Are you an overfunctioner?


I recognize that I have been an overfunctioner for most of my life.  An overfunctioner is someone who takes increasing amounts of responsibility for the functioning of one or more other people. Unfortunately living this way led me to a time of burnout.

Many of us, especially those of us who are in a profession that involves caring for people, want to be sensitive to those times when others are in genuine need so we can respond.  Of course this is a wonderful thing to do but it is not always the best and most appropriate thing to do.

Why?  Because it is actually uncaring and inappropriate to function consistently for others when they can manage for themselves even if they want us to function for them and tell us we are “uncaring” if we don’t.

I have been an overfunctioner

This has been me for a long time. My relational style of leadership has led me to be an overfunctioner in a lot in people’s lives.

For many years I falsely believed that it was my responsibility as a pastor to “make people feel better” when they were having a personal difficulty.

The truth is though, my responsibility is to just be there and to express a sense of connection that I have with the person who is hurting.

It is not my job to take responsibility for other people’s feelings – it is only my job to show my concern and connection with them in the midst of their unhappiness.

I am learning not to be an overfunctioner

During the last number of years I have been learning to develop a new way of relating to and caring for people who have difficulties. I am working on not taking on other people’s jobs which they could do themselves (this one is still difficult for me).

I am learning to be less concerned about things others are responsible for that are not done “perfectly” or according to my standards (this does not mean that I don’t hold them accountable but it means that I allow them to use their God-given SHAPE).

I have also began to remove faulty expectations of myself.

I know that I still have a lot of growing to do but I also know that I have grown a lot in this area over the last number of years.

overfunctioner quote

How about you? Are you a overfunctioner? How has this affected your life?

Categories: Personal growth


  • Anonymous says:

    Okay…a question for you! I definitely see myself as an overfunctioner. I had never thought of it that way, because… people have accused me of being controlling. What is the difference between being a controller and an overfunctioner? Naturally, I would prefer to be labelled as an overfunctioner rather than a controller!

  • Kevin says:

    Good question! Unfortunately you may not like my answer. 🙂 I do see some similarities between being a overfunctioner and a controller and I see some differences.

    The similarities that I see are: feeling the need to be responsible for other peoples emotions, feeling the need to “rescue” people, tending to think we “know” what is best for others and often thinking we have better solutions for the dilemmas of others.

    The main difference I see would be motivation. The controller does these things to get what THEY want accomplished – generally without thinking of what is in the best interest of the person involved. The overfunctioner does these things because they genuinely think they are doing the other person good BUT in all reality they AREN’T.

    I think the line between a controller and an overfunctioner is too blurry to distinguish at times. Does this make sense?

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for clarifying this for me. What you said does make sense to me and unfortunately I do see myself in both catagories. It seems one goes along with the other. Believe it or not, I am trying to work on both. It is interesting that your blog topic showed up today. This past weekend God revealed to me that I was an overfunctioner, although I didn’t actually have a label for it yet. Yesterday, and this morning I have been working on correcting my tendencies to “do everything!” Time to start delegating! I love God’s timing!

  • Kevin says:

    Way to go! 🙂 These changes are not going to easy (too bad, eh?) but it is going to be VERY worthwhile! 🙂 I will be praying for you through this.

  • Anonymous says:

    Once again this brings about the problem of “extremes”. I agree, as you say… it is NOT our job to take responsibility for other people’s feelings – it is only our job to show our concern and connection with them in the midst of their unhappiness. I would add “sometimes it is … and sometimes it isn’t”.

    The problem arises when we try to balance this with the meaning behind scripture when it tells us to help others and not say, “Go and be well”.

  • Kevin says:

    Good point – I do struggle with “extremes.” 🙂 To me there is a HUGE difference between being responsible for someone else and showing concern for someone else. I can still show concern and love for someone without taking on their responsibilities. This is what we are called to do. This involves being differentiated enough to know where my responsibilities begin and end. There comes a point where we can become an enabler instead of being a real help.

    Does this make sense!

  • Trinity says:

    This is an excellent discussion. My husband and I are both Pastor’s and co-Pastor our church. We both have the tendency to try to do everything and often laugh saying it is our “OCD” kicking in.

    Thing is, when we allow that tendency to run amock, it inhibits the growth and security of others. It has taken much prayer and discipline on my part to “step back” and allow others to step up to the plate, even when it means they might not accomplish things as well as I would like or my husband for that matter.

    As I write this I am thinking about the need to take on humility and love compassionately…maybe i won’t demonstrate such a need to have all “my ducks in a row” 🙂


  • Hi Kevin. When I saw this title, I wasn’t sure what it meant. Thanks for the elucidation. I used to do a lot of this kind of activity, but I don’t do it much anymore. As I think about it, it seems that this behavior is kind of a passive-aggressive way of controlling other’s people behavior, as well as doing things for them they could do for themselves. It becomes our ‘job’ to make them happy or whatever it is that we think they should do. I haven’t had as much energy to meddle lately, and besides, I think people are too coddled nowadays. I really value my independence, but I don’t see that as something that the younger generation thinks much about. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  • I know this one! Seriously, another term for overfunctioning is “enabling” and that’s something I learned all about growing up with an alcoholic parent. It’s a tough habit to overcome – in fact I’m not sure that once it’s a part of you that you can ever fully overcome the urge to “make things better” for everyone else – but as you’ve learned the hard way learning to let go is essential for your own well being.

    • Yes it is!

      Thanks for sharing Marquita!

      • Steve Borgman says:

        Thank you, both to you, Kevin, and to you, Marquita, for providing some very helpful information for a talk I’m preparing to a community group on this very topic. Unfortunately, sometimes people take advantage of overfunctioners taking care of them so that they themselves don’t have to do the hard work of change in their own lives. In these cases, overfunctioners need to put the challenge back in that person’s court and make sure they really want to change.

  • Lady Bren says:

    I am really struggling with this even though I am just a stay at home mom. Not being responsible for how everyone manages through a difficult situation is hard for me yet at the same time absolutely depleting everything I have. While we are taking care of everyone else is leaves nothing for us to take care of ourself.
    Great article

    • It is such an easy trap to fall into and a hard one to get out of! The biggest thing is learning to maintain our own personal boundaries and helping others to learn theirs.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Aayna says:

    Hey Kevin,
    A brilliant post. Reading this post, I realized that even I am an overfunctioner. I always assume responsibilities because of the habit of assuming responsibility, even when it is not required on my part to do so. This creates a lot of troubles and pool of issues for me to handle. I have made the resolution this year, that I will restrain myself from becoming the overfunctioner. Thanks.

  • Fatima says:

    I could so relate to this and I used to think only I have the habit of taking up people’s tasks which they could do on their own but less efficiently. Thanks for the share.

  • Docent says:

    I am a recovering overfunctioner. Now the universe sends me many overfunctioners to watch.
    WOW! They get the exhaustion they deserve as I did. Glad that part of my life is winding down.
    Life is much sweeter allowing others to participate and not have the perfection driven obsession fueling me.

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