Treat Yourself at Least as Well as you Treat Others
By Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT
Certified Life Strategies & Stress Management Coach
“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Caution: Today's message is probably more for my women readers than the gentlemen, but having said that, you guys would do well to read it and understand the issues that the women in your lives have with taking care of themselves. It will help you be a better partner, husband, dad, brother, etc., so read away, but be forewarned.
When we are children, we are taught that is bad to be selfish. It is bad to want to be first or to go first. It is bad to want the biggest piece of pie or the last cookie. It is bad, and YOU are bad if you engage in those behaviors; but worse, YOU are bad for even wanting to be first, go first or have the last piece of pie. It isn't just that we are taught to share...it is that we are taught that somehow taking care of our own needs first makes us BAD.
We don't analyze this message when we are 2 and 3 years old. We just know that we get the message or we suffer the consequences. We are punished in one way or another. We get the message and we learn that it is BAD to be first or go first, so we learn to step back and let others go ahead of us...always.
By the time we hit puberty, the messages double down, don't they? It's BAD if you are a girl and you let on that you are smart. The boys won't like you if you let them know that you are smarter than they are. It's BAD if you want to compete with the boys, and it's "unbecoming" if you let your feelings of superiority show too much with other girls, too.
And, unfortunately, it doesn't stop with middle school or high school or even college. The messages are abundant. "Know your place," "Don't expect too much," and "Wait your turn." Oh, and let's not forget one of my favorites..."Act like a lady" whatever that means. I was told by my college advisor my freshman year that he was glad I was transferring to a particular all women's school instead of some other schools that I might have chosen. The young women where I would be transferring "know how to be ladies," he assured me with a wink and nod. This came from a middle aged, balding, and somewhat pompous college professor who thought he was giving my college of choice a compliment. It wasn't until I blossomed into a fuller version of my feminist self that I actually realized that he was being sexist with his observation. But I digress.
It is a well known fact that by the time women reach adulthood, we have the message thoroughly ingrained in our psyches. Even if we consider ourselves "modern" or "feminist" or "independent" we are not free of that early conditioning, and so our default mode is to put everyone else's needs above our own. Our husband comes first until there are children and then the children come first. They HAVE to, right, because you certainly don't want to be a "bad mom" which is the worst kind of "bad" to be. You don't want to be a "bad wife," or a "bad friend" or a "bad daughter" or a "bad boss" and the list goes on and on.
My generation...the one that grew up the fifties and sixties got these messages loud and clear. And while I believe we mostly want a different experience for our daughters and their daughters, the messages are so thoroughly ingrained in our social messages that it is hard to see that we have made much progress. Just today, I ran across an article about the word "bossy" as it refers to girls and how some people would like to eliminate the term from the lexicon. Good luck with that, I am thinking. It's probably going to be a long time before we get rid of the subliminal messaging even if we were able to give up the word itself.
My message for today, then, is to be aware of the internal messages you are subjecting yourself to. Do you still believe (and therefore act on) the idea that going first, being first, and wanting the best for yourself is selfish and bad? If so, get rid of that thinking right now. The fact is that that kind of thinking is bad for you, and it could be causing you harm.
We each have a responsibility to ourselves as grown women (and men, too, if you are reading this) to take care of yourself FIRST. Remember the example of getting your own oxygen mask on before trying to take care of anyone else in the case of an airplane decompression? Well, the same logic applies here. It is an absolute necessity that you take care of your own needs first...ALL of your needs, be they physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual...instead of relying on anyone else to do it for you; and it is not up to you to provide for the needs of everyone in your life unless, of course, you are currently nurturing a new born in which case you do need to defer your needs for a while...but not indefinitely. As your child grows, so does his responsibility for taking care of her own needs instead of depending upon you.
There are many things you can do to help yourself take care of yourself, but the first step in believing that you can and that you should. That may mean exorcising some of the old messages that you adopted as a child. It is, in fact, normal for you to want to be first, go first, and have the best in life. It isn't selfish unless you knock yourself out to make sure that no one else ever gets to go first, be first, or have good stuff, too. There is enough good stuff to go around for everyone, however, so stop beating yourself up for wanting what you want. Treat yourself at least as well as you treat others. You will start to enjoy life more, and you will have more to share in the long run.