Do you want to know what’s the thing I struggled the most in this path of personal change?
Learning to be more selfish.
Disclaimer: I do not mean “being selfish” in a negative, asshole way.
That is not acceptable, and there are no excuses for that behaviour.
I mean it in a self-loving, self-preserving, positive way.
Let me explain.
I’ve spent all my life, up untill recently, being a “rescuer”. It never mattered whether I was tired, sad, dealing with big problems, feeling like I didn’t want to live another day, working 26 hours a day, swamped with shit to deal with etc.: everyone else always came first. Always. I never moaned, never complained, I never dared to say “sorry, but it’s not a good time”, in fear of losing the crown of “the amazing friend who will always be there for you”. If anyone needed me, I’d voluntarily (and happily) sacrificed myself and my needs. No question asked.
I think I already mentioned that I’ve been reading a lot of self-help of books recently, and few of them talked about the “triangle” of relationships between the victim, the rescuer, the persecutor, and the distorted, negative dynamics going on between these three figures. It made me have a serious, deep conversation with myself as to why I act as I do, how my actions made me feel and what were the real motives behind my apparently “amazingly selfless and generous” behaviour.
The first real motive is very simple: focusing on others meant that I didn’t have time to focus on myself. When you have an extremely low self-esteem, and you hate yourself, you don’t care nor want to dedicate a moment of pure “me-time”. It would mean facing your demons, or acknowledging feelings that you rather keep bottled up in a far corner of your brain, or even worse, end up being alone with yourself and no one else: who wants to be left in an empty room with a person you detest to bits? Yes, no one.
The second real motive is… ok I really had to be honest with myself here, and it is not even easy to put it into words to write. I’ll just say it as it is, without making it look prettier or playing with words: the second real motive for me behaving like this is that I was desperate to keep holding on to people. I feared being alone.
No, that’s not even the full story.
I feared being UNLOVED. I craved (and I still crave) love so badly that I just grabbed it wherever I thought I could find it, even if it was unhealthy, unreal, or not enough. I thought that by being so… everything, and more, that people would think “I can’t imagine my life without her”. This goes for friends, boyfriends, colleagues, and any person in my life who I felt the need to keep close.
Of course I will lend you money I don’t have, this way you’ll have to stay with me at least untill you’ll give it back (but you’ll stay more because you’ll always need me); let me take all your pain away and put it on my shoulders so that you can be happy and love me for being such a martyr; sure, let me work harder, let me love you with more intensity, let me sacrifice myself further, so that I can show you how amazing I am and then you will stay.
My life has always been a race to go above and beyond the call of duty to make people happy. Even better was if I could anticipate other people’s needs or if I could anticipate needs they weren’t even aware they had, but because I loved them dearly I knew so here it is, enjoy.
Yes, I am the Ultimate Martyr of Love.
Marge used to warn me all the time: “be very careful at being the way you are, because the more you give to people, the more people will want, and you are not paid, or loved, enough to keep doing what you do, and when you’ll have to stop, it’s going to hurt”.
Did I listen? Of course not. I knew better! I love my job! I love my friends! I love my boyfriend!
How did it end?
The boyfriend dumped me because I loved him too much, and I was suffocating him with my love.
The friends just kept asking and asking, even when I had nothing to give, and I became (very) resentful.
The work? I ended up working every hour under the sun, plus weekends, holidays and medical leave, just because I wanted to be so helpful, doing stuff I wasn’t even supposed to, and of course, I didn’t get any special award, any pay rise, not even a single thank you.
I sat in my room, in the middle of the night, trying to make sense to all these feeling, and I was reading these books begging me to love myself more, to care for myself more, to do more of the things I really wanted to do… and to say a very simple, powerful and yet so frightening word: NO.
In solitude, they will learn that saying no does not always show a lack of generosity and that saying yes is not always a virtue
Pablo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra
Can I really do that?
Can I really say “NO”?
What would other people think if I do it? If I’m not there for them, if I become….
There are two reasons you tend to give a fuck about what other people think: one, because you don’t want to be a bad person, and two, because you don’t want to look like a bad person
Sarah Knight, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck”
Well, it looks like I’m in a deep shithole here. I’m sad, I’m crying, I’m unloved by the only man I desperately wanted to be loved from, I feel like everyone is draining my extremely limited energies and that they are ignoring my pleas to give me some breathing space (after all, that is what I got them used to, right? “don’t worry about me, even if I’m not ok I’m here for you”, right?), and work… I dread to check my phone and see how many emails I have to read.
I realised I became desperate to care for myself, but to do so, I needed (badly, I should add) time, energies, focus, and not to be dragged into stuff that was not giving me anything back. I told myself:
“This is something that must change.
This is something that must stop.
This is something that no one can stop, but me”
It’s about respecting yourself, instead of catering to your insecure need to be liked
Jen Sincero, You are a Badass
I started to force myself to say no. More so, to quit with the victim attitude of “I have to do it or else the world will end”. I cut the crap of “ok, I suppose I got no choice”.
Gosh, the first few “no” felt like I was doing something so outrageous, so horrendous, borderline illegal; I felt guilty like I murdered someone with my own bare hands, and with the full intention of doing so.
It was awful.
You know what I discovered though?
To begin with, the world didn’t end.
Last time I checked, it is still spinning around the sun, not giving a flying f@ck about me saying “no”.
Then, you know what? Once I overcame the fear, guilt, anxiety and… yes, novelty, of saying NO, I discovered that, actually, it wasn’t too bad after all.
