In addition to creating a support system of caring people around you, it is time to stop being your own worst enemy and begin to become your own best friend. Let's start with ways you can take better care of yourself. As a psychotherapist, I see time and time again the adverse effects of my clients' lack of self-care. In general, women have been conditioned to be the givers, but men aren't very good at making themselves a priority, either.
Do you put everyone else's needs before your own? What do you do to take care of yourself? Are you finding time to play? To laugh? To relax? To nurture yourself? The chances are pretty good that you are not — at least not yet. But with the help of some simple tools, that can — and will — change.
In days long ago, I was always more interested in assisting others than in taking care of myself. I didn't ever want to appear selfish, so I continued to give and give of myself until eventually the well ran dry. While being selfish can mean being stingy, exercising self-care is filling yourself up before, not instead of, giving to others. I was thrilled to discover that when I spent time caring for myself first, I had far more energy for others.
Every time we're on an airplane, we hear some version of the following: "In case of a sudden drop in pressure, the oxygen masks will appear. Put your own mask on first and then assist others." What is true for literal oxygen masks in singular emergencies is also true for metaphorical ones in daily life. We can't really support others unless we are taking care of ourselves. I remind my clients (and sometimes myself) over and over again: Put on your own oxygen mask first, and then you will have something to give.
Doing What You Should and Have To?
In addition, how many of us lead our lives doing what we think we should do or what we think we have to do? During my childhood and young adulthood, I did whatever I thought I was supposed to do. I dreamed about finding a giant book of rules so I could be certain to live my life according to the shoulds and not make any mistakes!
The external voices of my parents and teachers told me what I should do, such as "You should go to bed now" or "You should be nice all the time," and what I should not do, like "You should not show anger" or "You should not be fat." I internalized these voices, and soon my own inner voice was barking commands at me: You should go to sleep. You should smile more. You should not eat those cookies. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should lose weight. My inner world, the voices in my head, became a constant chatter of shoulds and should nots — about everything!
During my journey of recovery, I found authors and lecturers who helped me change my self-talk, with suggestions such as "You shouldn't should on yourself." The motivational author Louise Hay suggests we change our shoulds to coulds. When I catch myself saying I should, I quickly correct it to I could and am amazed at how quickly my disposition improves. Try it — you'll see what I mean. I could go to sleep. I could smile more. I could be nice all the time. It really feels different.
Rebelling Against Yourself?
This is also true for the words have to. I used to say to myself, I have to make dinner. I have to pick up the kids from school. I have to exercise. I have to go on a diet.
The part of me that is a rebel didn't want to be told what I have to do — so sometimes I would simply not do it. Other times I would do it with the attitude of a victim — Oh, poor me, I have to pick up the kids from school. Try changing each have to to choose to. What a difference this makes — when we change the words, we change the energy. I choose to make dinner. I choose to pick up the kids from school. I choose to exercise. The word choose dissipates that poor-me voice and the feeling of being a victim and leads instead to feelings of self-empowerment.
Turn Your Life Around Assignment
Write down at least ten things you think you have to do or should do. Your list might look like this:
- I have to clean the house.
- I have to prepare meals.
- I have to pay bills.
- I should lose weight.
- I should call my parents.
- I should take a walk, etc.
Read it aloud. Then change each have to to choose to, each should to could.
- I choose to clean the house.
- I choose to prepare meals.
- I choose to pay bills.
- I could lose weight.
- I could call my parents.
- I could take a walk.
Read the revised list out loud. It carries a different energy than the first list and should (oops, did I use that word?!) feel very freeing.
Your ongoing assignment is to become more conscious of the words you use, so when you hear yourself say (perhaps in a whiny tone) "I have to make dinner," you will catch yourself immediately and change it to "I choose to make dinner." And in so doing, you will find yourself feeling far more content and empowered in your everyday life.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
©2011 by Meryl Hershey Beck. All rights reserved.
Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating
by Meryl Hershey Beck.
About the Author
Meryl Hershey Beck, MA, M.Ed., LPCC spent her early professional life as a high school and community college teacher. In 1990 she became a licensed counselor (LPCC) specializing in 12-Step Recovery and eating disorders and soon designed and implemented a successful outpatient Food Abuse Treatment week. After she discovered energy techniques, Meryl began writing about and teaching energy modalities to mental health practitioners nationwide beginning in 1998. An authority in this field, she has presented at workshops and conferences internationally. Visit her at www.StopEatingYourHeartOut.com.