I’m an obliger and that needs to change

I recently realised that I’m an obliger. I also recently realised that this needs to change.

As I tend to do when I have a dawning realisation, I researched the term to determine if my understanding is correct. There are numerous definitions with the most common suggesting that an obliger is someone who performs a service or does a favour. This probably applies to most of us so a little more delving brought up the view of the author and podcaster Gretchen Rubin, who claims that obligers readily respond to external expectations, but not internal expectations. Rubin continues to state that obligers meet deadlines and follow through for bosses, colleagues, spouses, and so on – but don’t follow through on things they want to do for themselves. Obligers frequently misdiagnose their issues; because they can meet external expectations easily, they assume that laziness or self-sacrifice causes them not to meet their own internal expectations.

Whilst not perfectly summarising my situation, I can identify with much of this. I’m certainly not going to stop helping people or doing favours whenever it’s feasible to do so, though the problem hit home on one particular day recently when there was a lot of activity on Facebook and WhatsApp. The crux of my issue is that I have always felt obliged to react or respond to anything and everything. The two main examples are:

  • I’m a member of quite a few WhatsApp groups, all of them light-hearted in the main and usually consisting of the sharing of funny images / videos / posts. I’ve always felt obliged to react to anything new, even if it’s content I’ve already seen elsewhere (which happens frequently).
  • I log onto Facebook, supposedly for a brief minute or two to see if I’ve been tagged into anything, but spend longer scrolling through recent posts, primarily as I’m sub-consciously aware that there are a lot of people who I’m connected to whose content I usually respond to. I don’t want to offend by potentially missing a post or two and not responding, so I spend far too long scrolling through everything to ensure this doesn’t happen.

I’m unsure if this is a common view or if I’m on my own here. There are days when it’s fine – when there’s little content and I spend little time doing this. Then there are days when the phone constantly seems to ping; when there’s much to take in; when it takes time to get through it all, when I access Facebook and the number of notifications is well into double figures. On those days, it can all get a little overwhelming. It takes too much time to scroll through everything and ensure I’ve responded to everything. It can actually be quite stressful, especially when I know there are more important things I need to be spending my time on. Additionally, I know there are times when I actually contribute to some of this, certainly via WhatsApp. Sometimes, it’s difficult not to. But all this does need to change, to some degree.

So, from now on, please don’t take offence if I often comment / ‘like’ / or respond to your social media posts but haven’t done so for a number of days. Please don’t take offence if I’m in a WhatsApp group with you and I appear to contribute a little less frequently. Please don’t take offence if I appear to go quiet on social media for lengthier spells than normal. It’s nothing bad or personal. I’ll still be contributing, communicating and getting involved. It’s just that I’ve realised that I need to unplug from much of the ‘noise’ every now and again. I’m tired and a little weary right now. Work has been really busy lately and will likely continue to be so in the near future at least. I have much I need to do in my personal life yet haven’t done so to the extent I wanted to recently. I haven’t read anywhere near as many books as I wanted to this year, or written anywhere near as much as I’d planned at the start of the year (despite having had much more time than I’d anticipated in which to do so). Something has to give and part of that something is to be less of an obliger. To clarify though, I will always respond to direct messages / e-mails etc that warrant a response – that’s just common courtesy.

If this sounds like absolute nonsense, please just brush past this particular post. However, if any of this strikes a chord with you, please consider if you need to take similar action. Do we really need to comment on every social media post we see, or respond to every single WhatsApp group post we receive? It can be tiring and it can have a negative effect on our lives. I recently watched the first half of the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, which explores the dangerous human impact of social networking. Of course, I didn’t have time to finish it and, whilst I’m reluctant to return to it for fear of it confirming everything I’ve written here (and more…), I will soon. Perhaps I’ll be so horrified by the conclusion, I’ll delete all my social media accounts and become a hermit. Highly unlikely but I’ve heard worrying things about what the documentary exposes…

As always, thanks for reading, take care and, perhaps more importantly than ever, don’t just look out for others but look out for yourself.

Best wishes.


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