why Do We Overfunction?

When stressful situations arise, everyone has a natural response. For many people, the fastest way to assuage stress and anxiety for others and themselves is to take control of the situation.

Overfunctioning is doing for others what they can and should do for themselves.

Oftentimes, overfunctioning tendencies are learned from your family of origin, either from modeled behavior or from the need to overcompensate for an underfunctioning parent.

It can feel like an act of love to step in and take charge in certain areas: Because I care about you, I’m going to do this for you.

Or maybe it’s the drive to be perceived well. Comparison can play a huge role.  For example, you may feel pressure do to things for your kids that you see other parents doing for fear of being viewed as a “bad” parent.

You May Be Hurting More Than You’re Helping.

Whatever the reason you find yourself overfunctioning in relationships, however altruistic your motives, when you step in and assume responsibility for something you don’t need to (particularly with your kids) you’re robbing them of the opportunity to build their own skills and learn from their own mistakes.

You’re also ultimately hurting yourself. You can only overfunction for so long before you reach the point of burn out and resentment from taking on too much mental and physical load. It’s not sustainable or healthy.

Geri Scazzero puts it this way: “When we overfunction in service to others, we often underfunction for ourselves. We lose sight of our own values, beliefs, and goals” (The Emotionally Healthy Woman).

So, how do you stop?

3 Steps to Stop Overfunctioning

1. Remember where your true value comes from.

Being busy is often glorified in our society. Therefore, if you’re busy, it means you’re being productive, you’re doing things, and you’re needed. But don’t give in to these lies!

Your values as a person does not lie in how much you do or how needed you are.

In fact, your value has nothing to do with what you do and everything to do with who you are in Christ. God says that He loved you before you were even born: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes” (Ephesians 1:4, NLT).

2. Set small goals.

Change won’t happen overnight. Reshaping your habits and relational dynamics is difficult. So be patient with yourself and set small, attainable goals.

Counselor Janice Williams recommends this:
“Before these changes are introduced, write down one change you would like to happen. Organise a time to have a conversation with your partner/child about why you want change to happen (yes, you will need to make this happen). Change is hard for most people and without this conversation, anxiety and disruption can increase.”

3. Stand firm.

The people benefitting from your overfunctioning might not react well to the new boundaries your setting in place: “Whenever we differentiate and give up our old ways of behaving and living, we can always expect a reaction from those close to us” (The Emotionally Healthy Woman).

Sometimes, the dishes might not get done the way you prefer (or done at all). Maybe your kid gets a bad grade on a spelling test because you didn’t track down the homework for them. Take a deep breath: it will be okay.

People will likely surprise you by how much they’re capable of when you step out of the way.

True love is not doing everything for someone, but setting healthy boundaries and empowering them to be the best version of themselves.

What’s a practical step that you can take today? It will be challenging to let go, but your own health and the health of your relationships will be better for it. We promise, there will be joy on the other side.


Check out our podcast on starting new habits:

Habits: how to break them and start them


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