Practicing the art of extreme self-care.
I HATE BEING disappointed. There’s nothing worse than getting your hopes up only to have them squelched when something doesn’t turn out the way you plan. And that’s precisely why I hate to disappoint others. Over the years I’ve watched myself go on autopilot when someone asks for a favor, saying “yes” when I know in my gut that I’d rather not do it. Or I’ve suffered, spending too much time trying to come up with a graceful way to let someone down so they wouldn’t feel hurt or angry at my “no.”
At our core, most of us hate to hurt or disappoint people. As a matter of fact, many avoid it like the plague. Here are a few reasons why:
- We want to avoid feeling guilty.
- We hate being disappointed or hurt ourselves and we want to spare others the emotional pain of that experience.
- We lack the language to say no with grace and love.
- We’re conflict phobic so we’ll do what it takes to keep the peace.
- We want people to like us.
One of the harsh realities about practicing Extreme Self Care is that you must learn to handle your anxiety when you end up having to disappoint people, hurt their feelings, or make them angry. And you will. When you decide to put an end to the cycle of deprivation in your life, you’ll need to start saying no, setting limits, and putting boundaries in place to protect your time, energy, and emotional needs. This poses a huge challenge for most caring individuals. Why? Because inevitably you’ll end up disappointing a friend when you decide, for example, to honor your need for a weekend off rather than agree to baby-sit her kids.
Or, there’s a good chance that you’ll hurt your teenager’s feelings when you tell him to walk to his friend’s house so you don’t have to chauffeur him around for the tenth time this month. And, you can rest assured that you will piss off a spouse who suddenly has to do his own laundry because you’ve decided that you’re no longer going to play house maid to everyone who lives under your roof. Trust me, you’ll be changing the rules of the game and some people won’t like it. But, remember this: If you want to live a meaningful life that makes a difference in the lives of others, you need to make a difference in your own life first. That way your motivation is pure. Feelings of discomfort, guilt, or fear are just part of the process of focusing on your own needs first.
It can be quite surprising to see the lengths we’ll go to avoid hurting or disappointing people. My conversation with Barbara, a woman who called into my “Coach on Call” radio show, was a good example. Barbara was aware of her tendency to be a Good Girl and by the time she shared this story with me, she knew exactly what was going on. “I’m about to commit the ultimate good girl act,” she admitted. “For the last six months, my boss of ten years has worked hard to line up a transfer to a new position in a warm part of the country – something I’ve wanted for a long time. But, as I go through the interview process it’s becoming clear to me that the job isn’t what I thought it would be and I’m starting to realize that I won’t be happy. Here’s the crazy thing. Believe it or not, I’m actually thinking about taking the job anyway because he’s really gone to bat for me and I hate to let him down.”
As outrageous as this story seems, I wasn’t surprised in the least. If you think about it long enough, I bet you could come up with your own examples. You agree to take a new client even though everything inside of you screams, “Warning! Warning!” because you don’t want him to feel rejected. Or, you have an argument with your spouse about not having enough time together only to find yourself agreeing to head up a fundraiser for your kid’s school that very night because you want the other parents to know how committed you are. Every day people make significant decisions based on what others want, knowing full well that on some level they’re committing an act of self-betrayal. The good girl (or good boy) habit is a tough one to put down.
So, what happens when you start to disappoint people or let them down? When it comes to practicing Extreme Self Care in the face of our relationships, there’s something you need to know: You may very well lose a few relationships in the process. Up until this point, if you have a tendency to over give, there’s a good chance that you’ve trained the people in your life to expect it. Now, by making your needs more of a priority, you’re changing the rules. Don’t be surprised if someone close to you – a best friend, a family member, or a spouse, tries to pull you back into the fold of compliance. And when this happens, the worst thing you can do is give in. When you do, you give mixed messages and you teach people not to trust your word. Instead you need to be honest, direct, and appropriately remorseful and that’s it. Don’t overexplain, defend or invite a debate about your decision. The fewer words the better.
Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times best-selling author of Take Time for Your Life, Life Makeovers, Stand Up for Your Life, and The Unmistakable Touch of Grace.