Recovering from Over-Doing

Two years ago, in a The Seeker’s Dungeon prompt, Sreejit asked us to fill in the blank in this sentence: “I am a Recovering _________.” There was no doubt in my mind what my behavior would be. If I was at a 12 Step meeting, I would say: “Hi! I am Karuna, and I am a recovering over-doer.”

As I thought about how I would present this topic, I decided to create a new mental health disorder. My fictitious disorder is called “Being versus Doing Disorder.”

The “Being vs Doing disorder” is on a continuum where the center, a balance between being and doing, is the healthy portion of the continuum. The more someone moves to either end of the continuum, the more likely it is they will have dysfunction in their lives.

When I think of the over-being end of the continuum I think of non-productivity, passivity, and lack of motivation. I don’t know as much about that part of the spectrum since I have almost no personal experience there. I have seen it at work in some of my psychotherapy clients and friends though.

Over-doing has many facets. It commonly begins in childhood when the only or main way to get positive attention from parents is to do impressive things. It also develops when parents criticize their children anytime they are relaxing or are doing things the parents consider nonproductive.

As a result, adults with an over-doing disorder may be seeking validation and praise for what they accomplish. An over-doer is also likely to be a rescuer. As such, they do things they aren’t asked to do and are likely to do things they don’t want to do. In addition, they do more than their share of the work that needs to be done and do things for other people that they could do for themselves. Those with this “disorder’ are likely to over-commit and seem incapable of being still.

Over-doing has been a major characteristic of my adult life. At one point, I was raising two children, working three jobs, doing my personal therapy and studying for a PhD. During my therapy, I realized I didn’t want a PhD, I was just seeking attention from the father, who had disowned me. I stopped my schooling but was still overdoing. Before long, I began to experience extreme exhaustion and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

With CFS, I was in survival mode and it was impossible for me to do as much as I had been doing, although I still tried to. When it began dissipating after five years, I went back to over doing. There is no doubt that a part of me believed it was only acceptable for me to stop if I was sick. Eventually I developed high blood pressure and other physical problems.

I reached a point where I had to cut back on all of my commitments. Nowadays, I am putting my emphasis on doing the things I want to do, and am saying no to many requests. I still have trouble with “simply being” but I no longer am into major over-doing. I hope some day I will be much closer to the center of the being-doing continuum.

At one point, I realized a behavior that really fueled my over-doing disorder was the desire to be “in the know.” That put me in the place of being asked for information that I didn’t want to share, which then created stress, whether I shared it or not. As I continue to slow down, I am finding myself holder of less information. I am loving responding to requests with “I’m not in that loop anymore. You will have to ask someone else.”

I learned many skills during my over-doing years. When friends of mine were in a life and death crises, I stepped in to help immediately. There is a time and place for those skills, but it takes discrimination to use them correctly. In that instance, I have no doubt that my choices were appropriate.

I am very committed to my recovery from over-doing. While I may find myself immersed in the old behaviors from time to time, I don’t think I will ever be drawn so deep into them again. I see what I am doing much sooner and and change course when needed.

In evaluating myself on the scale found in Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters, I find I am in generally in Chapter 4 or 5.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

Every time I walk around an invitation to over-do or avoid putting myself in the situation where I know I am going to be tempted, I consider my choice worthy of celebration! I am truly moving towards a life of balance.

Do you have a “Being vs Doing” disorder? Where do you fall on the continuum? How does it disrupt your life?

Photo Credit: Pixabay

This post was originally published on April 12, 2015

6 thoughts on “Recovering from Over-Doing

  1. I was just talking on the phone with my sister this morning about a similar kind of continuum that you describe between overdoing and passivity. She’s embarked on a very strict regimen of juicing and dietary restrictions in an attempt to deal with some serious medical issues. Although she’s committed to the regimen she’s realizing she has taken a very militaristic controlling judgmental approach to it and to compensate, she winds up breaking the protocol by binge eating and not juicing for 3 days. We talked about a book I’m reading about Carl Jung, and I was describing a dream Jung had about Freud, his mentor, which showed him that a part of him (Jung) recognized that he needed to honor his own insights and break from Freud. The dream depicted Freud as a kind of ridiculous figure, to compensate for Jung’s conscious attitude of putting Freud on a pedestal. I think our psyche aims at wholeness, and works to self-regulate one end of the spectrum by introducing the other end, for example attempt to self-regulate overachieving by becoming passive, depressed, or some other mechanism for balancing out the overachieving side, or seeing a figure as a clown to regulate an over-idealization of that figure.

    I was/am an overachiever who worked myself into the ground and am now compensating by doing very little in the external world….not a great way to balance things out, but at some point hopefully a happy medium of the right way to live will be found.

    Thanks for your honest and insightful post, Karuna.


    1. I think we often have to go to the other end of the continuum in order to learn the lesson and then eventually get to a middle position. I think I also that’s what my getting sick or having my back go out has done. When I ignored the lesson, the universe gave me additional reason to pay attention.

      When clients in my psychotherapy practice work on caretaking issues they often make a no caretaking contract. That is an example of going to the other end of the continuum for some period of time to break the unhealthy habitual behavior.


  2. Thank you so much for talking about this! I’m a constant over-doer who always feels that if I haven’t accomplished a bevy of things throughout the day than it was simply unproductive and that’s just not the case!

    Liked by 1 person

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