For as long as I can remember, I have put others’ needs before my own. Where did this come from exactly? Was it a taught behavior? Was it a way to protect myself from the unpredictability of others’ behavior? Was it from being raised by a generation of ‘be seen, not heard’? Was it out of survival? Maybe, a combination of all those questions that ring through my mind have some truth to them.
One day, recently, I had a realization that I have worried so much about everyone else that now I sit here today without much semblance of what my own needs look like. I can conceptualize what my values are. I can feel in the moment what my expectations look like. However, when it comes to getting those thoughts (feelings) to turn into words I freeze in fear. The words feel stifled, like something is physically restraining them from leaving my lips.
I believe this boils down to vulnerability. A voice is always there whispering to me that if I express a need/want/feeling for myself I am being selfish. I am not worthy of these things. That no matter how much I do for anyone else, it will never be enough.You. Are. Not. Enough. The most intrusive thought shows up as a bright, blinking, neon sign in my mind.
So, in turn with all of the negative self-talk, I become resentful. Why isn’t anyone filling my cup the way I fill theirs? Where is my validation? Why am I not being seen? Why am I not being heard? The real question, I am coming to realize, is why can’t I give these things to myself? This goes back to the ‘big thought’ of “you’re not enough, you’re not worthy”. At some point in my life I started to believe these thoughts.
It’s easier, for me, to shift my focus on someone else. I’ve found it to be a challenge to sit with myself. To listen to that other voice in my head that’s begging me to just love myself. To give her what she needs. What she really longs for.
How do I reframe what feels like a lifetime of altruistic thought patterns? Where do I even begin?
Recently, in therapy, we related these patterns to a storm. Often whenever I feel overwhelmed, selfish, unworthy I can physically feel myself pushing my feelings down. It’s difficult to just let them be what they are. To sit with the uncomfortable. To think about myself. So there I am, the sun, these thoughts and feelings start rolling in, the storm. It starts slow, the clouds come rolling in. Then the rain begins to trickle. Before I know it, the wind is howling, sirens are blaring, and the sun has been covered by darkness. The important thing to remember, I was told, is that a storm does not last forever. As quickly as it rolls in, it passes, and the sun once again shines. Which brings me to the R.A.I.N. acronym. (first developed by Michele McDonald nearly 20 years ago)
Recognize what is going on. – The clouds are rolling in. The rain starts to trickle.
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. – The storm begins to intensify.
Investigate with kindness. – The fear of the storm sets in. (Fight or Flight)
Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience. – Know that I am not the storm, I am the sun, and I will shine again when it passes.
I feel one of the first steps in recognizing my needs is to sit with what comes up for me the way I described above. Allow myself to be vulnerable in the moment. Brene Brown correlates vulnerability to authenticity. So, if I am not allowing myself to sit with the uncomfortable, I am in turn denying myself, and others to know the authentic me.
I know this shift won’t be easy. It is 34 years of unlearning patterns. It will take practice. My hope is that with time, I will find myself. I will see my worth, for me. I will validate myself, because I deserve it. I will love the authentic me, because I am enough.
Photo credit: Image provided by the storyteller.