4 Possible Motives for Taking On Too Much (and how to restore balance)

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness   (c)2017 Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

Last night, a friend said he feels like a heel because sometimes the injustice of this world is too much to process and he makes himself not care. He blames his lack of feeling on an apathy he is convinced must reside at his core.

My friend is not apathetic; he is overwhelmed. He feels powerless. He beats himself up for not experiencing what he has judged to be the correct reaction.

We are going to feel powerless when we are powerless. A key component to developing healthy, compassionate boundaries is to recognize what we can and cannot control. Hint:  we cannot control other people or external events. We can only hope to manage our reactions.

Motives are choices

If we find we are frustrated, burned-out, or emotionally or physically dysfunctional because we have said yes to solving an overwhelming number of dilemmas, we need change.

Today you can learn to recognize some unhelpful motives that keep us stuck in patterns of saying yes. Also you will read practical tools for adjusting your life’s balance.  Let’s use the following scenario to guide us.

You have left your job one afternoon  extra tired because you have much to accomplish in the few days left before you leave on vacation.

There are errands. Pick-up gifts for the nieces and nephews; drive Bobby to his play practice, and then go home – to wrap presents, grab a snack to share, and head out the door to the neighborhood holiday party. Don’t forget to pick up Bobby!

Then Tina calls. She wants to talk some more about her divorce, the unfairness of her husband’s lawyer, and maybe she will ask you for gasoline money. It’s always “gasoline” money, although you never really know. 

4 possible motives for taking on too much (and how to restore balance)

1. Taking on responsibility for someone else’s difficulty can lead to false guilt. Empathy is important. However, there’s a difference between feeling with and feeling as if.  If you carry someone’s pain as if it were yours, you will likely feel more trapped into trying to relieve or solve it. Healthy compassion feels with, but does not own.

It helps to name the owner of the problem and say it aloud. “That’s Liam’s job loss”, “It’s Sally’s depression.” In this case, “It’s Tina’s divorce, not mine.”

2. Have you ever said or heard someone say, “no one else is doing it so I have to?”  As a director of children’s ministries years ago, I used to carefully upkeep church bulletin boards. Later, after that position ended, the bulletin boards stayed stagnant.   Children’s ministries continued fine without anyone spending hours on bulletin boards.

Not everything we think must be done is our responsibility or even necessary. Consider before committing, “What is the worst possible result if I do not do this?” In Tina’s case, she may have to find someone new to lean on. She will when you are gone on vacation anyway. Let guilt go.

3. The term ‘people-pleasing’ is a misnomer. Fear of displeasing people is the actual motive behind this self-protective behavior. It is only by saying yes to everything that we feel safe.

For example, We fear displeasing Tina, so we give her $20 for the third time. We fear the neighbor’s unhappiness so we  offer to host the next party. We fear our nephews and nieces disappointment in us so we buy more gifts than is necessary. 

Seeking validation and a sense of worth by helping others is not wrong, just backwards. We all need appreciation and acceptance. Nevertheless, as a motive, it pushes us to too many yesses when that validation doesn’t come fast or often enough.

Look at and test the evidence. Are there people who say no and remain appreciated and loved? Yes. Name them. You see it is possible, so why not you? Say no to something small. Did you survive? Keep practicing until what you are saying yes to matches with your highest priorities.

4. Sadly, past trauma may have taught us  that we have no innate boundary rights. An unresolved history may leave us with internal condemnation.  Talking deeper issues out with a therapist is a reasonable investment for a lifetime of freedom.

Truth is, compassion leads us to want to help. It can seem odd that sometimes the most compassionate choices involve saying no, drawing boundaries, practicing self-care, or not trying to fix anything.

Not much in this world is going to change dramatically because we took the time to pray, think, and discuss before saying yes and committing. 

Today’s Helpful Word


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