When you are torn, affected by the pain of someone who’s asked for too much

Yesterday I had a call from a dear friend who needed a little support feeling stuck between two unhappy choices.

A client of hers was feeling desperate and had made a request for something that would require her to bail them out from her own pocket.

And yet, she was unhappy at the thought of just saying “no” and abandoning someone in distress.

My friend had found herself in a state of immobilisation, for some weeks, inwardly refusing to make an awful “either, or” choice.

She didn’t want to abandon the other person’s needs, nor to forget her own but leaving it any longer would have been the same as saying ‘no”.

I bet you know this feeling

It’s a safe bet than any person reading this has experienced a dilemma about giving too much or not at all and if you are naturally quite sensitive, the more so.

If you are that little bit more sensitive than most, you’ll know how deeply other people’s needs register in your nervous system.

It seems like not giving to the other person when you see their pain would feel so bad inside you that it’s almost not an option.


This feeling exists whether or not you have sufficient resources to give in the way that’s hoped for.

Which is a challenge.

Compassion alert!

If you happen to be in one of those situations right now, please be very, very gentle with yourself.

Being torn between two unhappy options is so hard on the nervous system that it triggers an unpleasant compensatory response by default.

In other words, your being unable to make the choice (the stuckness/freezing/numbing out) is a natural response from a system that’s got taxed too much and is protecting itself from overwhelm.

How people try to help themselves

Some people’s defensive mode looks a little different: they get distracted and busy elsewhere, including busy thinking thoughts that argue for one or the other of the options.

Essentially though, the compensatory response points to the same truth: the human nervous system doesn’t do well in scenarios that are win-lose (or lose-lose).

We are wired for and our deepest wellbeing is connected with caring, collaborative action.

That’s true for everyone of course but people who feel and perceive what’s going on more acutely get affected by excluding someone’s wellbeing that much more strongly.

Is there some good news here?

Very good news in fact as my friend’s breakthrough will illustrate.

If you feel most sane with win-win solutions, you can and should orient yourself towards them.

The sensitive advantage is that your finding it so hard to live with win-lose or lose-lose options means that you are more motivated to look for win-wins.

And if you look, you will find, especially if you get a little support.

Support (not whether they are possible) is the issue with win-win solutions

Because even my friend, whose forte it is to seek win-win solutions, needed some moral support to think her way into seeing one on this occasion.

Such is the pressure (or as I like to call it: hypnosis) from the general culture, that we get in the spell of fearing that caring for everyone is not possible.

When we fall for the myth that there is not enough for everyone’s needs, we get stuck in the win-lose options and can’t see beyond them.

Because my friend LIVES by innovating in order to honour everyone’s needs, it only took her 15 minutes to have a breakthrough.

As we talked, she suddenly thought of an out of the box solution.

“Out of the box” is where win-win solutions are born

There appeared a third option my friend could offer her client which went beyond the original “either, or” dilemma.

What if she offered the person a free place next time she had a paid-for cancellation (which does happen and is usually covered by the cancellation insurance)?

There WAS a way to give to the client and not bleed her own resources in order to do so.

And the moral is…

The lesson from this story is that it’s possible to respond to someone who has asked for too much in a way that cares for them and you, rather than getting stuck in a painful dilemma about it.

Instead of having to cut off or cut someone out.


Because  we live in the culture that – more often than not – assumes you have to choose between your needs and another person’s needs, it often requires support to imagine a win-win solution.

Anyone could support you, as long as they can give you space to think out loud and will be present to you from the assumption that you can find such a solution.

Over to you

Are you facing a painful dilemma?

If you knew that a win-win solution is possible in this case, what needs would it meet for you?

And what bottom line would it respect for the other person?

If you long for a win-win solution with a persistent problem and can get to Stroud for a day, I have a new way I can help, called  A Mini Retreat for a Big Breakthrough.

It allows people to get away from their normal environment so they can find an out-of-the-box solution.

See how the retreat has helped people so far and if you are interested, you can 
book a short, free call to see if this is a good match for your dilemma.

I would be pleased to advise what I can.