Anything that Can be Done Can be Overdone. How to Stop your Good Intentions from Going Bad

You can love too much. You can be too generous. You can be too helpful. You can try too hard. You can be too responsible. You can be too kind. You can work too much. You can be too considerate. You can give too much. You can be too loyal. You can be too truthful. You can over function. You can compromise too much. You can be too affectionate. You can sacrifice too much. And more. There are books written about this problem, Too Good for Your Own Good by Claudio Bebko and Jo-Ann Krestan, Too Nice for Your own Good by Duke Robinson.

All of these behaviors are positive – loving, generous, trying, responsible, kind, working, considerate, giving, loyalty, truthful, affectionate etc. There is a continuum along which these ways of being can be carried out and be positive- up to a point! Beyond that point they are counterproductive. Loving someone too much can be smothering and stifling for the loved one. Working too much can make you sick and less effective. Giving too much can make others feel obligated or uncomfortable in other ways. Being too truthful can impact relationships in negative ways. Helping too much can make others do less for themselves – it’s called enabling.

There is no manual that tells you where that point is – that point where what you’re doing turns from positive to ineffectual, or even harmful. To find that point you need to

Pay attention to how your behavior/attitude impacts others.

Mary’s daughter Melissa was shy, so Mary would help her by doing things for her that Melissa couldn’t or wouldn’t do for herself. Mary would talk to her teacher for her; she would phone her friends’ mothers to arrange playdates for her; she would talk to her friends for her; she would shop for her and take back items to the store for her; she would lie for her saying Melissa was sick when she wasn’t.

Mary saw her daughter withdrawing more and more. She realized that what she was doing was actually making Melissa’s shyness worse. So Mary changed what she was doing. She stopped doing things for her and started expressing her belief that Melissa could do things herself even though it was difficult. Sometimes Mary would role play how to handle situations and then let Melissa handle them, [or not handle them] herself. Melissa was angry with her mother for not doing things for her anymore. Mary found it hard to handle the pain of watching her daughter struggle. She did not like Melissa to be mad at her; she missed their close relationship.

Gradually, Melissa’s own desire to fit in and belong motivated her to try things herself. As she learned how to do things and got more practice doing them, she felt better about herself. Her increased confidence helped her to attempt more things. Even though she was angry with her mother, on some level she knew that what her mother was doing was in her own best interests.

If what you intend to make happen is not actually happening, either stop doing it, or change what you are doing so it does happen.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

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