My text message pings. It’s a friend complaining about her mum “I phone her every day and she moans at me for a good hour telling me how dreadful everything is, and then my brother rings and she hangs up on me. He never calls or drops round shopping but the minute she rings, she drops everything”
“Do you ever say anything? Do you tell her that’s not on?” I ask…
Throughout our lives we fall into patterns. Women in particular are trained to look after people and put other people’s needs before our own. From offering food and cups of tea (in the days when we could physically connect) to deflecting questions about how we are, the need to ensure that others are comfortable around us, that their needs are met first and foremost, has become so ingrained it feels natural. Particularly in a family dynamic.
We’ve all known friendships that take more than they give; that feel utterly one-sided. The phone calls that drain us. The mates or family members who always want or need something (time, money, attention) and who we pander to because it feels easier than dealing with the fallout of confrontation or simply changing the pattern.
No wonder so many of us are knackered. Spending our days running around meeting everyone else’s needs at the expense of our own. Whether it’s always being responsible for the house because your partner’s work is far “too important” to be distracted by everyday tasks and they huff and puff if asked, or the kids that never clear up because they “have homework”, or the toxic mate who feels so much better when she dumps all her emotional baggage on you.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why? Why their work is so important that they get excused from the responsibilities of daily life? Why your kids can’t learn responsibility or to juggle tasks like us? Why your mate can’t learn to regulate her own emotions? Or more to the point, why it’s more important that she feels better than you do?
Setting boundaries is hard. Breaking life-long patterns not only upsets others, but it feels uncomfortable. We question ourselves – are we expecting too much? Are we being needy? Are we betraying those we love? Who are we to demand more?
And if setting boundaries is hard, maintaining them (at least in the beginning) is even harder. After the initial shock and discomfort, others will test whether you really mean it , chipping away and wearing you down– and the desire to relent, to slip back into what we know can feel compulsive.
And yet if we don’t demand for ourselves, we live a half life. Constantly exhausted, rarely smiling let alone experiencing honest to goodness belly-laughs, desires pushed down so far we can’t even remember what they felt like, maybe numbed with alcohol or food. Resentment simmering under the surface. A martyr complex peeping out.
Is that really want you want for yourself?
And if you find it hard to do for yourself, then think about your children. Are you really doing them a service if you constantly put them first or drop everything to meet their whims? What’s going to happen when they leave home? How are they going to cope in their friendships, relationships or at work? What happens when their partner refuses to pander in the way that you do?
And more to the point, what example are you setting them? What are you modelling for them? Have you really put in all this effort so that they give it all up and sacrifice their own health wellbeing when they have kids? And if not, why are you teaching them that’s what good people do?
Self-love means just this: Listening to our own feelings and deciding that they’re worth defending as much as anyone else’s. Understanding that whilst it’s important to be respectful of other people’s emotions, their happiness and wellbeing shouldn’t always be at the cost of our own. And then making that choice again and again until it becomes second nature (or until people just stop asking)
So this Valentine’s day, in between the indulgent praline chocolate mousses, kitsch cards and over-priced flowers, take a moment to reflect on what loving yourself might really look like…
It may not be easy, and it won’t always be pleasant… but it will definitely be worth it.