Are you caught in a pattern of self sacrifice?

Modena ambulancePost inspired by Tracy's letter in comments.

When you push yourself to the breaking point to meet demands on your time and energy it’s time to both step back and step forward in new ways. The alternative is to collapse, an unacceptable outcome.
To restructure your situation you first need to make an assessment.  If you are pushing yourself to tend to others’ needs based on their need rather than your realistic abilities you are in a negative system than will ruin your health, finances, relationships, state of mind and general well being.  In other words, you will use yourself up. No eating disorder behaviors will release you from these consequences.

Think of an emergency room at a hospital.  An ambulance pulls up carrying a patient with a crushed chest, broken legs, punctured lung and bleeding abdomen.  She was in an automobile accident.

More than one person got her out of the tangle of steel and glass on the road.  More than one got her into the ambulance. More than one got her out of the ambulance and into the hospital.

Then a team of emergency room technicians, doctors and nurses wheel her to a treatment area, tend her and chatter on the communication lines to assemble needed specialists.  Perhaps they are on site.  Perhaps cars and planes are mobilized to bring the needed expertise to the patient ASAP.

Plus, all the while, nurses, doctors, maintenance people and hospital staff tend to the needs of the hospital as a whole to keep the organization functioning.

The needs of this patient are being addressed, but not by one person or even two or three.  Her needs would overwhelm their resources, abilities and stamina.

Now look at your situation with the emergency example in mind.  Is a team needed to do what you are attempting to do? Are you basing your decisions and your giving activities on needs of others that will overwhelm your life and all that is dear to you?  Are your caretaking activities causing your children to suffer, your job to falter, your own health to deteriorate?

If your answer is yes to any of the options then you need to step back. Do what you can, but only what you can. This may mean making some hard choices.  But you are making hard choices now as the consequences of your sacrifice become clearer to you. Others may step in to pick up what you are not doing. They may not. Or they may step in only when they are convinced that you will not, cannot keep up the caretaking pace you have set for yourself.

You need to tend to your own home, your own children, your own health, your own finances, your own state of mind.  You can give your extras if you wish, but not your essentials.

You are not being cruel or selfish. You are being realistic. You cannot give more than you can give.  If you try you and the life you care about will collapse. You must live within your own skin.  Step back from what drains you and step forward into living your own life well. The main emergency may be yours.

More to come on stepping forward.

*pix An ambulance and its crew in Modena, Italy.  Lots of trained people to handle an emergency here.  One person alone can't do the job.

  1. How does this self sacrificial thinking apply to you?
  2. What criticisms do you give yourself to keep you sacrificing?
  3. How do you justify giving to others when your own needs are unmet?
  4. Who and what are suffering because of your giving to others?
  5. What are the first steps to take to extricate yourself from this negative system?


0 # Managing external and internal demandsshh 2015-05-24 18:47

I think I have learned to stop giving so much of myself to others in what I call my 'external world' - it's still my natural reaction to say "yes" or "I'll help, tell me what you need me to do", only to find myself regretting it later but feeling like it's important I stay true to my word, so I have found ways of helping myself to deal with things, for example I often let my phone ring on to the voicemail even though I'm there and could answer it, because it allows me to find out why people want me and if it is to ask me do do something then it buys me the thinking space to figure out whether I really want to make that commitment before I speak to them; or I don't respond to group emails straight away, I wait and see if other people respond and offer to help, and then I can offer a part of myself, rather than all of myself. I have also learned that when I'm sitting listening to peoples' troubles and offering them a sympathetic ear, that it's okay for there to be a cut off point where I say "sorry, but I need to go in a few minutes" and steer things to a close - it not only means that I give up 40 mins of my day rather than 2 hours, it also seems to make them less dependent upon me in an ongoing way.

