By Brenda Strausz, MA, LLP
“Saying no can be the ultimate self-care” – Claudia Black.
Rosie (not her real name) came into my office looking miserable. She slumped in her chair and could hardly hold her head up. She broke into tears as she described her exhaustion from the demands of her job, keeping up with the household, her husband, and her kids. She seemed to be the one everyone turned to when they needed something done.
Rosie truly felt that she could not say “No”, that it was her duty as a human being to be there for everyone who needed her. She reported that her husband helped by cutting the grass and taking out the garbage while her kids did almost nothing. She felt that they were young, and it was her duty to make things easy for them.
I explained to her the oxygen mask analogy, my old standby. Before take-off, the flight attendant directs the passengers that “in case of an emergency,” an oxygen mask will appear and that they should put their own mask first, before helping others. I told her to envision the “selfless” people on the plane helping everyone else with their mask while the selfless ones slowly suffocate.
I explained that it was time for her to think of herself. It was time to pay attention to her emotional, physical, and spiritual health. This means eating healthy, exercising, balancing quiet time with activity, taking time for herself and time with friends. It also means saying “No” sometimes; it means not being a doormat, it means delegating chores to your husband and kids. It means making others in your life accountable. It means giving to others but not at the expense of yourself.
“It sounds so selfish,” she said. And I said what I have come to learn so well, “It is not selfish. It is self-preservation”.
Rosie began to understand her doormat mentality. She said that she grew up in a family where she got her identify from pleasing others. She realized that in doing so, she lost herself. She understood that she was an automatic “yes machine” when people asked for help because she wanted people to like her and she didn’t want to disappoint anyone.
It wasn’t always easy for Rosie to implement her new routine of putting herself first. Some of the people in her life were used to the status quo and were not comfortable with the new Rosie. She had to remind herself daily of the healthy benefits of self-care. Sometimes to save herself, she would have to disappoint someone else.
The last time I talked to Rosie she looked like a new person. “Now that I have retired from being Master of the Universe I feel so much more rested, productive and alive”. She said she was busy however, counseling others on putting on their oxygen masks first. Thank goodness for old standbys.
When I Say No I Feel Guilty by Manuel Smith
The Disease to Please by Harriet Braiker
Brenda Strausz is a psychotherapist at Apex Behavioral Healthcare in Westland, Michigan. She combines conventional and alternative therapy (Guided Imagery and Emotional Freedom Techniques) to help clients to meet their goals and live with more ease, joy and peace.