Saturday, July 23, 2011

When guilt comes knocking

Guilt exists in many forms. It can be used by people to control others - at work, in the home, in the bedroom. While I would not consider it an emotion, guilt is as powerful as saddness, happiness, envy, but it's strength lies only in the power we give to it.

Over the years, I've given guilt a lot of power. A lot. Even these days, days when I'm feeling optimistic, excited for the future and generally liking the person I am, guilt does rear its ugly head. It's sometimes external and could encompass just a look passed between two people, an evil eye that says "Really, you should/should not be doing that." More often than naught, it's internalized - an inner voice, our own evil eye that may deliver the same message but it's tenfold because you're your own worst critic.

Guilt is not natural. Like our internal criticism, we're not born with it. You'll never see a toddler turn reflective and think "I should not be having this tantrum." They just do it, legs flailing, kicking on the floor to communicate our anger or unhappiness, the unfairness of it all. But guilt and our internal criticism is ultimately linked.

Guilt comes first from our parents as a way for parents to teach us that whatever we're doing is wrong in their eyes. Parents need some control. After all, it's to keep us safe, but when that guilt suits their needs above our own survival mechanisms, that's when we must fight it.

"You would do this if you loved me," they might say or at least deliver their message with a tone, a critical look. "Well, your brother calls me every day. Why don't you?" "Why is it that you can tell your father things but you can't tell me?" And sometimes parents don't want to or can not hear the answer. To do so would reveal that they themselves have and continue to make mistakes.

"I don't tell you everything because you see everything as a negative," I said to my 75-year-old mother just a few weeks ago. And, when reminded that she has voiced on more than one occasion my inability to survive on my own without her (yes, even outside of the womb), she denied, denied, denied.

"Well, you must have misconstrued what I said," she retorted, turning the blame (and the guilty tone) back on me.

I can usually squelch these external voices. Sometimes not, but what is worse is my internal guilt, the voice hammering inside my head that says I should be doing more, better, faster, smarter. It can rear its head when I'm cutting vegetables... "You're not doing that fast enough. You've watched enough cooking shows to know how to properly chop, mince, cube..." And although this voice started in childhood with a harsh retort from a parent, boss, whoever on perhaps only one occasion, it's my voice that echoes and knocks around my psyche.

Before we give guilt that much power over us, it's important to look at all the facts. Hard facts. Will I impact anyone (and even myself) if I forgo the household chores in favour of an afternoon running through a sprinkler? Probably not. Will inactivity have an effect if I consistently give in to doing nothing? Over time, yes.

These days, I make a list (I get excited for lists) - the pros and cons, the to-do list with a system to rate each activity and the impact they will have on my life. So far, it's worked but it's an uphill battle at times as I sometimes acquiese and give that internal monologue more power than I should.

I used parents in my example above (namely my mother), but it could extend to anyone - friends with their own motives, co-workers, bosses - anyone who believe they have or should have some power over you. The only one with the power is you. You have the power to make choices that are right for you. You have the power to squelch these voices and to take a stand when it's important to you - and that importance can vary person to person. It's up to you to listen to (and celebrate) the internal you - the one who wears her heart on her sleeve, does good deeds just because, who will willingly clean a friend's house because that person is feeling overwhelmed and two extra hands make for lighter work. There are no checklists of who did what and when and no expectations of getting paid back.

Does whatever you're doing or not doing have a direct, negative impact on others? If the answer is no, slam the door on that guilt. If the person guilt tripping you has an ulterior motive (and they usually do) say goodbye to that friend because friendship runs both ways, and as a friend, they should have your best interests at heart and not their own.

I also think that women are more susceptible to empowering guilt. I don't know why - maybe it's in our DNA - but I tend to believe it comes from conditioning, the messages we hear day in and day out to control and cajole us to bend to someone else's will. I say, don't answer that door no matter how hard the knock or how many times the bell rings. It's up to us, and it's okay to just say no.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Letting go when that's all there is left

Hello everyone!  I’ve been trying to write in the second person to be more professional, but I’m not very good at it so I’m going to return to my natural style.

Are you nice to everyone?  Even when others are not nice to you?  Is it frustrating? Yes it is. Once upon a time, I was nice to everyone.  You know what happened? The only people that it attracted were users and abusers.  So what was my solution? Be even nicer to prove to them that I was worthy of their time, and hope beyond hope that they would suddenly be nice back.  It never worked.  People who use and abuse only care what they get out of a relationship, not what anyone else gets out of it.  Why are they like that? Because they are insecure, nasty, or just a plain waste of air.  It doesn’t matter why they are like that, you can’t change another person’s behaviour, nor should you try. All you can do is change your own behaviour.  I know this seems simplistic, but do not be nice to people who are not nice to you! It’s hard after a lifetime of behaving one way to change, but for your own good you really need to.

