Take a package of three loaves of frozen Rhodes dough, set it on the counter overnight, and by morning the dough will rise enough to pop the package.

Plop the dough on the counter and pull it out until it makes a rectangle about 2 inches by 3 inches and you'll have the basic makings for cinnamon rolls.But what happens if you pull the dough out too far? You probably know you'll get holes in the dough. And when you try to patch one hole, often you just get another.

That's the way it is with many of today's women. They stretch too far, too often, too many ways, and they get holes.

Describing the "holes," one woman says: "Sometimes I feel like I've given so much of me so long that I don't even know who I am."

Says another: "I get to the place I can't feel my feelings. The things that used to give me pleasure don't anymore. I just find myself angry and frustrated all the time."

Women have been traditionally trained to be caretakers, to nurture, support and take care of all the people in their charge. The problem lies not in the caretaker role itself, which is a marvelous attribute of a woman - it is in trying to be all things to all people all the time.

Most women push themselves non-stop. They are, in a sense, "broom closet workaholics." They carry in their heads thousands of details that relate to the discharge of their roles and when they miss a detail, they assume the flaw is in themselves.

"I could get everything done if I just worked harder, slept less and organized more," laments one woman.

The flaw is not in the woman; the flaw is in a culture that gives non-stop "should" messages - "Are your glasses sparkling clean?" "Do you have baggy pantyhose?" "Does YOUR husband have ring-around-the collar?"

If you're a woman, visualize a rectangle in your mind and put in that rectangle all the energy, time and resources you have. There is nothing left of you outside that rectangle.

Also visualize the rectangle as having dotted rather than firm lines because you probably have very unclear boundaries.

One problem you may have is that you continue to say "yes" to everything without ever thinking whether you have the energy or resources to allocate to a request. You may also assume it is your job or duty to meet any contingency, no matter how far you have to stretch past your boundaries or how many holes you get.

Another problem is there isn't anyone saying "STOP! You've done enough. You can rest now." You'll never find anyone on the outside to give you that permission.

Further, your mind may be full of endless shoulds. "I should. . .

- have the whole house cleaned at once.

- fix a PROPER dinner every night.

- floss my children's teeth every day.

- always have my laundry caught up.

- never waste time.

- not spend money on myself.

The endless shoulds may be grating around in your mind like so many grits in a pore, also causing endless guilt festivals: "I'm (disorganized) (inadequate) (insensitive) (lazy) (terrible) (bad) because I didn't do. . . ."

Much of the time you may blame yourself - I failed; I didn't get the job done right; someone's unhappy; it's my fault.

But you know you couldn't be completely responsible all the time. Look at how hard you're working - how hard you're pushing - non-stop. You don't ever relax. You feel overburdened, unappreciated and overworked. It's not fair.

So it has to be someone else's fault. Look outside.

Who else is there to blame? How about the kids? - they never do what I ask.

- they're ungrateful.

- lazy.

- spoiled.

- they don't give me the respect I deserve.

And how about husbands? It must be their fault.

- He doesn't appreciate me.

- His socks are always on the floor.

- He's never home to take responsibility.

- I'm going under for the third time and he doesn't even notice.

The fact is, no one is at fault. There isn't a culprit.

And certainly you're not to blame. If you're like most women, you're putting out at the 95 percent level or more most of the time.

So what to do? First, give yourself the right to determine your own boundaries. No one else can be in charge. There is only so much of you and you have a right to preserve your resources for those tasks and people that you yourself prioritize - without defending your choices to anyone.

You also have a right to say no. Make two guidelines for yourself: (1) it's fair to delay a response while you think it over; and (2) don't say yes unless you can do so without resenting the person making a request.

Finally, you have an obligation to take care of yourself - to invest in youself, to take time to relax, and to take care of yourself as dutifully as you do those other people in your life whom you take care of so well. As one woman put it: "If you don't take care of yourself gracefully, you may end up someday taking care of yourself ungracefully."