Fast approaching 50 years old finds me reflective, taking stock in my life, and is giving me a glimpse of what my legacy is looking like. While I am not anticipating checking out anytime soon, as I look back on the first 50 years, I see the times where I fucked up in my life, and the times where I really nailed that shit. Thankfully, the good far outweighs the bad! And honestly, I wouldn’t say bad, in as much as I would, more appropriately say, mistakes, ones that I wish I hadn’t made, now, no regrets here, as I learned so much in making those mistakes, and I truly believe that all those detours, bumps, and bruises, made me the well-rounded person I am today.
One of the biggest areas of my life that changed dramatically, was all of the work I did in Psychotherapy. I am not ashamed to say that I have been in therapy for quite some time, and it has been a blessing in my life, because I have been able to come to terms with some trauma in my life, but mostly I have learned to accept who I am, and I have finally found my voice. I use to be this sweet, agreeable, robot, a real good girl, afraid to say NO, afraid of conflict, and always wanting to please others in my life. Oprah Winfrey eloquently descried this once as, “The Disease to Please” and that is exactly what it is, what it felt like. This aching need, this sickness inside, this desire to please. My pet name for it is the “Good Girl Syndrome”.
Long before I entered into therapy, I knew why I did this on some level, I wanted to be liked, I wanted to be the one to save the world and make others happy, I had this need to please, but in doing this, I lost myself in all of the bullshit. Not that helping anyone or doing for others is necessarily bad, or is bullshit really, but for me, it didn’t feel authentic anymore, when I was doing things for the wrong people, those who disrespected me, talked about me behind my back, belittled me, made me feel less than, and just took advantage of my kindness, and I think this is epidemic among women, more so than men, because quite honestly, men are ok with being a bit selfish, let me explain, what I mean by selfish, men are quite ok with saying no when they genuinely don’t want to do something for someone, and will not scrutinize over their decision, lose sleep over it, or even give a shit if it pissed anyone off. To them this is very black and white, no means no, and yes means yes. It sounds so simplistic in those terms, but for women, who are taught at a very early age to share with others, think of others, put others first, be a good girl and don’t make waves, the lines become blurred. I know women will understand this more so than men.
In my naïve, early days, I did not understand or even realize I could say no. Seriously, you snicker, but I never understood that I had the right to say no and not give any explanation as to why I am not going to attend a party, why I can’t babysit, why I can’t loan you $1,000.00. No one had ever said to me “Susan, you can say no, and you will still be a good person.” I really believed I had to do what everyone asked of me, even at the expense of my happiness and well-being.
I can recall one therapy session quite some time ago where it all clicked, I was talking to my therapist about how mentally exhausted I was from being pulled in so many directions with family obligations, extended families, and so forth, and I was dreading an event coming up, it felt just like a noose around my neck, and my therapist said to me point-blank, “Susan, you can say no, you don’t have to please everyone, it’s perfectly ok to say no, and offer no explanation.” I sat there dumbfounded as if I had just been told some earth shattering secret that will save mankind, but you know what, it saved me! “I can’t do that,” I said timidly. “You can she said, you just didn’t see you had that choice.” Really heady stuff, and I tell you this, not because I want you to think I logically didn’t realize I could say no, but because saying no felt like I was being mean, cold-hearted, selfish, and not a good friend, sister, daughter, wife, etc. in doing so. Which is how so many people feel,when they believe they should do something instead of focusing on the fact that their instincts are telling them not to, or they are feeling anxiety in doing something, because they truly don’t want to do it.
This change in my new way of thinking didn’t happen over night, and it was scary at first to be so direct, but little by little I began to find my voice and say what I meant and meant what I said. It really didn’t matter if anyone was pissed off at me because I was doing what I needed to rid my life of toxic, soul sucking people, and I can tell you how to recognize these people in your life, they are the ones who are always negative, their hardships are always everyone else’s fault, they are bitter, jealous, when you spend time with them they leave you feeling mentally drained, and the one time you tell them no, they are highly insulted and quite indignant that you failed to help them.
Now don’t misunderstand me, this doesn’t mean I never help a friend or family member who needs my help, this doesn’t mean I always say no. What it means is, that I don’t allow myself to be guilted into doing a favor for someone, I don’t allow myself to be manipulated by people who won’t be accountable for their own shit, listen I am far from perfect, but I own my shit, and I make no excuses for any of it, which is why I hold my head up high. I say this because as soon as I started getting ballsy enough to say no to some people, I saw how my own health and happiness meant very little to them if they could not get what they wanted, and that is how this works, when someone wants to keep you in service to them, won’t own their shit, or take responsibility for being an adult in their own life. They will resist and will guilt you into wanting to help them or say yes, but eventually they get the message when you don’t cave in and continue to stay strong.
It’s a hard thing to lose people who were part of your life, but the ones who love you and truly care for you will embrace you in your new-found ways, and not think twice when you say no, or decline an invite. I want to add that this is a process that will take time, in the beginning it felt like learning to walk for the first time, I had to learn a new way of viewing some long-held antiquated ways, that no longer served my higher self. Some of the ways to begin to find your voice are to:
- Start journaling, I know it sounds corny but it helps, I love looking back at old journals and seeing how far I have come. Find a chic, fun, journal and a great sexy pen and let it flow!
- Meditate…Japa Meditation has been a blessing in my life. The late, great, Dr. Wayne Dyer has a wonderful method on CD to teach Japa meditation, if you are curious. But even spending 5 minutes in prayer, or in silence, or just being still, will work wonders if practiced daily. Increase the time as you feel more comfortable with the practice. I practice twice a day, early morning, and on my way home from work on my commute, or when I am unable to sleep at 2:00 am.
- Exercise to free your mind and get your body healthy. For me it’s Yoga. But any activity is a bonus that gets you moving and gets your heart pumping.
- Start small. When the opportunity arises to say no, say no and offer no explanation, now be aware, there are some situations, and some people who will hold more power over us then others because of the dynamic of our relationships with them. This is usually a sibling, or a parent, but it could be a strong dominate person. These people may be a harder sell, but stay firm and don’t waiver.
- Be gentle with yourself, if you say no to a situation and want to offer help for another time, or to get together for dinner say if you miss a party, that’s perfectly ok. Just stay authentic, don’t feel obligated and offer out of guilt, if it is not something you truly wish to do.
I will be the first to admit, that when it comes to changing old patterns set deep in our psyche, that this will be tough stuff, that will require work. I know breaking “good” will feel wrong, it will feel like your being left naked and exposed. It will hurt when some people vanish from your life, but it also feels pretty fucking good standing up for yourself and finding your voice! I don’t mind being a bitch when I need to, which is how I imagine some people see me, I revel in being in control of my life, and being assertive, as it has helped me find balance in my life, inner peace, and allows me to finally understand what being healthy feels like, and you know what? If all this makes me a bad girl, I am perfectly ok with that! Breaking bad is the only way I want to be!