The first thing you do is kick this person out of your life. If that’s not possible, then stand your ground.  If someone is used to you being nice no matter how terrible they behave, they will do everything and anything to get you to go back to being a doormat.  Resist this with all you have.  You’ll get upset, but don’t let it show.  Remember this person is not worth it. Allowing yourself to be angry at their behaviour really helps. You are allowed to get angry when someone is being nasty, no matter what anyone has told you. Resist pleas that they will change.  They won’t change; they just want you return to your old behaviour.  Do not feel bad for them if they seem sorry, they’re not.  And so what if they are really sorry, if they want people to be around them, they won’t act like jerks. Sorry only has meaning if they reform their lousy ways. That never happens.

What right do they have to treat you poorly? None whatsoever. No one is perfect, but you don’t have to be perfect to expect people to be pleasant.  People who treat other people like crap are always great at listing another’s faults in order to justify their attitude.  Strange how they never acknowledge their own faults, or try to tell you that you’re imagining things. That’s a good one isn’t it? When someone tells you it’s all in your head.  It’s at that moment that you know they are full of it.  Don’t try to prove it to them, they will just stand there like a child with their fingers in their ears saying “La la la I can’t hear you!”  It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, you know how you are being treated.

Don’t worry about the opinions of others outside of the situation.  Sure, you don’t want people to think badly of you, but if someone else wants to have a bad opinion of you because you don’t want to put up with crap anymore, then too bad for them.  You might be in a situation where there are mutual friends, and you don’t want to lose them.  Don’t let that keep you around someone who is not treating you right.  You can’t control what others think, and they will think what they want.  Who cares? No one matters that much that you should let yourself be treated poorly to keep their good opinion.

These things aren’t easy to do, but what’s the alternative? Feeling bad about letting people walk all over you?  You have to live with yourself and how you feel, so why not feel good?  Feel strong and in control and confident!  It does attract a much better class of people.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Would you kiss your mother with that mouth?!?

It's 7:30 a.m. and Annaliese has just woken up to get ready for school. She is 8.

Looking in the mirror, she takes in her hair, her wide set eyes, her chin before concentrating on the rest of her reflection, wishing and hoping it would miraculously change. She equates everything she sees in her skewd mirror with her self-worth. It starts with the physical and then moves onward to her personality, her flaws. Aggravated and upset, she starts to berate herself in the mirror. "You're so ugly and stupid and fat and know one likes you," she cries at the mirror, clenching her fists and blinking away her tears. She's so engrossed in her tirade that she doesn't see the wrong in what she's saying. The fists come next, laying punches in the stomach she thinks is too big, the thighs she wishes were thinner and her head where these thoughts rage day-by-day, minute-by-minute.

It may sound extreme but it's not a new scenario although it's quite alarming when an 8-year-old utters the phrases that many women tell themselves daily. We look at our faults as a long list of should haves. We should have stayed two hours at the gym instead of one, we should have not had that donut at the morning meeting, we should have gone to another college, taken another course, or should have stayed longer or worked harder at the office today. The list is exhausting and customized for each woman, but what remains consistent is the length of that list and the fact that we look on it and add to it over and over again. At 8, at 18, 28, 38, 48 and so on until we break the cycle.

But where does this cycle of negative self-talk come from? It's not ingrained in our DNA, nor are we fed it while in the womb. We learn it from our environment, whether we listen to our parents talk negatively about themselves or they direct it at us. We learn it from society and its opinions on what is beautiful and worthy and what is not. And, often it's easier to look at what we think is missing in us than to list the attributes that make us unique individuals. And, it's exactly this practice of listing our pros that will break the cycle.

While many corporations still feed into our inner guilt, there are a few that step out of the box and into a way to inspire rather than tromple our psyche. It's an extreme example, but just look to the Maxwell House Optimism is Catching campaign, and in particular the commercial that shows a little girl standing in the mirror being her own cheerleader and telling everyone (and herself) exactly what she loves about herself and her life. Yes, it is extreme, but the message is dead on. Instead of berating yourself with all of the should haves and a supposed lists of negatives, be your own cheerleader and list daily the things you do like about yourself. It could be physical, but it also extends to the things you excel at - sports, school, music, art - whatever it is, celebrate it and celebrate you.

And even our faults are not as dire as you may think, and it may be what someone else thinks is endearing. That person should be you. Every foible, every asset adds up and makes us the unique individual, and that is definitely worth celebrating.

The process is hard - it's like a cult deprogramming. It takes time, practice, repetition, and sometimes you may slip. After all, you've been doing it for years. But when you do and you feel your fists clench and your teeth grind at something you don't like about yourself, remember that little girl and ask yourself if you would say the same thing to her as you would to your own mirror reflection. It's extremely easy to be a cheerleader for someone else. We can boost anyone up whose having a bad day and a barrage of bad thoughts. It's another thing to do the same for ourselves. It's about time we start.

You Know What You Did!

The title of this article is one of the most annoying phrases in the English language.  People who use this phrase with regularity need a good slap in the head.  Women are most often accused of its use, and unfairly so.  Men can be just as passive aggressive and annoying. It’s part of an ambush on the part of the speaker, who doesn’t have the courage to just say what is wrong.  It’s cowardly and petulant, it comes out of nowhere and is used to wrong foot a perceived adversary.  Its use shows a childish need to have a grievance wormed out slowly, often followed by vague hints as to when the offence occurred.

