What is the Cost to Me?

Posted by on February 13, 2014 in All Blog Posts, Codependency

What is the Cost to Me?

One of the Three Questions to Help End Codependency and Empower Yourself


In this article, I will be focusing on a method I use in my therapy practice to manage codependency called Three Questions to Help End Codependency. Giving help that has a big “cost” to ourselves is common and the following example illustrates how good people get into this difficult situation.

Imagine you are going about your day relishing a rare day off where your calendar is not already filled.  Then all of a sudden an unforeseen challenge happens so fast you don’t even realize it is coming.  Your niece calls.  As you pick up the call you can already hear the intensity, maybe even panic in her voice.  The details of the help she needs will vary but today it is a ride to a nearby town because she has an obligation there that cannot wait until tomorrow.  She tells you she hates to ask but could you give her a ride there and wait the 2 hours it will take for her appointment.  Can you drop her off at her boyfriend’s house afterward on the way back?

You cringe as you listen to her ask this question.  An inner conflict is born.  Internally you dread the disappointment she will feel almost as much as the guilt you will feel if you tell her no. You also don’t want to give up your leisurely day off.  To top it off, you slightly resent the fact that you are being put in this position by her failure to plan transportation or talk to you in advance.  It is not the first time this has happened.

This inner conflict as well as the key feelings of dread, guilt and resentment are the signals to pause and ask yourself “What is the cost to me?”  Let the answer be your guide to how to answer this question.  There are so many possible costs.  In this example the easiest to identify is the financial cost of gas money and wear and tear on the car.  However, there are other “costs” for giving this help?  I encourage you to look at the financial realm but also to expand to think of the cost in terms of your physical, emotional, and spiritual well being.  Consider all the ways you will be affected.  For example, it is easy to let yourself feel forced by your niece’s request and let your yes write a “blank check.”

A “blank check” contract is suddenly created when you hurry to say yes just to avoid the feelings, in this case dread, guilt and resentment, which triggered the internal conflict itself.  But can you really afford it?  Perhaps a long day of driving then sitting in the uncomfortable chairs waiting may result in days of physical pain from sitting stationary for that long and skipping the afternoon walk you had planned.  Or perhaps, you may predict that if you say yes you will be silent and sullen as you “help” by driving to the appointment.  Your nerves will be shot as you wait in the waiting room feeling more frustrated at your niece by the minute and, in all truth, angry at yourself for selling yourself out and giving up your coveted day off in the first place.

However, perhaps you are reluctant to give up your day off but really look forward to talking to your niece.  You suspect that by the time you drop her off at her boyfriend’s house you will feel energized and good about helping her despite the request for help being made at the last minute.  You make a plan to take a walk while she has her appointment and enjoy visiting the area she needs you to drive her to.  It will also feel good to help your lovable, somewhat scattered niece who really does work very hard and could use a favor.

Notice the two very different possible outcomes of this request for help.  The latter is a win-win that seems to ultimately add to both people’s lives.  The first example is a set up to let “helping” deplete you and probably leave you feeling worse than when you started.  If you pause ahead of time and ask yourself “What is the cost to me?” you may find that you are getting ready to pay more than you wish to or can safely afford (i.e. the blank check approach).  In order to value yourself you will need to work on the art of saying No when help is requested.  However, we can also find helping a win-win or simply neutral (no significant cost or resentment afterward) option.  In that case helping is altruistic and we can help without the set up of codependency.  Try it the next time you are asked for help and see how it works.  Ask yourself “What is the cost to me?” anytime you are asked for help and feel a mix of emotions that create an inner conflict.  Deciding if you can “afford” to give help ahead of time can prevent the bad deal of not realizing you are writing a “blank check” that will ultimately cost more than you can afford.

Alice Petty-Hannum is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Rosa, California.  She specializes in working with individuals and couples on issues such as codependency, addiction, trauma and relationship problems.  She can be reached at 707-495-5350 or check out her website at www.therapywithalice.com .


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