All the above is great, it has really helped me to feel more in control of my life, however where I struggle, is in what I call my 'internal world'. I still allow myself to feel like I need to be living up to other people's expectations, and what other people would think of me if they knew I still hadn't started or finished x, y or z, or that some rooms in my house aren't immaculately tidy, or that I can't afford to get the roof repaired, or that I chose to spend money on a vacation trip for my girls and myself rather than some cosmetic work on the outside of the house that could do with being done but is non-essential. It's those voices the ones that put pressure on me to be doing 101 things and get things finished ASAP, that tell me I'm useless and lazy when I don't - they're the ones I fight daily, that make every day a struggle unless I numb them out with ED behaviours. And it's like I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't - if I use my ED to numb it out, I spend my days engaging in ED behaviours and get nothing done, and if I don't I feel so overwhelmed by the enormity of what needs to be done, I just get paralysed by it, because it feels so huge and I've no idea where to start.

On a good day I can say "if other people think those things, so what, I don't care", I can look at the things I have achieved and feel proud of them, and most importantly I can think about the overwhelming list of things that needs doing and tell myself, just pick a couple of things, just commit 2 hours to this and 2 hours to that and it doesn't matter how far you get in those 2 hours, because gradually over a period of time those 2 hours will all stack up and you will get there. I know that for me, the key to coping is to break things into smaller tasks and to take the pressure off myself by reminding myself that every effort no matter how small is still a step closer to getting something done or finished. The hardest part is finding that positive outlook before I'm consumed by my ED or completely overwhelmed - some days I win, some days I lose.



0 # just saw thismylifex2 2015-06-01 21:48
Well. Things do become emergent if you don't self care. I recently hit an all time low with my depression. Everyone and everything has been put ahead of myself and my kids for so long that I reached a breaking point. I wasn't sleeping more than 2 hours a night. I was exhausted and frustrated with myself and found myself becoming very short with my kids. I found myself laying around whenever I wasnt doing for others. 

I developed an agitated depression - hypomanic, but exhausted at the same time. Pacing on the inside while feeling paralyzed on the outside. Totally not sticking to a healthy meal plan. Not managing my health issues. 

It all culminated in a brief moment of selfishness that could have had permanent consequences.  Thank God it didn't and I'm grasping at gratefulness to be here for my kids. 

I'm learning to set limits. Im learning that I cant be all things to all people. That my kids and my health (my life) are important and must come first. I struggle because I feel so needed and relied on by family- especially with my knowledge of mothers illness. She's not doing well at all. 

But my siblings are doing research and learning more about what is happening with her illness. My dad and I had a frank talk about how I feel stressed being the one with professional knowledge.

so I take it one day at a time. I'm spending quality time with my kids. Trying to sleep better. had that weekend beach trip I needed. Taking in some good Meditative thoughts. Practicing mindfulness. Utilizing people who are here for me instead of feeling bad asking for help.  

0 # Criticismsmylifex2 2015-06-02 18:32
in reading this again I wanted to comment on the inner voices that have kept me in the "giving and giving and giving" routine. I think that people with ED are especially prone to putting others needs above there own. So, why does it happen? For me its several reasons.

First, I don't feel my needs are as important as others. I am working on this by realizing that when I do this to myself, I'm also doing this to my kids. In realizing that their needs were being put second along with mine, I have been able to work through some of this. 

Second, I don't like disapproval. I don't like thinking someone is upset with me. That goes back a long way and has a lot to do with rarely being able to have my voice heard and keeping silent about my abuse. 

Intherapy I am working on ways to say no, especially when it comes to taking care of my needs. Trying to say no and not feel bad or "taking it back" takes work too. 

like I said. One day at a time.
0 # Tracyshh 2015-06-05 02:12

Hi Tracy, it's really good to see you back on here :-)

I'm really sorry to read that you've been having such a tough time with your depression, but feel so proud of you for being able to see that something had to change in the way that you put your own needs second best to everyone else's.

As you already know, we're not dissimilar in some of our ways and elements of our backgrounds, so I can relate to how natural it has become to you to feel like everyone else needs to have their needs taken care of before your own needs even our younger years it was key to our survival, but as an adult, whilst we don't particularly want to create bad feeling between ourselves and people we care about, we're not dependent upon them anymore for our survival, and we can actually cope without them if needs be ...and we need to remember that.

I've found that over time, a lot of people do start to come to terms and respect the changes you make, some don't, but then, they are the ones we probably need to protect ourselves from the most anyway, and so the benefits of limited or reduced contact usually outweigh the loss.

Stay strong Tracy - it's not an easy part of the journey, but it's definitely a worthwhile one! xxx


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