Do you know anyone who uses this often?  If so, you are well within your rights to call them out. The idea of this phrase is to make a person feel guilty and defensive, turning that person into the aggressor and thus making the other person feel a sense of righteousness in their anger. It makes the accused feel the need to make up for something when they have no idea what is even wrong.  It’s manipulative and controlling. If this is being said to you, you have every right to lob it back at them, forcing them to be an adult and say what is wrong.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of this sentence, stay calm.  A reaction is what is wanted, so don’t give it.  Simply say, calmly, “No, I do not know what I have done, perhaps you can enlighten me.” This might lead to hints. “It was yesterday, in the car!” Don’t go for it. Just keep saying that you don’t know, and you need to be told outright.  Either they will flounce away, or finally give in and tell you what is wrong.

Depending on the issue, either address what is being said right away, or call them on their behaviour. Ask “Why was that so hard for you to tell me?”  If you don’t get a reasonable answer, then say, “I don’t like being hinted at. Either tell me the problem or let it go.”  This way, you are standing your ground and letting it be known that you will not put up with any nonsense.

People who persist in this behavior are toxic. Everyone has encountered at least one.  It’s not up to you to cure them.  People are responsible for how they act, but you are responsible for how you react.  If you keep falling into the trap it will keep being set.  The best way to deal with a person like this is to walk away.  If you can’t walk away, persist in not letting this person dictate how the relationship will go.  It’s not an easy way to have a relationship, but defending yourself against toxic behavior will make you feel good about yourself, and your self-esteem will be intact.

If you are the type of person who uses this behaviour to control and manipulate others, or you just don’t have the courage to say what is wrong, stop it! For crying out loud, be an adult and stop it!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Who are you?

Who are you?  It’s a simple question, usually answered with your name.  But sometimes it’s a deeper question, one you must ask yourself.  I’ve asked myself that question many times, and through the years I’ve had different answers.  I’m Anastasia; I’m Stacey (thanks for that, mom.) I’m a wife, I’m a mom.  But what makes me, “Me”?  Do I like who I am?  After many years, I can finally answer yes to that one.  It wasn’t easy getting there; no one ever told me how important it is for me to like me.  What about you? Do you like you?  With all the pressure and nonsense women are fed about themselves, how do you learn to like yourself?  It’s not always easy.  It’s hard to tune out all of the noises that are blasted your way, but you must if you want to know and like who you are.

Women are assaulted with images and ideas about being perfect.  Having the perfect body, being the perfect wife, being the perfect woman and the perfect mother.  Some women are fed these ideals all their lives, by the very people who should be telling them it’s ok to be who they really are. Many of us have mother issues, but that’s another article.  This is about shedding those ideals, and liking what you see in the mirror.  It’s not easy to go up against all the things that are ingrained in your head, but you can.
You must take what makes you feel bad, and reject it.  Throw it off, scoff at it, mock it, and give it the contempt it deserves. Embrace what is in your head and in your heart, your natural self, who you want to be. I’m not talking about the notion that you are a “Goddess”, that’s too much to live up to for anyone, and an impossible goal just like the rest of the messages you get. You are who you are, revel in the good and mitigate the bad, and accept that there are both. The opinions of others only have a place if you want them to, and your opinion of yourself is always the most important. If you like who you are, good! Go with that! And if you don’t, figure out how you can change it if you can, and accept it if you can’t. It can be a long journey, but a journey well worth the time.

You will find that there are people in your life who don’t want you to like who you are. Let’s face it; you are much easier to control if you feel guilty, fearful and depressed. If you are constantly seeking the approval of someone who will never give it, that person has to go. Or at the very least, stand up to them and tell them that you are who you are, and if they don’t like it, too bad. It will be a monumental struggle to get negative people to stop trying to make you feel bad, but it’s a struggle you must face and win.

So ladies, be who you really are.  Whether that’s a woman on her own, a wife or a mother.  Working outside the home, staying at home, with kids or not. Whether you’re a wife or a partner or happy to just be by yourself, to have true contentment, you must like who you are.

We are not alone

Women come in many shapes, colours, sizes and backgrounds. The one thing we all have in common is that we share the same chromosones. But, we share so much more - our stories, our struggles and our sometimes lack of self.

It's not the same for every woman. Some are already secure. Some, not so much. At Secure Woman, we aim to reach everyone in the thought that we are here to help. Those already living their authentic self can share their ideas and ways for how others can reach that ultimate goal. Those women who still struggle with being content with who you are can share their struggles and in exchange teach the whole that we are not alone.

At Secure Woman, we are not here to preach or tell you what you're doing wrong. We are simply here to open up a line of communication that has been missing - that each and every one of us has something good to offer, and that we are fine just the way we are regardless of whether you're a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, a single or married woman with no kids. This is your forum.

We welcome you with open arms.