Do You Know How Much Is Enough?

Expert Author Susan Leigh
I'm sure we've all been to events of one kind or another where immediately the buffet is served one group of people jump up and start filling their plates to the brim, without any thought or consideration for niceties, other guests, or restraint.
In those situations there's a reasonable chance that if we don't quickly follow we'll be left hungry, as they'll often revisit several times to restock. The concept of 'enough' or 'too much' doesn't appear to enter their thoughts.
Then there are those people who always say 'yes' to whatever is asked of them, whether it be requests from work or to attend to the needs of family or friends. They never say 'no', are always available and yet are often tired, stressed out, and left with little time for themselves. It may be their personal preference as they thrive on being busy, would despair if they had time on their hands; but how much is enough to ask of someone?
Should we be psychic and intuitively pick up on the limits of another person's capacity to cope, or instead let good manners prevail, where we put ourselves in their shoes, assume when they're doing too much and second-guess their motivation? Giving money, time and effort to others can be an unremitting commitment, but if the person doing the giving says 'yes' why shouldn't we take them at their word? After all, they're an adult, it's their choice to say yes. It's their responsibility to vocalise what they want or need.
It may be, in fact, that they're genuinely happy to be involved and love being constantly on the go. Busyness may be a life-saver for them. Our insightfulness may be all well and good, but none of us can truly appreciate the workings of someone else's life or mind, or know when they're reaching their limits.
They may revel in being valuable and useful, define themselves through their service to others. Granted, they may have issues that need to be dealt with at some point, past experiences and insecurities that colour their confidence and outlook on life, but being busy can provide a buffer to life, giving time and distance for healing and readjustment. It can be a valuable alternative to seeing a therapist or doctor.
Boundaries are an important way of introducing two-way respect and pre-determining how much is enough. Both sides understand and appreciate that give and take should alternate, not be all one-way. There can be times in a relationship when one person wants or needs additional support, and that may be fine and offered with love. Family, financial, work, or health situations may be draining or stressful for them and support can be essential in order for them to continue managing and coping.
At another time the situation may reverse and it then becomes important to alternate the role of supporter, to reciprocate and give time, attention, advice, love or input where needed. There may not be a balance sheet which reconciles each person's contribution, but at the end of the day give and take often work out evenly distributed.
As a therapist, working in a caring profession means being aware of not over-stepping the mark and being pristine about boundaries. It's important to demonstrate care, interest and support, often through active listening and tailoring each piece of therapeutic work to be the most beneficial for each client session.
We must also recognise that our role is to provide a framework for the client to address their own particular issues, whilst refraining from becoming overly involved. No one can fully appreciate the layers that have contributed to each person's experience, how their different challenges have affected them, how emotionally invested they are in their situation. It's for them to discover what they need to work through to be able to move on from where they're at. That's why a therapist or adviser's role is to step back and encourage answers to questions like, 'what needs to happen for you to move forward from this?'
Answering 'how much is enough' is paying attention to how we personally feel, how much we're giving and taking, being aware of others but also checking that we're continuing to feel good about our input. Just as with the buffet, it's important to recognise that we don't exist in isolation. There are ongoing people and situations around us. No one is an island and just because some people don't push to the front of the queue doesn't necessarily mean that they're not hungry or in need of sustenance too.
Yes, it's their responsibility to take care of themselves and ask for what they want but being less self-absorbed and a little more alert to other peoples' presence allows everyone to have enough and enjoy their share of what's available.

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