The following excerpt is taken from the new book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care, by Cheryl Richardson. It is published by Hay House (January 2009) and is available at all bookstores or online at www.amazon.com.
I hate being disappointed. For me, getting my hopes up and then having them dashed is and has always been a very difficult thing to take. That’s why when someone asks for a favor, my reflex is often to say yes when I’d really rather say no. Or I spend far too long devising a gracious excuse, only to end up feeling frustrated and resentful for having wasted so much of my time.
Not long after I started working with Thomas Leonard, he challenged me to do something that sent waves of anxiety coursing through my veins. He knew that I was too concerned with what people thought of me and that I was bending over backward to be liked. So, to help me get over my need to be a good girl, he suggested that I make one person angry every day for an entire month. His intention was to help me become desensitized to my fear of conflict and letting people down by confronting their anger, disappointment, or hurt feelings head-on. Just the thought of doing this made me sick to my stomach. And he knew it. But he (and eventually I) also knew that it was important. It helped me start caring less about what others think and more about what I think. My willingness to face this fear paved the way for a more honest and genuine way of life.
Most of us don’t like to hurt or disappoint our fellow men and women. It’s an uncomfortable thing to do. Some common reasons for this are:
- We don’t want to feel guilty.
- We don’t want to disappoint others because we know how bad it feels.
- We don’t have the language to let someone down with grace and love.
- Our fear of conflict and our desire to keep the peace keep us from telling the truth.
- We want people to like us and are uncomfortable when they don’t.
One of the harsh realities about practicing Extreme Self-Care is that you must learn to manage the anxiety that arises when other people are disappointed, angry, or hurt. And they will be. When you decide to break your pattern of self-sacrifice and deprivation, 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 difficult challenge for any sensitive, caring person. Why? Because you will, for instance, disappoint a friend when you decide not to babysit her kids. Or you’ll probably hurt your son’s feelings when you tell him that he has to walk to his friend’s house instead of always being chauffeured. Or you might anger your partner when you ask him to wash his own clothes. Because you’ll be changing the rules of the game, certain individuals won’t like it. But remember, if you want to live a meaningful life that also 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 and without regret.
How to Disappoint the Right Way
It’s amazing to see what some people will do to avoid hurting or disappointing others. My conversation with Barbara, a woman who called into my Internet radio show, illustrates this well.
Barbara was aware of her tendency to be a good girl, and even before she contacted 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 manager has worked hard to help me find a new position in a part of the country with a warmer climate, which is something I’ve wanted for a long time. But as I go through the interview process, it’s becoming clear that the job isn’t what I thought it would be, and I don’t think I’ll be happy. And here’s the crazy thing-believe it or not, I’m actually thinking about taking the job anyway. Because my manager has really gone out of his way to help me, I’d hate to let him down.
As outrageous as this story seems, I wasn’t surprised in the least. If you think about it, I’m sure you can recall times when you’ve done a similar thing. For example, even though everything inside of you screamed No! perhaps you agreed to take on a new client just because you didn’t want her to feel rejected. Or maybe you argued with your spouse about not having enough time together, and then you found yourself agreeing to run a fund-raiser for your child’s school that very day, simply because you wanted the other parents to know how committed you were. Every day people make critical decisions based on what others want, knowing on some level that they’re committing an act of self-betrayal. The role of the good girl (or boy) is a tough one to turn down.
So what happens when you start to let people down and they get upset? When you practice Extreme Self-Care there will be fallout, to be sure. In fact, you may lose some relationships that you thought were important to you. This is bound to happen, because if you tend to overgive, you’ve trained those in your life to expect it and they’ll question you once you stop. Remember that by making your needs a priority, you’re also changing the rules.
Don’t be surprised if someone close to you-a best friend, family member, or spouse-tries to reel you back in by making more demands or tempting you with guilt. When this happens, the worst thing you can do is give in, as that sends mixed messages and teaches others to doubt your word. Instead, you need to be honest, direct, and resolved to take care of yourself. Don’t overexplain, defend, or invite a debate about how you feel. The fewer words, the better.
This is why I emphasize having good support in place prior to starting the work outlined in this book. Left on your own to master the art of disappointment, it’s almost a given that you’ll let your guard down or lose some of your resolve. Don’t allow this to happen-enlist some help. You’ll need the assistance of those who are committed to their own Extreme Self-Care so that they can be your advocates as you take a stand for your life.
Having support makes it easier to tell and live your truth. For example, for years I’ve called upon friends, staff members, and colleagues to help me let people down. I’ve also asked for support both before and after a tough conversation. It’s now time to start being honest and direct, in a kind and loving way, with the people in your life so that you can stay focused on meeting your needs.