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

Letting Go of Suffering- Week Fourteen: Making It Bigger


Dr. Ed Beckham, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center in Oklahoma City, once developed a series of tips to aid you in ruining your day.

      1. Plan twice as much as you can get accomplished.
      2. Don’t be flexible
        -demand others do everything your way
        -know it will be a catastrophe if you don’t get your way
        -view everyone who disagrees with you as an obstacle
      3. Worry about anything that can be worried about
        -think a lot about anything that is going wrong even if you can’t do anything about it
      4. Take things personally
        -think about how others aren’t treating you fairly
        -ruminate about how others don’t have the right to do what they do to you
        -brood about how you don’t deserve what is happening to you
      5. Don’t be humorous about anything
        -take everything very seriously
        -consider everything to be a life and death situation

(Source: Stimulate Your Stress, US Air Magazine, p. 10, July 1991.

Paradoxically, these same tips can be used to help you stop your suffering.

Your assignment this week is to make everything BIGGER:

        1. For 15 to 60 minutes a day
          -plan twice as much as you can get accomplished
          -don’t be flexible
          -worry about anything that can be worried about
          -take things personally
          -don’t be humorous about anything
        2. Pick a specific time period to complete the assignment, i.e. do not do “10 minutes here and 10 minutes there.” If possible, do the assignment the same time each day.
        3. Do NOT set yourself up
          -don’t do this assignment at work
          -do not do this assignment around people who are not supportive of you
          -let the people who will be around you when you are doing the assignment know what you are doing
        4. If you are tempted to suffer at any other time during the day, tell yourself that it is important for you to wait until the assigned time.
        5. Each day, after you complete your assignment, spend a few minutes journaling about your experience and about your day in general.

Day 1


Day 2


Day 3


Day 4


Day 5


Day 6


Day 7


See you next Monday for the fifteenth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published, click here.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Letting Go of Suffering- Week Thirteen: Holding Yourself Accountable


It is easier to make contracts than it is to keep them. For example, if you made a contract not to eat chocolate, how long would you be able to resist if there was a piece of chocolate on the table next to you?

One way to increase the likelihood that you will keep your contract is find ways to hold yourself accountable. In my psychotherapy groups, clients do “Accountability Work” whenever they break their contracts. The structure we use looks like this:

The contract I broke:

How I broke it:

The mistaken belief that caused me to break the contract:

One or two things that I will do to prevent myself from breaking the contract again:


Here are some examples:


Contract I broke: I won’t eat junk food.

How I broke it:  I ate a bag of cookies.

Mistaken belief that caused me to break it: My feelings are not okay. [Note: People often use overeating as a way to shove down their feelings.]

One or two things that I will do to prevent myself from breaking the contract again:
1) I will remove all of the junk food from my house.

2) When I crave junk food, I will call a friend and ask for support.



The contract I broke:  I will not work more than 50 hours per week.

How I broke it: I worked 65 hours last week.

The mistaken belief that caused me to break the contract: It is not okay for me to say “NO.” [Note: You can’t say NO to everything you don’t want to do, but many people with this belief develop an unhealthy pattern of saying YES to everything.]

One or two things that I will do to prevent myself from breaking the contract again:
1) I will let my friends know that I am going to practice saying NO and would like their help. If they agree to help me, I will ask them for something every day for two weeks. [Note: This will also give you practice in hearing “NO.” When I did this exercise I asked someone to pay for my graduate school tuition!]

2) I will say the mantra “My needs are important” 1000 times a day for twenty-one days.


If you find yourself breaking a contract regularly, you may find it helpful to add a consequence to the contract.

Example #1 

Contract: I will clean the kitchen before I go to bed.

How I broke it: I watched TV after dinner. I went to bed without cleaning the kitchen.

Consequence: For the 7 days, I will not watch TV until the kitchen is clean.


Example #2

Contract: I will exercise 3 times a week.

How I broke it: I did not exercise at all.

Consequence:  Any week I do not keep my exercise contract, I will pick up litter for 45 minutes. I complete this consequence within 5 days of breaking the contract.


The assignment for this week is to be accountable for your contracts. In the box below, write the two contracts you will focus on this week. They can be the same ones you worked on last week, or new ones.


Do accountability work any time you break one of your contracts:

The contract I broke:

How I broke it:

The mistaken belief that caused me to break the contract:

One or two things that I will do to prevent myself from breaking it again:


After completing your accountability work, ask yourself if you need to add a consequence to these contracts. If so what consequence will you set?

Consequence Contract 1:

Consequence Contract 2:


Each day this week, journal about your experience with contracts and holding yourself accountable.

