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Updated 02 July 2013

10 signs that you may be a sucker

You're running around in circles - for everyone else, except yourself. And when those grim little tasks are handed out, they always seem to come your way. Could you be a sucker?

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Today you hardly had time to comb your hair. Let alone grab a sandwich on the run. You've been carting your neighbour's kids around, did duty at the school bazaar and went and did shopping for your elderly aunt.

In fact, you're completely exhausted doing millions of things for other people – and then you go home to pick up after your family members.

You think it is all very admirable, but could it be that you have difficulty saying no to others? That you are scared they might not like you if you don't play the doormat?

Maybe your behaviour is not that admirable, because by doing things for others they should be doing for themselves, you could be trying to exert control over them, according to Robin Norwood in her book titled, Women who love too much.

"You could be helping others in an effort to make them love you and you could be driven by a fear of rejection," says Norwood. "Being needed makes you feel worthy."

It could be time to learn to say no to others' demands and to stop getting involved in what should be other people's responsibilities and to learn to take care of yourself.

What are the signs that others (family, partners, friends, colleagues) could be using you and that you are allowing it to happen?

Wiped out. You are so tired, you feel as if your eyelids need to be reintroduced to each other. All the people in your life make demands on you, and you are trying to please everyone. That's why you have no time to look after yourself. Everyone else's needs are in the queue before your own. You need to start looking after yourself before you collapse in the sand like an overloaded camel. And a lot can be learnt from this animal – it will not get up or go anywhere unless the load is lightened. Maybe it's time to do the same?

Choosing partners with problems. Your last three partners all had alcohol or drug problems, couldn't keep a job, cheated on you and owed you thousands by the time the relationship ended. You provided a roof over their heads and food on the table – and the added bonus of taking responsibility for whatever was wrong in their lives. And you tried so hard to make them change, you almost went under in the process. But, unfortunately, it's a bit like drinking water when your neighbour is thirsty – your effort won't solve their problems. And focusing on someone else means there is no time or energy left for yourself and your own life. You get no Brownie points for being a rescuer. In fact, you probably lose some.

Out of pocket. The waitress has brought the bill, but your dining companion suddenly discovers their wallet is at home. So, even though it's the last week of the month, this meal is on you, and it's not the first time this happens. She still owes you money from last time you ate out. And now that you think about it, your brother still owes you R500 and your housemates still have not settled last month's electricity and phone bills with you. Could it be that you are a sucker for a sob story and that you're being taken for a ride? It's time to stand on your rights and insist on being paid back. If you let it slide, next month the amount you're being owed will simply increase.

Domestic doormat. It's 11 p.m. and you're still ironing, while the rest of the household is asleep. In fact, one of them has just come to complain that the hissing of the steam iron is keeping him awake. You came home from your full-time job, cooked supper, did two loads of washing, washed up and now it's you and the ironing board. What did the rest of the household do with their evening? Watched TV, went to the pub, played computer games? It's time for a duty roster – and if it's not your turn to wash up, don't do it. Remember the oldest trick in the book is for children, housemates and spouses to pretend not to be able to do something properly, in the hope that you'll take over. Don't fall for it.

Last-minute rescuer. Your child has to do a project on volcanoes by tomorrow. He's known about it for three weeks, but did nothing about it. Now you are searching the Internet looking for pictures and information. Why make it your problem? If you are always prepared to sort out other people's crises at the last minute, will they ever learn to take responsibility for themselves and their own lives? The same goes for spouses – especially if they give you half an hour's notice that the boss is coming to dinner or that they're going on a business trip. If you pack that suitcase, you are asking for more of the same treatment – and you'll get it.

Psychosomatic illnesses. You get nervous headaches, you have constant diarrhoea, you suffer from anxiety and insomnia and your GP has been telling you for a year that you need a break. Your body is trying to tell you something – and that is that you're trying to do too much and it is not coping. Slow down and let others sort out their own problems. Right, the baby can't change his own nappy, but your 12-year-old can make a sandwich and take responsibility for practicing her music lesson and brushing her teeth. People will load you up with whatever you are prepared to accept responsibility for. And you're not doing them any favours.

No time on your own. You can't remember when last you were on your own – and that includes being in the bathroom. You are completely wiped out looking after everyone else's needs. There's no time for reading, seeing friends, going for a massage, going to the gym. The point is that other people will take as much of your time as you allow them to take. If you don't draw the line, they'll keep on pushing until you keel over. Make time for yourself and for your own activities – it will not only replenish you, but give others the opportunity to do a few things for themselves. You'd be doing them a favour.

Lying awake – about others.You tossed and turned last night until 4 p.m. worrying about your partner's drinking problem. The partner was lying fast asleep next to you. He/she doesn't need to lie awake about this problem, because you're doing it on his/her behalf. You're worrying about it, making suggestions about it, making excuses for it – in short, you're making it possible for your partner to continue in exactly the same way. Walk away from other people's problems – accept that they're the only ones who can solve them. That goes for your mom's smoking and your nephew's school performance as well. Be there for them by all means, but don't make the problem yours.

You can't say no. Your programme is already so full, but the school committee needs an extra pair of hands to help organise the carnival. You felt you couldn't say no, but hated yourself for giving in the minute you put the phone down. Ever thought of the fact that you might have been the fourteenth person they asked and everyone else thought of an excuse, except you? If you really can't do something, say so. People will respect you for it, because they'll know you mean it when you say yes the next time.

Office skivvy. At the office, you end up clearing the teacups, fetching new boxes of photocopying paper from the storeroom, volunteering for the unpopular shift and doing the jobs no one else particularly feels like doing. And this is not in your job description either. You've done your bit, now – leave the cups. Someone else will wash them eventually. The more skivvy work you are prepared to do, the more of it will come your way. And no one's really grateful – they probably just think you're a bit of a sucker. Scary thought, isn't it?

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated July 2011)

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