Let Me Disappoint You

An excerpt from The Art of Extreme Self-Care

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time by Cheryl Richardson

“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.”

I had the pleasure of hearing Cheryl Richardson speak about her new book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care, at the You Can Heal Your Life event in New York City this past November. Her message was riveting and right on the mark. I went right out and purchased a copy of her book, which I’m enjoying in bite size pieces.

I was especially struck by a chapter entitled “Let Me Disappoint You.” Cheryl points out that in order to truly care for yourself, you’re going to have to say “no” to others more often! This is something that so many women have been socialized out of. And yet, saying “no” gets easier and easier to do as time goes on. More than that, it becomes downright fun as you strengthen your self-care muscles. I’ve asked Cheryl to share and excerpt from this stellar chapter.

One more thing. Most of us have been brought up to believe that cleaning up your room, decluttering, and balancing your checkbook are arduous tasks to be put off until the last minute. Cheryl turns this all around and motivates all of us by pointing out that these activities are, in fact, self-care. How refreshing. Believe me, this little turn around in your head can make a world of difference in how well you care for the only person whose life you can truly improve 100% of the time—your own!

I hope you will make 2009 the year you care for yourself at the deepest level yet. A copy of The Art of Extreme Self-Care will help you get started on this important journey. – C.N.

Let Me Disappoint You By Cheryl Richardson

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 my personal coach 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 over-give, 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 over-explain, 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 my book The Art of Extreme Self-Care. 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.

Here are some guidelines for staying on track and taking good care of yourself:

1. Buy some time. When someone makes a request of you, there are two things you should do. First, put space between the request and your answer. Before quickly responding, “Yes, I’m in!” take some time to consider the consequences of your response. Always say, “I’ll need to get back to you,” “I’ll need to sleep on it,” or “I need to check with someone before I commit” (even if that someone is you).

Second, let the person know up front that you may not be able to oblige. This makes it less personal. Statements such as “I’ve recently made a decision to limit the commitments I make, so I may not be able to do this” can take the pressure off should you decide that it’s not in your best interest. Preparing people early on for the possibility that you won’t be able to help them does something else as well. It encourages those who are asking for help to consider other options sooner rather than later.

2. Do a gut check. Once you’ve bought yourself some time, the next step is to check in to see if what’s being requested is something you’d really like to do. Ask yourself: “On a scale from 1 to 10, how much do I really want to do this?” The closer your answer is to a 10, the more you should consider saying yes. If you’re still not sure, ask yourself this: “If I knew this person wouldn’t be angry, disappointed, or upset, would I say no?”

Over the years I’ve discovered that those who have a tendency to put the needs of others first commonly make defensive decisions. Rather than think about what they want to do, they immediately worry about what others need and how they might respond to hearing no. But practicing Extreme Self-Care means thinking about what you need first. Would satisfying this request bring you joy, fulfillment, or pleasure? Is it something you’re not really thrilled to do, yet you know would support an important relationship? Let’s face it, there will always be times when you do things you’d rather not to be there for someone you love. Be certain, though, that you’re doing it to show love or to strengthen your connection, not out of guilt and obligation—a strategy that can actually backfire and drive a wedge between you and the one you care about.

3. Tell the truth directly—with grace and love. In all my years of coaching, I’ve learned that one of the main reasons why people struggle with disappointing others or saying no is because they lack the language to do so with grace and love. The moment I help someone craft a caring and respectful response, his or her courage soars.

Copyright 2009. Excerpted with permission from The Art of Extreme Self-Care, by Cheryl Richardson, Hay House 2009.

Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times best-selling author of Take Time for Your Life, Life Makeovers, Stand Up for Your Life, and The Unmistakable Touch of Grace. She leads a large Web community on her Web site, which is dedicated to helping people around the world improve their quality of life. To learn more about The Art of Extreme Self-Care, visit the Web site.


Last Updated: January 14, 2009

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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