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Stop Overextending Yourself to Please Others: 6 Simple Tips

“Sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places.” ~Unknown

In a span of one month, my beloved little red Toyota catches on fire, burning to a molten blob; I land in the emergency room with a ruptured disc after lifting a child out of her wheelchair; and I try a do-it-yourself hair highlighting kit, which leaves me looking, well, think Phyllis Diller.

I feel confused. I have tried so hard to do all the right things. How could my life have gotten so off track?

I am in the grip of a disorder some people might call manic compression—trying to do everything perfectly in an attempt to please everyone around me. Some of my friends seem to be enjoying life, but I’m definitely not.

I flounder, looking for answers to this dilemma, without the vaguest inkling that I have created the situation. I call friends and bore them with my woeful tales of angst and doubt. I wake up every morning at 3:00 to wrestle with my pillow for an hour and then, as a last resort, drag my journal off the nightstand and into my lap.

Most of what I write in that diary is page after page of questions with the same themes: Why are these bad things happening? How can I stop feeling so befuddled? Will I ever sleep again?

You know how sometimes life sends little presents just when we need them. I was having lunch with a friend who was excited about sharing a story she had just read. She reached into her purse and pulled out a copy of Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters by Portia Nelson:

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in; it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it. 

V

I walk down another street.

As I read this concise story, I spotted my personal deep hole in the sidewalkthe habit of putting everyone else’s needs ahead of my own.

Because I had been so busy taking care of the real and imagined needs of the people in my life, I didn’t take time to do the proper maintenance on my Toyota. I injured my back because I felt overwhelmed, rushing to get to my next meeting, and didn’t stop to ask for help lifting the student.

I realized I was living in Chapter II. I had ignored the warning signs and fallen into my deep hole again.

A glimmer of hope started to flicker through my confusion. If I created this drama, there is a possibility that I can create something different, something less crazy-making.

Just maybe I can move on to Chapter IV and V where I walk around the deep hole or choose to walk a new path.

I began to wake up to the idea that I actually do have choices. I can make decisions based on my preferences and needs instead of a sense of obligation.

I have a choice about how I respond to others’ demands. A choice about how I react when the tsunami of items on my to-do list threatens to overwhelm me. A choice about saying, “yes” to one more volunteer project or saying “thanks, but not now.”

While I was wandering through the self-help section of the library, a book fell off the shelf and landed at my feet. I opened it to a random page and my eyes fell on the phrase: we’re all perfectly imperfect human beings.

I like the freedom inherent in this thought. If being imperfect is part of the definition of being human, maybe it’s okay for me to make mistakes and (oh, goodness!) disappoint someone!

I offer here a handful of strategies that helped me begin to put my needs first, with the hope that some of them will resonate for you.

Six simple secrets for embracing imperfection and honoring your needs:

1. Now thyself.

Follow these simple steps and, in one minute, you can get a tiny break from the pushy, critical voice in your head:

  • Find a place of solitude.
  • Sit down.
  • Place your legs in a relaxed but fixed position.
  • Sit up.
  • Set your alarm for exactly one minute.
  • Place your hands in a relaxed but fixed position.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Focus all your attention on your breathing.
  • When the alarm sounds, stop.

2. Stop ‘shoulding’ on yourself.

How often do you hear yourself saying the “S” word throughout the day? This is a clue to places you may be unconsciously putting demands for perfection on yourself or others.

3. Know the payoff.

Even the most damaging behaviors have a payoff. If you did not believe the behavior delivered some value to you, you would not do it. If you want to stop behaving in a certain way, you’ve got to stop “paying yourself off” for doing it.

4. Enlighten up.

You can play life full out and at the same time not take it, or yourself, too seriously.

5. Take your turn.

Be bold enough to reach for what will truly fill you up, without being unrealistic. Once you develop the resources and resolve to believe that you deserve what you want, you will be able to step up and claim it.

6. Get off the psycho path and onto the scenic path.

Most of us are conditioned to think things have to be hard to be worthwhile. We habitually choose the hardest method, the most difficult path. How would your life be different if you let yourself off the hook and chose the way that felt easier?

As I look back ten years to that dreadful month, I see that my struggle for perfection had left me exhausted, disgruntled, and confused.

I found the key to greater happiness was allowing myself to embrace my needs and put myself first. Once I started making friends with my perfectly imperfect self, I began to enjoy a sense of relief and calmness.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but putting my needs at the top of the list actually helps me be more present for other people. I’m much more likely to respond to their needs effectively instead of reacting in a way that makes things worse.

I’m grateful discover a way to live in the world where I feel I have a choice in each moment. I am waking up to the reality that I deserve nurturing and compassion from myself, even on a bad hair day. So do you.

Photo by Silentmind8

About Lee Sumner Irwin

Lee S. Irwin, Fountain of You expert, helps women look and feel 15 years younger so the rest of their life is the best of their life.A successful international coach, Lee is author of the book Play for Life and creator of the popular course Time Abundance for Women.Take Lee’s Energy Vampires Quiz atwww.leesirwin.com.

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