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Guilt for No Reason

It’s OK to Take Care of Yourself

Why is it so hard sometimes to take care of yourself? What does it even mean to take care of yourself?

If you’re alive and breathing you have wants and needs. Wants and needs aren’t the same and everyone has both. You “need” food and shelter. You “want” a fun vacation or maybe just a cookie. “Wants” give you your simple pleasures in life. They’re not less important than needs, they’re just different.

Challenges arise when your wants and needs conflict with someone else’s wants and needs.

Here’s where things can get sticky and uncomfortable. Women have been trained for a millennium that it’s their job to take care of other people. Initially this meant cooking, making clothes, tending fires and having babies. Today it includes some of that, but more often it means taking care of other people’s emotions.

A family member expects you to cook breakfast for her. Why? Because that’s what you’ve always done. Can this person do it herself? Yes. Does it give you pleasure to cook for her? Yes. Always? No way. There are times when you have priorities to attend to and you don’t want to cook her breakfast. You’ll do it anyway, because for you, it’s not OK to disappoint her. This is an example of emotional caretaking. You are cooking breakfast when you don’t want to so that the other person will feel good.

If you say “no” and honor your own priorities you may experience an immediate backlash of guilt. This is guilt for no reason.

If you’re unable to handle your guilt, you will end up cooking breakfast and doing so much more than you want to do. In the short term, giving in gets you relief from the guilt, in the long term you suffer the pain of not fully living your own life.

How did you get here and what can you do?

Early in life you learned that your value came from making other people happy. You did that through your actions (like making breakfast) but you also did it in other, more subtle ways. You learned that having wants and needs was often inconvenient for the people around you. Maybe you had a mother that was stressed out dealing with a bad marriage or caring for a special needs child. You saw her pain and you “solved” it by being “good” and “not a problem.” This meant denying, suppressing and minimizing your very real needs for care, nurturing, guidance and support.

Now you’re an adult woman and your habit of making yourself disappear so other people can be happy is hard to break. You’re doing both halves of the relationship and there’s no happy ending for you if you continue.

When you do both halves of the relationship you take responsibility for the other person’s wants and needs as well as your own. This is a setup for chronic, unresolvable inner conflict.

You cannot fully be accountable to yourself for meeting your needs when you feel equally responsible for another person's needs.

When you take care of yourself it leaves you believing you’re abandoning the other person (you aren’t). You’re flooded with guilt, so you forget about what you want and take care of the other person (here you actually do abandon someone, yourself).

It’s painful and it’s true. You can only do your half of the relationship.

The other person needs to fully show up and be responsible for him or herself. It’s not OK to withdraw, go silent or employ other forms of blackmail to get you to give in and meet their needs. He or she needs to put their “big person” underpants on and accept with grace and dignity what you can, and cannot do.

In a healthy relationship you do try and meet the needs of the person you love, as long as it doesn’t come at a cost to you and your purpose in life. Anyone who loves you wants that for you.

So go ahead and give freely when your heart feels full of love and “yes” comes easily and with no conflict. Choose to say “no” when giving comes at too great a cost to you.

Write yourself a permission slip right now that says, “I choose to take care of my wants and needs and to fully live my purpose in life. I choose to be me, ‘guilt free’.”

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