Day 1


Day 2


Day 3


Day 4


Day 5


Day 6


Day 7



See you next Monday for the fourteenth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published, click here.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Letting Go of Suffering- Week 5: Why Do I Suffer? (continued)

Most likely, the reason you suffer as an adult is because suffering was an acceptable method of expressing your feelings, or more accurately, a method of “stuffing” your real feelings, in your family of origin. This week you will explore some of the childhood origins of your suffery behavior. Again, Levin’s Think Structure (Cycles of Power) will be used as the tool to help you organize your thinking.

(The Think Structure process is taught in the previous lesson.)

Example 1

Situation: As an adult, I have trouble saying “NO”. I will think about what happened when I said “NO” as a two-year-old and nine-year-old child.


Example 2

Situation: As an adult, I have trouble asking for what I want. I will think about what happened when I asked for what I wanted as an infant and a 14 year-old child.



When you explore how your adult behaviors relate to your childhood, it would be helpful for you to look at one behavior over a variety of ages. In each of the examples below I ask you to look at an issue for two different ages. Fill in the blanks to come up with your own think structures.

Practice Exercise 1


Practice Exercise 2


During the rest of the week, complete Think Structures for some of the adult behaviors you worked on in Practice Exercise 3 in the previous lesson. Explore two childhood ages for each Think Structure. (Ages that tend to be particularly good to reflect on are infant, 2, 5, 9, 14 and 17.)

You may need to change the way you described the adult behavior in Practice Exercise 3 in the previous lesson, so that it becomes a childhood behavior. For example, if your adult behavior was “leave work early”, the child behavior might be “do what I want to do.”


See you next Monday for the sixth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.


Letting Go of Suffering- Week 4: Why Do I Suffer?

The task for this week and the next will be to explore WHY you suffer, e.g. why you are suffering now as an adult and why you learned to suffer as a child. The primary tool you will use is Pam Levin’s “Think Structure” (Cycles of Power). This structure will help you 1) organize your thinking and 2) determine what motivates or drives the behaviors that lead you to suffering.


Example 1

Situation: I agreed to help a friend move to a new apartment and even though I didn’t want to do it. I feel mad that I am not spending my day doing what I want to do. This would not have happened if I had said “No” in the first place, but I was afraid to do that.


Example 2

Situation: I want to go to the movie but I am afraid that if I ask my friend to go, she will say “NO” to me, so I stay home alone.


Your turn! Think of recent times when you had trouble 1) saying “NO” and 2) asking for what you want. Fill in the practice exercises below. If you can’t think of recent incidents, use experiences from the past.

Practice Exercise 1


Practice Exercise 2


During the rest of the week, be aware of times you are suffering. Use the Think Structure to help you sort out what is going on for you.  If you have no incidents of suffering during the week, complete the structures from incidents in the past. If you have trouble identifying when you are suffering, use some of the behaviors you identified in Exercise 1 of Lesson 2. Complete at least three more Think Structures this week.

Practice Exercise 3


Feel free to share or ask for feedback on Think Structures that you come up with!

See you next Monday for the fifth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering: Week 3- What Would Your World Be Like If You Didn’t Suffer?

Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Many years ago, Pam Levin taught me that the first step in manifesting your vision is to have one.

The exercises for this week are devoted to imagining what your life would be like if you didn’t ruminate about the past, worry about the future or do the unhealthy behaviors that you know make you miserable.

Exercise 1

Identifying Your Vision

Take a few deep breaths. Focus on “breathing in relaxation” and “breathing out tension.” Let your body settle into the chair you are sitting on, or the bed or floor on which you are lying. As you begin to relax, let yourself imagine what your life would be if you were no longer immersed in suffering.

Let the images come and your new world develop. When you are ready, bring yourself back into the present and then answer the questions in this exercise. If you need to, close your eyes and go back into your new world to get the answer to a question.



Exercise 2

To make your vision become a part of your life, spend 10-30 minutes a day for the next five days putting yourself into a meditative state (through breathing slowly and allowing yourself to relax) and then experiencing your new world. Feel what it feels like to live there. Experience whatever you experience. Let your new life develop in your mind’s eye. Jot down some notes in the spaces below.


As you identify other components you would like to have in your new world, add them to your vision. Periodically, throughout your life, refer to the two exercises in this lesson to see where you are in creating that vision. Each time, see if there are areas you want to add, or parts you want to let go of. Decide which part of your vision you want to work on next. Don’t feed suffering by expecting your life to change all at once. You will create you vision one day, or even one step, at a time.

See you next Monday for the fourth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering: Week 2- The Beginning Continued

Exercise 1:

An important step in letting go of suffering is identifying the many ways we contribute to our suffering. I make myself suffer when I eat too much chocolate, when I agree to do things I don’t want to do, and when I over-think or over-do. What are the unhealthy behaviors  you do that bring suffering into your life?


