It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by daily responsibilities, but if you throw caution to the wind and neglect even small obligations, it may be a sign of something more.
Your responsibilities are the things in life you’re held accountable for. They may be small duties, such as attending to your personal hygiene, or actions that impact the lives of others, such as preparing meals for your child.
Or perhaps you have trouble taking responsibility for mistakes or admitting when you’re wrong.
Some people might have told you that you’re irresponsible or immature.
If you have trouble accepting responsibility for wrongdoings or notice that you avoid taking on responsibility in your daily life, understanding the reason why this happens can help you learn to manage these behaviors.
Responsibility deficit disorder is not a clinical disorder recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).
Instead, it’s a term given to acknowledge a consistent type of shared experience where someone displays long-term patterns of irresponsible behavior.
“Trending topics such as ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ and ‘quiet quitting’ give language to shared experiences and provide a sense of meaning and validation when we’re able to say, ‘Yeah, me too!’ explains Kim Bielak, associate marriage and family therapist from Pasadena, California.
Living with a lack of responsibility that’s excessive and out of your control might not align with the formal criteria for any clinical diagnosis. But working with a mental health professional can help you determine whether it may be a symptom of a mental health condition and recommend strategies to help.
Lack of responsibility as a symptom
While responsibility deficit disorder is not considered a formal diagnosis, Raffaello Antonino, a counseling psychologist and senior lecturer in counseling psychology from London, notes that the behaviors may be a part of the symptomology of other DSM-5-TR mental health conditions, including:
What sets these formal conditions apart from a persistent pattern of irresponsibility is the presence of other, more prevalent symptoms.
Antonino explains that depression, for example, often presents with low energy levels and a lack of motivation that may come off as a lack of responsibility but may be the result of mood dysregulation.
Similarly, symptoms of antisocial personality disorder involve features of irresponsible behavior, but the underlying traits are a lack of remorse and empathy — a general disregard for others.
Little research exists into why an excessive pattern of irresponsibility occurs, but several factors may come into play.
According to Antonino, the dominance of certain personality traits, for example, might be one reason you may live with a lower sense of responsibility.
“Responsibility deficit is also likely related to low conscientiousness, which is a general personality trait,” he says. “We’re all more or less conscientious. But low conscientiousness is related to a general ‘take it easy’ stance toward life and potential avoidance of responsibilities.”
Bielak indicates that low responsibility may also be a response to anxiety.
She states that, more often than not, she witnesses behaviors such as avoidance, procrastination, and impulsivity as ways for people to avoid what makes them anxious or uncomfortable.
“Whether it’s fear of failure, a sense of impostor syndrome or inadequacy, or even resentment and dread related to a task at hand, people can come across as aloof, forgetful, or even dissociated when they unconsciously try to avoid things that cause them discomfort,” she says.
Bielak adds that this link to anxiety is solidified by the fact that someone may experience the opposite response in the face of anxiety — over-responsibility and micromanaging.
Narcissism as a cultural trait
Narcissism as a personality trait involves self-centered or entitled behavior that Dr. Thomas Plante, a licensed psychologist from Santa Clara, California, says has become more prevalent in modern culture.
“People too often think their troubles are due to the influence of others,” he states. “They see themselves as victims, and when they screw up, they’re quick to blame others.”
This entitled approach can take the responsibility off that person and shift the blame to someone else.
Low responsibility can be a trait of disorders such as antisocial personality disorder and depression, but recognized clinical disorders have defined diagnostic criteria that go beyond irresponsibility.
There’s no set pattern of behavior, but signs may include:
- financial irresponsibility (such as late paying bills or frivolous spending)
- rash decisions
- inability to meet deadlines
- habitual lateness
- lack of planning ahead
- a need for instant gratification activities
If irresponsibility is considered a symptom of another mental health condition, such as ASPD, it may be listed as a co-occurring condition.
“In other cases, responsibility deficit can be seen as a consequence of antisocial personality disorder, and that’s when the lack of responsibility has a more chaotic character,” explains Antonino. “People who have ASPD can be highly energetic and always into something, so much so that they impulsively delay or completely disregard their main responsibilities such as family, work, and education.”
Responsibility deficit disorder vs. Peter Pan syndrome
Responsibility deficit disorder is a term used to recognize persistent patterns of irresponsibility.
Peter Pan syndrome is another informal condition that contains elements of irresponsibility. But in this condition, research from 2007 indicates that the underlying factor is a fear of loneliness, which may cause someone to cling to childhood and the need to be cared for.
Holding yourself accountable isn’t always easy. To help improve a consistent pattern of irresponsibility, consider finding ways to reinforce responsible behaviors.
You may be more likely to hold true to responsibilities if something is on the line. Plante recommends setting boundaries as a good place to start.
Outside assistance with this may be required. You can ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable if you aren’t certain you’ll be able to do it yourself.
For example, you and your partner may decide not to indulge in date night if you spent more than that week’s budget.
Addressing underlying factors
Kara Nassour, a licensed professional counselor from Austin, Texas, suggests examining why you might find responsibility a challenge.
If there’s a real issue getting in your way, such as underdeveloped organizational skills, taking steps to improve in that area may make those responsibilities less stressful.
“Remember that being responsible is a collection of habits you can develop over time, not a trait you were born without,” she says.
If these behaviors stem from anxiety, developing management strategies may help.
- yoga and other free-flow movement formats
- sleep hygiene
- regular exercise
- grounding techniques
- deep breathing exercises
- limiting alcohol and caffeine
- whole foods and probiotics
You may find friends, family, and mechanical assistance can be helpful toward improving responsibility.
Friends and family can provide gentle reminders and transport help. Digital devices can be set with to-do lists and alerts.
Online bill pay can help you set up automatic payments.
Seeking professional guidance
“The best way to overcome this problem would be to start talking with a psychotherapist,” says Antonino. “CBT, thanks to its structure and focus on everyday issues, is perhaps the best approach to tackle low responsibility.”
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you set goals, monitor progress, and find which task management processes work best for you.
“Homework is often assigned to practice tasks in between sessions, then observing how the client is changing not only cognitively but also emotionally and behaviorally,” Antonino says.
Irresponsibility often impacts the lives of those close to the person displaying these behaviors. Missed obligations and lack of responsibility can leave an impression of disinterest or absence of care and consideration.
“If you or someone in your life has ongoing issues with responsibility, it’s important to come from a place of compassion,” reminds Bielak. “Just like ADHD, people’s behaviors often come from a much longer and complicated history than meets the eye, and actually make sense when put in context.”
Taking an active role
Understanding that your loved one may need assistance in managing responsibility can help you take an active role in helping them improve those behaviors.
You can offer to reach out with reminders, provide transport, or engage in the desired activity with them to encourage timeliness.
Setting your own boundaries
You can set your own boundaries for expected behavior — and stick to them.
Holding your loved one accountable can help them understand the positive and negative consequences of their actions.
Defining tasks and expectations can help keep someone on task. Step-by-step processes can provide a way to reach small, attainable goals that result in the final product.
Well-defined tasks can help take the uncertainty out of major obligations that can be a source of anxiety and apprehension.
Small goals can also help build a sense of accomplishment that rewards responsible behavior.
While responsibility deficit disorder isn’t a recognized clinical diagnosis in the DSM-5-RT, excessive responsibility deficit is real and is an experience shared by many others.
Anxiety, cultural norms, and personality traits may all play a role in these behaviors, and for some people, might be a symptom of an underlying mental health condition such as depression, ADHD, or ASPD.
Whether you or a loved one is living with an excessive responsibility deficit, establishing boundaries, accountability, and managing anxiety may help limit the impact on your life.