The more I grew confidence, the more I realised that I did have a choice, and a very powerful one: the choice between “it is relevant to me, ok, yes” and “I cannot be arsed, leave me out of it”
“No, I am not coming to those drinks. Sorry, I have other plans (aka: I am going to bed at a decent time, because I want to be nice and rested for the gym tomorrow)
“Sorry, I know you really want to share this with me, but it is not a good moment right now”
“No, I don’t have the time to hear about this useless drama”
“No, I cannot help you, I’m busy already as it is, you’ll have to either do it yourself, wait for me to be less busy or find someone else to help”
“No, this is not something I want to be involved with”
You know what’s very important to learn, and learn quickly, about saying no? Mean it.
Saying no is a piece of cake. It’s just two letters: N and O.
Holding your ground and not backing down, however, that requires balls. You better grow up a pair as quickly as you can, because you either have them or your NO will turn into a “…(puffing)… ok, YES”.
And you know that will happen next? You’ll end up feeling guilty that you said no when you could have spared yourself the pain, say yes and put up with whatever you are (unwillingly) agreeing with; you’ll have tons of resentment for being made to do stuff you didn’t really want to; you’ll get tired, because you used energies you don’t necessarily have for something you don’t necessarily care; ultimately, you’ll end up being angry, very angry with yourself because “here we go again”.
People will naturally push back when you say no, especially if you got them used to you saying yes straight away, or “no but ok, yes, fuck it”. This is where guilt will make its glorious entrance in your brain. I know it is hard, but push that guilt away and just reiterate that you said NO, and that.you.said.it.because.you.mean.it.
Don’t give too many explanations, because the more you do, the more you
a – give people reasons to make you change your mind, and
b – give yourself reasons to feel guilty, and silly, and unreasonable, for having said NO.
It’s a no, you said because you know it is right and that’s all that matter.
What you chose to do, instead of what you are being guilt-tripped into doing, is no one’s business but yours.
“Sorry, but no eating shit for me or drinking more than one glass of something” (I committed myself to work hard at the gym in order to enjoy having a JLo, gym-toned ass).
“Nope, I’m not staying later than 6pm tonight” (I want an undisturbed, love making session with Sky Sports and my bed)
“Sorry, I am really not in a good place right now to listen to you” (I’m trying to mend my broken heart, I don’t need you rubbing salt on my wounds)
“no, I have to give this one a miss” (I will be too busy attending Slayer’s gig)
“no, sorry, I cannot afford this (boring as fuck) dinner this month” (I could, but I don’t want to)
…the list goes on and on.
Hey, in your “learning to say no” path, you better learn to say no to yourself as well, so you don’t end up doing stupid stuff you know it won’t do you any good at all (“no I am not texting him today”, “no I’m not stalking him on social media” and “no, I’m not giving myself any excuses for his behaviour – he does not want me and I must stop sugar coat this truth”… yes, it is something I can’t quite master yet…. I know….). Stop the things that are making you hurt yourself, hate yourself, be negative about yourself etc. These are the hardest NO you’ll ever learn to say. It is the NO to that cigarette you are so craving but you have decided to quit smoking (been there, done that). The NO to spend time with people you know are not healthy for you. It is the NO to overeating, or undereating, or eating shit, when you committed yourself to improve your wellbeing. The NO to anything that falls in the “if I do it I know I will regret it” category.
What you’ll gain from all of this, it is something no money can buy: self-love, freedom, time. I know it seems hard to believe, but you’ll also end up having better, more balanced relationships. Your true friends will still be your friends, and they will respect you more for (finally!) respecting yourself.
At work, you’ll have all the time you need for the things you really need to do, and you will do them better because you won’t be distracted. My boss is loving my new “hell no” attitude, because he finally is spared the pain of yelling at me stuff like “I told you so” and “Don’t moan with me about it, I told you to say no and that I don’t want you to work extra hours!!!”. Your love life will benefit as well, because you will learn that it takes two to tango, not just your loved one and his needs: you are just as valuable. You’ll have plenty of energy for the things that matter, you’ll be more confident, you’ll learn to demand respect and to respect yourself…. And that will only lead to love yourself more.
There are two exceptions about saying no that you should be aware of though.
The first one is that you must not become a twat. I already said it, but I want to reiterate it to make it VERY clear. This is not about saying no to hurt people, or to offend them, or to put them in a position where they are screwed as fuck and you tell them to do one. You are still the same decent, caring, loving, brilliant good friend, partner, colleague you have always been, and therefore if you are genuinely needed, you HELP, and you keep doing as you always did. Don’t be a prick.
Your new “sorry, but no” is for all the “noise” that gets generated around you, and that will distract you from yourself, the real meaningful stuff and the truly important things you should be focusing on.
The second one is that you MUST NOT use the power of no as an excuse to avoid doing things that you are scared, anxious or petrified at the thought of doing, even though you know that you’d greatly benefit from them such as “going to this new place and see whether I can meet new people? Mmmm maybe not”, or “should I just spend this hard-earned money to pamper myself for once? Naaa….”, or “I have an hour for myself: how about I read a nice book? Nope, let’s waste it checking Facebook and twist the knife in my poor, broken heart”.
In conclusion, love yourself enough to say NO to those things that are are making you hating yourself a bit more. Sound so easy, and yet, if you are anything like me, it is like climbing Mount Everest when the only physical activity you ever did is getting in and out of bed.
There is one amazing book I would like to suggest you. It is incredibly funny, but full of very helpful learning stuff. You’ll read it in a bang, and then you will re-read it couple of times to really get the lessons drilled in your brain.
Keep it next to your bed as a visual reminder of the person you don’t want to be anymore and the one you are aiming to become. You’ll thank me for it, and let me know what you think about it ok?