I think a lot of us are conditioned from a very young age to take care of others before we take care of ourselves. As little girls, we are handed babydolls and little kitchenettes and before we lose our first tooth we become nurturers and teeny moms in training. For some of us we grew up seeing our mothers take care of all the children and have a hot meal on the table when dad walked in from work. For others Mom worked outside the home, came in and started cooking before she could even take off her shoes and relax.
Many of us grew up taking care of siblings and babysitting local kids. Girls are bred to be responsible at an early age. To sacrifice for the need and comfort of others. Many times its subliminal, in other families its very vocal.
I cant pin point when I became a nurturer. As far as I know servitude is my love language. It makes me happy to help and serve others. It makes me happy to feel needed and valuable. (According to the books I’ve been reading lately though some of this may be due to attachment trauma- very interesting) I love to volunteer. I speak to random strangers in the grocery store if they ask for a recommendation or I hear someone asking for directions. In my world, i want everyone to be comfortable.
What I have realized however, as I got older, is that often I sacrificed my own needs and comfort for the wants and needs of others. I minimized myself and would put things aside that I wanted to do because it obviously didn’t mean as much to me as it did the other person. This lead to me becoming a people pleaser, which added to my anxiety. I made myself into the martyr no one asked for.
This would bleed over into my relationships and be my detriment when I was in an emotionally abusive one. I would change who I was to please even if it was at the expense of my sanity. Even if it felt like I sold my soul.
As mothers, its natural to choose others before yourself. It starts the moment you find out you’re pregnant and the world revolves around the little bean in your belly. It dictates what food you like, how you sleep, moods and how your body moves. And you bend and mold yourself to accommodate this little buddy. When you get into the different seasons of parenting , you have traded in girls nights for baseball games, TV for homework, Hot dinners for cold ones. You put yourself last. I have friends who make sure their kids get bathed every night, but they themselves are so exhausted after giving all day, they cant bathe themselves.
And im not bashing motherhood. Dads give up a lot too. i love being a Mom. When i was younger i had sworn off parenthood and convinced myself that i wasnt going to have kids. Then life gave me a beautiful surprise. Since then i jumped in full force. Ive been room mom, I’ve chaperoned, Ive been team mom for all kinds of sports, on the PTA, ive cooked a million things, made a few costumes and posters. Ive driven to all the events, bought all the expenive artwork that my own kid drew. Ive worked two jobs to pay for camps and sports and shoes. And you know what? I’d do it all again. But in moderation and by pacing myself to make sure that I was taken care of first.
What im realizing now and its a little late, but better than never. Is that this way of thinking is so engrained in my head that it has bled over in a toxic way in my dating life. It had affectd my self esteem. I make sure that my partners needs come first, i people please and i back down from fights. (Alot of this is from trauma too) But a recent situation was what finally woke me up. The kick in the ass. The straw that broke the camels back.
I had been seeing a guy. Cool dude, very nice, never had a mean thing to say to me. I made sure I was accommodating- at times I held firm on some things but for the most part, my goal was to be Zen like. So that meant, settling for things that didn’t serve me. Not listening to my gut when it said “This isn’t how its supposed to be” . But rather than speaking up about my needs or concerns, I was afraid to rock the boat, so I went along with what ever was thrown my way. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t great. For example, deep down inside I am a cuddler. I love to touch and kiss and hug. The last few of my relationships and even how I grew up, they are not affectionate. Rather than make anyone uncomfortable, I would just sacrifice myself and go without. Even though it would physically hurt sometimes to not feel human touch for weeks. I was so desperate for attention and love that I accepted what ever breadcrumbs were thrown my way and tried to make a meal out of it. All to make others comfortable. It didn’t matter that I knew i was literally grabbing emotional scraps and trying to mold it into love. And so i was unhappy deep down inside, but it was ok because others were happy around me and those numbers were greater than my one.
They tell you when you get on the plane, that if there is a drop in oxygen the masks will come down for you to put on. They are VERY specific about one thing and that is “PUT THE MASK ON YOURSELF BEFORE YOU PUT THE MASK ON OTHERS” how many of us can repeat this verbatim? And this applies to a lot of things in life. Its not saying be selfish. It doesnt mean push everyones needs out of the way and only focus on your own it means, ensure your survival. You cant help anyone if you’re dead. And i dont know why, but it took me 41 years to actually “Hear” that.
So i started small. I turned down things when i was tired or didnt feel like going. I didnt pack my calendar with work and school events. I quit my second job because it stretched me thin. I ddnt feel guilty ignoing the phone calls while i hopped on the Peloton for 20 minutes. This time belongs to ME. And honestly, it was my son Michael who taught me this lesson, he is always telling me to take it easy and dont so so much and to relax.
And because I started to do those tiny little changes, it started to bleed over into bigger, more important areas of my life. At work instead of stressing out and taking my work home, I would do what I could and try to find a work life balance. If something didn’t bring me joy I didn’t engage. I started to focus on me. To choose me when i could and i started to feel better. I stood taller, i was even able to lose 73 lbs. Because i showed up and chose myself more times than i sacrificed for others.
However, the real test came a few weeks ago. I had found out that the “nice” guy had been seeing another woman behind my back. He was very apologetic, as they are. And i stupidly forgave him as we all do. Until she showed up on his doorstep and he called to tell me that he was conflicted because he had choice to make. For some reason, “old people pleasing me” actually started to comfort him and told him that i understood and to call me later and we could talk.
Then, 41 year old , new me, who wakes up everyday and pisses excellence. Who is literally a boss, owns her own house, has great credit, speaks two languages, raised a kind smart boy, is kind and smart and good looking and too good for this shit- kicked in. New me, who had been brewing for some time because i had been nurturing her, stood up inside and with a loud roar yelled out “Oh Hell No” in my head. And i took account of all that i had. I looked at all my value, and i looked at all the things i did that made ME proud. That made ME like MYSELF. I thought about all the hard work and growth and all the times i had showed up for MYSELF recently and i was not about to throw all my hard work away.
And so i laid it out. If there has to be a choice, then choose her. Im not a second option. Im not a seat warmer, im not a wait and see. Im a fuck around and find out and i dont care what you’re going to do, because today, i choose ME.
And that’s where you have to arrive sometimes. It aint always pretty, it aint always nice. But the view from here really is lovely and i dont know that i ever want to come down again.