There is absolutely a difference between commitment and obligation. Obligation brings with it frustration, anger, resistance, attachment to outcome, and a quid pro quo (tit-for-tat) mentality. Commitment brings with it an intention of LOVE, joy, nourishment, and no attachment to outcome – just the opportunity to give, share, and receive with sheer gratitude. Our society breeds obligation and confuses and conflates obligation with commitment. They are far from the same.
Obligation is when when we show up, but resentment, frustration, anger, jealousy, spitefulness, and guilt, hurt, or pain are in tow. When we keep ourselves in obligation, we keep ourselves in tunnel vision – unaware of possibilities outside our narrow focus. We keep ourselves imprisoned when in obligation— shackled, tattered, exhausted, and depleted. We adhere ourselves to “should,“ “have to,“ and “I don’t have a choice.“ We dim our light and subdue our fire to embers that barely produce any heat at all. We play small when in obligation. We allow others voices to drowned out our own voice. We place ourselves second, third, fourth (or more) to other people. When in obligation we allow our world to close in on us. We set ourselves aside, not to be of service, and to eventually be forgotten. Obligation only serves the other. Obligation is not in integrity. Commitment serves all—including yourself.
Commitment is when we show up with joy, gratitude, excitement, desire, purpose, motivation, and kindness—and it’s done from a place of freedom. Commitment comes with an open heart and mind. It shows up to serve and be served. It says, “I really want to.” It shows up to share and be nourished. Commitment is a meaningful ‘yes,’ and a meaningful ‘no.’ It brings with it an energy of community, inclusion, respect, honesty, and shared experience. Commitment engages healthy boundaries, whereas obligation bulldozes them. While obligation stifles, commitment flourishes. In commitment we illuminate light and fan the embers of energy to create a healthy fire that fuels continued collaboration, growth, and forward movement. Commitment says, “I see you doing, giving, and sharing, and I want to be a part of that, I want to help how I can and I’m able.“ Commitment is in integrity.
Commitment never injects itself without permission, healthy boundaries, and continued communication. Commitment creates a win-win. Commitment is a statement and testament to and for LOVE, freedom, and gratitude. Commitment is a wonderful, profound, transformative, and shared experience. Commitment requires open and honest communication. Obligation knows no such thing. Commitment allows for collaboration, individuality, learning, and healthy-application of these things.
Commitment can turn into obligation when there is a lack of communication, integrity, respect, dignity, individuality, honesty, unrealistic or confusing expectations, LOVE, gratitude, joy, or sense of freedom. Obligation can sometimes turn back into a commitment, but only if the aforementioned things are engaged and it is in alignment with who you are at your core. If an obligation can never be a commitment, it must be excused from your life. You must pardon yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Obligation shackles and says, “you must,“ “you have to,“ “you should,“ “stay because X, Y, Z.“ Commitment allows you to freely and steadfastly be and do what calls to your heart and being. Commitment takes into consideration the highest good for all involved. It allows you to think for yourself and decide, “here’s why I want to stay,“ “here’s why I want to continue,” “this is why it’s meaningful,” “this is why it’s worth it,” or “this is how it nourishes me as well as them.”
Remember kindness does not keep a tally. Being kind is just a way of being and there is no debt. You are not obligated to pay that person back. You can show deep gratitude, make a kind gesture back (if you are able), or you can pay kindness forward. But, never do it out of obligation, only choose to commit to something that feels good, is realistic to accomplish, and doesn’t overwhelm or “drowned” you or anyone else.
Relationships, ultimately, are made up of deposits and withdrawals, but never about keeping a balance sheet. Deposits include energy given, gifts given, time given, experiences had, and LOVE shared. Check in with your relationships that feel like obligation and notice if this “joint account” is full solely because of you? Is that true or are your expectations out of alignment?
We can experience the shift of commitment to obligation in any type of relationship: spouse, partner, children, job, career, diet, exercise, religion, where you live, and more. If you have children, you have a commitment to them until they are an adult, and realize if you are feeling obligated to them as opposed to a commitment. If you feel obligated as opposed to committed to your child(ren), you need to check yourself and figure out where the commitment turned into an obligation. What values and/or boundaries are being bulldozed? Is there a partner, parent, teacher, clergy member, or family member projecting their stuff onto you and are you then in turn projecting that onto your children? It is imperative to heal yourself for a healthy relationship. If you feel obligated to friends, coworkers, family members— check in with yourself and notice why you are feeling obligated versus a commitment.
Check in with the areas of your life you feel a pull to obligation. How are you pushing yourself aside and denying yourself in these areas? In the areas you are feeling obligated, can healthy boundaries be set or the terms be reset for the sake of bringing a sense of gratitude, joy, and/or a deep sense of fulfillment so it can be transformed into a commitment?
Your commitment is first and foremost to your overall well-being. The healthier, happier, and more grateful you are, the better off the world around you will be. Notice when you refer to something as an obligation versus a commitment. What have you internalized about the experience? How are you “left wanting?” What parts of it are a total drag, very uncomfortable, tiresome, frustrating, and/or unbearable? What are your True responsibilities and what role do others play or need to play? Where would your time, efforts, and/or money be valued, appreciated, transformative, impactful, and feel good?
Manage your expectations, check in with your relationships, calibrate your commitments, and eliminate your obligations.
By Melissa Reese
Check out my books The Pursuit of Forgiveness 2.0 and The Pursuit of More.