Exercise 2

In the psychotherapy model I use, therapists differentiate between core feelings and racket feelings. Child words, i.e. mad, sad, scared and glad, are used to designate the core feelings. Rackets are substitute emotions that are used to cover (hide) the core-level feelings.  Racket feelings are much more likely to lead to suffering than experiencing and addressing the core feelings.

In our families of origin, some emotions might have been more acceptable than others. In my family it was okay to feel scared but not mad, so I learned to cover my mad with scare. The pattern became so pervasive in my life that there was a period of time when I needed to assume that I was mad whenever I felt scared. When I examined my scare, I usually discovered there was no danger present and that I was actually mad. So in this example, scare was the racket and mad was the core. Other people may cover their scare with mad.

While core feelings can become rackets, there are also many other kinds of racket feelings. Some common examples are disappointment, confusion, sarcasm, and guilt. Using the chart below, identify the racket feelings that you use as substitute emotions. If you identify any that are not on the chart, add them. This week, whenever you experience a racket feeling, see if you can identify the core feeling that lies underneath it.


Exercise 3

The more we can learn about our own suffering tendencies, the easier it will be to stay out of them. For example, if we tend to be miserable on holidays, then it is important to be proactive in making plans for those days, ones that will give us satisfaction and prevent suffering. In the chart below, identify factors that are part of your suffering profile. If you become aware of other factors during the week, or in the future, add them.



See you next Monday for the third lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.


Letting Go of Suffering: Week 1- The Beginning

You are probably reading this post because you have a desire to let go of your suffering. This course will consist of 17 lessons, each containing concepts or tools that can aid you in your endeavor. The content is based on a workbook I wrote in 1991. I will be posting a new lesson each Monday.

Suffering, as used in this course, is defined as “extended hurt.” It is “the persistence of painful feelings long after they were provoked.” (Judy Tatelbaum)  Letting go of suffering does not mean living a life void of challenges or pain; it means not getting stuck in the pain

People often think of suffering as being prolonged sadness. It can also be prolonged anger or fear. There is likely to be some degree of suffering present whenever we are holding on to the past or worrying about the future.

Suffering is also brought on by the unhealthy behaviors we do in the present, those behaviors that make us miserable.

Be gentle with yourself as you go through the course.  Let this be an opportunity for you to experience being successful without expecting yourself to be perfect.

During the first two weeks, you will be gathering information about yourself. You will also learn more about suffering and about letting go. As you complete the exercises, either print the post and write your answers directly on the exercise sheets, or just write your answers in a notebook.

Exercise 1

When you are suffering, it is often important to get help from others as you work to shift the energy. In the boxes below, or in your journal or notebook, write the names and phone numbers of people in your life who might be available when you need support.


Exercise 2

What scares you about letting go of your suffering? Write down any fears that come to your mind, whether they make sense to you or not.


Exercise 3


For the rest of this week, reflect on your answers to these three exercises. Consider journaling about the thoughts, feelings and/or insights that surface as you do that.


See you next Monday for the second lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering- New Series Announcement

Are you tired of holding on to the past or worrying about the future?

Have you had your fill of feeling like a victim?

Are you committed to stopping your self-defeating behaviors?

Starting on Monday, November 21, I will be posting one chapter a week (for 17 weeks) from the Letting Go of Suffering workbook I wrote in 1991. If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, this upcoming “course” may be instrumental in helping you to make those changes.

This course is meant to increase your understanding of why you are the way you are and to teach you some new behaviors that can facilitate your movement from suffering to joy. Among the areas that will be addressed are:

  • Identifying Your Vision
  • Discovering Your Suffering Profile
  • Stopping Passive Behavior and Critical Self Talk
  • Using Affirmations and Contracts to Heal
  • Holding Yourself Accountable

I look forward to the possibility of sharing this journey with you.

Letting Go of Suffering Series:

Letting Go of Suffering- New Series Announcement

Letting Go of Suffering- Week 1: The Beginning

You Are Enough Right Now



“You are enough right now, not after further, future achievements, but now, as you are.

Your wisdom is a valuable contribution to others right now, not after further study and life experience, but now, as it is.

You are worthy of respect and compassion right now, as you are, and not just because Brene Brown says so, but she does say so, and she seems like a nice person.

You are wonderfully lovable as you are right now, not at some future point when you’ve purged yourself of every human foible, but now, and not just because Mr. Rogers would say so, but you know he SO would.

You have the inalienable right to be flawed, ordinary, in your stuff, and off-track. These are fundamental to existence, and in no way subtract from any of the above.

Go forth and rock.”

by Fritz Reitz
Quote used with permission