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A faux obligation is request or expectation styled as an obligation when it isn’t. They are duties and rules that aren’t actual rules that are treated as legitimate obligations which means that they’re things we’re feeling (or being told) that we’re supposed to do regardless of whether we want to or not.

What we feel obliged to be or do gives us a sense of where we feel duty bound and we are, due to the associations and expectations about family, most likely to feel our strongest sense of obligation with them. This will be a mix of what we feel are the rules, norms and expectations that we feel fit our image of family as well as messages that have been directly communicated or inferred about what we are obliged to be and do.

An obligation is where we feel morally or legally bound to do something. We can also feel a debt of gratitude and of course debt is linked to owing and when we owe, we are obliged to make repayments.

All TFM situations have an element of obligation that’s confusing the issue and causing both parties to be and do things that if they were in a non-family situation, they just wouldn’t.

Even putting aside tricky, we feel obliged with family even when we don’t know or like them. If a cousin we’ve never met asks to stay, we feel obliged to say yes because they’re family, but it’s highly unlikely that we’d feel obliged to allow a stranger to stay in our home. If the uncle that we dislike asks us to do a favour, we’ll feel obliged to but if that guy from uni who we’ve never gotten on with asks for a favour, we’ll find it easier to decline, unless of course we’re a pleaser.

Let’s face it – most of the things that we feel obliged to do, family or not, are not legal obligations so that means that when we feel obligated, we put ourselves in a bind because we feel as if the ‘house rules’ (read: family rules or even rules we’ve assumed) are principles about the “right way” in which to conduct ourselves. It becomes a question of us being right or wrong as opposed to whether we want to do something and whether what is being asked of or expected of us is fair and reasonable or indeed even right or our responsibility.

If we have been accepting the way that things are, including a person’s pattern of behaviour without question (or they’ve been saying that it’s how things are, then our sense of what is right and wrong and as a result, what we’re ‘supposed’ to do, is way off.

The trouble with obligation is it’s closely associated with ‘imposed’ (unwelcome) and also with negative consequences. When relationships are harmonious due to being mutually loving, respectful, trusting and caring, obligations don’t come into it because the people within them are aware of their rights and responsibilities, honouring their separateness and not feeling threatened by growth or a level of independence.

Where obligations start to come into things is when one or both parties don’t see each other as being distinct from the other and so, either feels responsible for the other person’s behaviour or, doesn’t feel responsible for their own feelings and behaviour and so expects others to fulfil duties to make them feel good or to certainly dispel any feelings that they’re uncomfortable with.

One will feel obliged to be and do certain things regardless of whether they’re actual obligations and one will feel entitled to certain things regardless of whether the parties involved are obliged to comply or not.

What we feel responsible for as opposed to what we are responsible will be far higher than it needs to be and will cause us to misappropriate our energies. The other problem with feeling responsible as opposed to being responsible (feelings aren’t facts) is that we will take responsibility for other people’s feelings and behaviour while forgetting our own.

Feeling obliged is not the same as being obliged.

With an Absentee, you are highly likely to feel obliged to be and do things to overcompensate for their lack of availability or their inability or unwillingness to be the person you wanted/want them to be. You might feel obliged to get him/her to be present and available, usually at the expense of your well-being and often, you feel obliged to forgive, forget, and press reset.

With a Follower, you feel obliged to show them the way and be more responsible, to be the rescuer, to be needed, to make them feel comfortable about what they’re doing so that they don’t feel insecure.

With an Obliger, you feel obliged to be obliged, treating guilt as a factual indicator of obligations or wrongdoing. You might feel obliged to be pleased or to be happy with things when you’re not and there are obligations around recognition and repayment for the ways in which they’re extending themselves.

With a Rebel, you feel obliged to try to turn a blind eye and to give them more chances for the sake of keeping the peace. You feel obliged to make one set of rules for them and a different set of rules for others or feel obliged to tip-toe around them so as not to set off a spate of rebellious and disruptive behaviour. You might even feel obliged to edit and shave down who you really are

With a Power Player, you feel obliged to be ruled, to take a lesser role, or to wrestle for power or play the game. There’s an obligation to take your place in what seems to be the ordained hierarchy, living your life to soothe this person’s ego at the expense of your well-being. You might feel obliged to live in fear of negative consequences or their reactions. You might even feel obliged to act as if their passive aggressive or aggressive behaviour is ‘OK’ and normal.

With an Upholder, you feel obliged to tow the line, to capitulate to their sense of fairness even if it doesn’t feel all that fair or even nice. You might feel obliged to keep appeasing them, to dim your light, to reassure them, to try to conceal who you are or what you’re doing or how things are out of fear of the fairness of it being question. Hell, you might even feel obliged to keep score too.

With a User, you feel obliged to give and do even when it’s unfair and unreasonable, to overlook your boundaries, to not make them look bad or make waves by saying no or calling them out on their behaviour.

Your situation is tricky in part because you’re assuming less rights and more responsibilities and the other party is assuming (or certainly enjoying) more rights and less responsibilities as a result. You can’t be autonomous (independent and self-governing) because instead, you are governed by your perception of that person’s feelings and rights, which affects what you perceive as your rights – your moral and legal entitlements.


  • Whether what you feel obliged to be or do is assumed or has been taught or imposed upon you, you don’t have to do any of these things.
  • Obligations are inadvertently used to prove our loyalty and some use them as way of emotionally blackmailing us into doing what they want, i.e. if you’re not doing this, you don’t care
  • Obligation is obligation and love is love – don’t conflate the two because love, along with care, trust and respect is not an imposition.
  • Loving your family or being part of family does not mean having no well-being or not having boundaries.
  • You have a moral obligation to ensure that you don’t be or do anything, especially on a habitual basis, that negatively impacts or even destroys your ability to treat you with love, care, trust and respect.
  • Each time you take responsibility for other people’s feelings and behaviour, you cannot take responsibility for your own.
  • There are ways of showing gratitude without it having to be a tricky situation. Saying thank you, showing kindness doesn’t equate to busting your boundaries.

Journaling PromptJOURNALING: What is the debt that on some level, you either think you owe or have certainly taken responsibility for paying it off? The obligations are putting you into being in debt to a loan shark territory because the debt is never repaid because the interest keeps ballooning. Why is it that you feel that you need to repay this person? Is this something you assumed, that they imposed, or a mix of the two? Can you acknowledge what is so imbalanced about the relationship? Why does this person have more rights but less responsibilities than you? What do they have a right to do that you don’t and why? Are your reasons factual? Explore your feelings. You might find that there’s old guilt lurking in the background – the Releasing Exercise is good for this.

TaskTASK: List what you feel are your obligations and start asking the question, which of these are actual moral and legal obligations? Which ones are faux ones? A  good litmus test for obligations is to ask you what you want to do versus what you feel obliged to do – when the two look similar, it’s a desire. When there’s a difference, that gap gives you a clue about where you’re doing things for the wrong reasons and this is where resentment comes from. Using the list from your journaling, differentiate between want versus obliged, obviously leaving out anything that you absolutely don’t want to do.

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