“It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority.” ~Mandy Hale
It sucks, doesn’t it?
People who ask too much of you?
People who steal your time and drain your energy.
Who just keep on attacking your natural defenses, abusing your loyalty and exploiting your love.
You want to stop giving, to say no! But frustratingly, when you try to pull away, they say or imply that you’re the selfish one.
And in some cases it’s unwanted or impractical to distance yourself from that person, especially if they’re a family member or even a partner.
But if you do give in to the barrage of persistent requests, the cumulative effect can be devastating to your emotional and physical well-being.
I know from personal experience.
A Lost Life
Oh dear, life turned out not so great for my mum, bless her. The more her life came unglued, the more she retreated into a space she felt comfortable in. With each setback, she stepped further back, refusing to take action, to accept responsibility.
It became noticeable when she stopped driving. Nothing had happened, no accident or near miss to cause anxiety, but driving meant she could accomplish tasks that needed doing, and that meant taking responsibility.
From an early age any errands beyond the village fell to me. Soon that became errands in the village—going to the bank or getting the washing machine repaired, and soon, more and more tasks in the house.
With every errand I ran, there were another two waiting.
Even back then I could see Mum was looking for attention. She fell into being needy to be assured that she was loved. But no matter how often I told her I loved her, those words weren’t enough.
When I left for university, it was to the closest campus to Mum, not to the best one for my future. And when I had to move further away from home to find work, the flood of requests never lessened. Moving out had felt callous enough, so I put up with the four-hour journey back and forth to home every few days without a word.
My life was dealing with hers, from my late teens to early thirties. And I took it on, willingly out of love but also unwittingly out of ignorance.
Hindsight really is a wonderful gift. After Mum passed away I looked back over so many years and saw that neither of us had lived our lives at all.
I wish I’d had the courage to explain to her that me doing all that she asked wasn’t filling any holes in her life. That I was missing out on living mine, yet it was solving nothing in hers. That way we both could have blossomed.
That is the most painful lesson I think I will ever learn.
But oh boy, I now recognize when someone is asking for too much. I still understand that constant or unreasonable demands are borne of the other person’s struggles. But I’ve mastered the tenets of a healthy relationship—reasonable limits and mutual respect. Without those two things, it’s unhealthy, detrimental, even damaging.
But saying no isn’t usually our happy place.
Maybe you’ve tried to be assertive and drew back because it felt uncomfortable, unfamiliar.
Take heart, you can seize your life back, and in many cases without confrontation.
And even in cases where a little confrontation is unavoidable, maybe with a family member, there are ways to not freak out so you still have somewhere to go for the holidays.
8 Ways To Take Your Life Back
1. Make peace with them.
When someone demands too much, it’s often a result of the fierceness of their own personal battles. If you try to put yourself in their shoes, in their head, sometimes you can reach an understanding that means your needs are still met and at the same time you feel that you’re not being selfish.
Your elderly mother or granny may keep asking you to run errands for her, and it might seem that many of them are unnecessary or she could do them herself. But she may just be lonely and seeking company.
If you can only find out what it is that’s eating her up inside, you may find a way to make peace with her and manage those demands sympathetically by offering a real solution, such as accompanying her to join a local friendship group… once or twice.
2. Identify the threat.
If someone tries to commandeer way too much of your time or energy in one go, then it’s easy to spot. However, they can also encroach upon your physical and mental resources little by little, almost imperceptibly.
When they make a request, even a seemingly small one, pause before replying. Ask yourself, “If I say ‘yes’ to this, where might it lead in the future?” It’s always easier to say no to the first request than later on, when people have come to expect you to say yes routinely.
If I’d been alert to Mum handing over tasks she could easily do, I could have helped support her in finding a way back into normal life without losing mine.
3. Set up an early warning system.
Identify your needs first. Work out which personal resources are critical to you achieving your physical and mental goals. Once you understand these, you can spot early on if someone is bombarding you with demands that will leave you low on reserves for your own life.
If you have worked out you need an hour to yourself each day to recuperate, then if someone asks you to commit to something that would eat into that essential you-time, you can politely but firmly say “I’m sorry, but that’s my only time in the day to recharge, I’m sure you understand.”
4. Secure your perimeter.
Set up a mental and, if needed, physical barrier to attacks on your personal resources. If they cannot reach you, they can’t invade your life.
Choose a separate ringtone for those demanding calls you need to leave unanswered. Put a sign on your bedroom or den door not to be disturbed. At work, be less available for unreasonable demands by leaving the building at lunchtime. For online intrusions, use social media blocking if you need to.
Always being available not only makes it harder for you to say no, it gives exactly the wrong message to those making demands. Always being there actually says “Pick me, I’m right here waiting.”
5. Think strategically.
Learn to evaluate all requests. Think about the consequences down the road if you keep giving of your time, energy, and emotion. Are you getting anything back or is it just a one sided-game of take and take again? Not all requests need to be give and take, but on balance if you find yourself always giving and rarely, if ever, receiving, then it’s time to say no.
In trying to help Mum, I gave her so much time and energy that she came to see it as expected. And finally she became reliant on me being available. If I’d looked ahead and set some limits, we both could have kept out independence and still enjoyed our relationship.
6. Find your allies.
If someone is forever expecting you to do their bidding, then it’s likely they are behaving this way to others you know, maybe family, friends, or co-workers. Get together and come up with a joint strategy for dealing with them and their persistent demands.
By delivering a joint and consistent message, you will help the person making demands to see their behavior is universally unacceptable. You can also draw strength and comfort from united allies.
Remember that though allies are helpful, they are far from essential. You can still communicate your own strong stance by choosing to confront an over-demanding person on your own. Just remember, be firm, be you.
7. Stand your ground.
Sometimes the only answer with people who are greedy for as much of you as they can grab is to face them head on and say no. Learning to stand up for yourself and refuse to bend to their will is essential to your self-esteem and self-preservation. There are many ways to say no without offending, although some people will take offense no matter what, so stand firm.
Refuse to meet unreasonable demands by being honest but kind. However uncomfortable it might feel, you’ll walk away knowing you let them down gently and held onto your self-respect.
8. Outmaneuver them.
If someone persistently lays claim to your time, energy, and emotion, then try reversing the flow. Ask them for as much or more than they are asking of you. This makes it harder for them to justify their requests if they are not reciprocating in equal measure.
If they are constantly asking you to run errands for them, ask them to run one for you. If they can’t for some reason, then request something that will take up an equal amount of their time. If they refuse, then ask, “But isn’t this the kind of thing you are asking me to do all the time? Do you think maybe it’s a little one-sided?”
Again ask the question politely, quietly and in your own words. The idea is not to antagonize them, but to get them to look at their own behavior towards you. And of course, remember to give your elderly granny a little leeway!
It’s Your Life—Take It Back
Giving up your life for anyone isn’t noble unless they are incapacitated. It isn’t healthy. It absolutely isn’t necessary.
Being the go-to person makes you the go-nowhere person. Your life is on hold, permanently.
And if this sounds harsh, I’m sorry, but forever putting yourself second doesn’t help anyone.
Aiding and abetting over-demanding behavior in others will never serve you or them. It will only perpetuate their own lack of self-reliance.
If I’d said no to Mum, she would have had every chance of making a fantastic second go of her life.
Don’t wait until hindsight tells you that you did it wrong.
Take your life back right now.
It’s your time.