“I’ve been taking care of people all my life and now I’m going to start doing exactly what I want to do!”
Have you heard this before? Have you said it yourself? Are you quietly thinking it now?
You’d be stunned if you knew how many times in a month I hear a woman say this directly to me or it gets thrown around in a discussion with other ladies. (Interestingly, in over 20 years of this work I’ve only had one man repeat this sentence to me.)
You would think that with all the transformation Coaching I do, blogs I write, keynotes I give and workshops I offer that cheer individuals on to live a fully authentic life, out-loud, their way, that I would shout out a big “Hell, yes!” to this kind of declaration. But actually, my initial hit is to cringe inside.
My first thought, if I’m being truly honest here, is “Why did you do that?”
My second thought, after so many years of working with couples, is “Who’s going to suffer now because of that choice you made?”
And here’s what I mean.
When the pendulum gets swung so far to one side that an individual neglects their own self- care, gets overly involved in helping others, puts caretaking of children, parents, friends and family members first above everything else, there’s simply got to be a huge swing back, right?
That swing back, in love relationships, usually comes in the form of a “mid-life crisis”, an “empty nester shut down”, the start of an emotional (or physical affair) or a sudden, unexpected breakup or filing for divorce.
A woman’s decision to start thinking about themselves and how to bring personal fulfillment back into their lives may be prompted by a parent’s death, the last child graduating and moving out or a change in purposeful work, including retirement. Sometimes a health scare shakes the person awake and reminds them that life is short.
And all this is wonderful, except when that pendulum is allowed to swing so far to the other side that impulsive, sweeping decisions are made out of sheer reactivity.
And others are steam rolled or suffer.
After talking with hundreds of clients over the years in this position, who were yelling at the top of their lungs “It’s time for ME!” I’ve seen a consistent missing piece that fuels the anger, reactivity and sets the stage for some decisions they’re going to regret:
You made this choice.
If that sounds harsh, please just take a deep breath and hear me again.
You made this choice.
Maybe it was a damn hard choice and one that felt like it left you deciding between two crappy options.
Maybe it was something as simple as deciding to step away from your career because it meant the world to you to be home with your kids and then you reached the point where you felt like you lost yourself because you didn’t remain engaged with the world.
Maybe you were already juggling family and work and volunteering for that important organization and then your parent began to decline so quickly that you felt you had no choice but to become their caretaker because you were the only sibling in town and on and on it went until you were completely disconnected from your spouse and exhausted and then that parent died.
And you looked around, like “When is the last time I did anything for myself?”
Or maybe you found it impossibly hard to say “No” in any way, shape or form to the things you really didn’t want to get involved in so you kept taking on more and more, being the “go-to” person for people wanting help and started to enjoy a sense of being “needed” along with the accolades that came from being known as the woman who “can do it all!”
And still, you made this choice.
Whether you were fully aware of it or not.
I remember hitting this place myself in the 90’s.
I quit my fast paced career, moved to a state I hated with a new husband and small child and my days began centering around taking care of things; the housekeeping, child rearing, pool cleaning, dinner recipes, caring for Aids patients and supporting a husband’s health issues. I thought I was handling it really well. A year and a half in, desperately trying to make new friends, I heard myself say over coffee one day, “I used to have a life.” The other woman laughed and we went on with our conversation. But that sentence kept ringing in my ears and that night I had a gigantic meltdown and shouted at my husband, “I can’t take all this caretaking junk! I need a life!” To which he immediately fell into defending himself and we had a nice ole’ argument.
Because I was throwing it out there as if…….wait for it……I hadn’t made the choice!
Do I applaud your decision to actually STOP all the habitual caretaking and focusing on everyone else so that you can begin visioning the kind of life that would bring you deep meaning and a feeling of vibrancy again?
And it begins with you sitting yourself down and acknowledging that regardless of the toll it took on you and whether you realized it then, you made a choice to do these things. That, my friends, is what empowers you to map out a new path forward and opens the door to gratitude for what you were able to give to others out of hopefully, Love.
This mindset lightens your heart.
This acceptance supports you to stand strong in your ability to make good choices and helps you tell the truth about better decisions that will feed your soul now.
This personal ownership keeps you from reactive things like:
- Blowing up your marriage because you’ve decided if your life is boring your partner must be, too
- Succumbing to FB flirtations / affairs with old high school sweethearts because it’s “About time I felt excited, wanted and alive again!”
- Treating your loved ones with blame and harshness because you assume they had a part in “making” you take care of them
- Deeply hurting another’s heart by numbing out or shutting down emotionally from them, believing you can’t honor your desires AND your connection with them
Are you ready to put your arms around your own life again (or maybe for the first time!) and get those creative juices flowing?
What do you miss most? What makes your toes tingle just thinking about it? What are you ready to start saying “No” to from here on out? How do you want to start feeling each day?
And, most important, before you begin that visioning……….
If there have been any quiet desires to “control” others, have things go your way, play the martyr, be seen as a self- sacrificing person or if you are seeking approval from others for all these things you keep doing, time to address that with yourself now. It will be impossible for you to live with the kind of lightness and inner freedom that you want if you are “getting something” from this.
Do you need some support to break this pattern and put everyone’s life back in their own hands?
I’m here. Let’s do some solid work together.
Got this? Great. Let yourself off the hook for getting too involved and start having meaningful, honest conversations with those in your life who’ll be affected by you stepping back out. Invite partners to brainstorm about new possibilities for you both. Then model for everyone in your life what it looks like to practice good self-care, strong self-love and living with wild abandon!