Raise your hand if as a woman you’ve more than sacrificed your own sanity, time, energy, joy for someone else? Raise both hands if that someone was a man. Think about the years and years that you’ve held your raised hands up as you gave and gave; it’s fucking exhausting to hold your hands up with an infinite time limit with no reprieve.
I can count on both my fingers and toes the amount of times in one day, before I woke up, where I would give more of myself to someone else and sacrificing me time. To constantly see others, their needs, and put my love, energy, and focus there. I did not see myself, my needs, and nourish myself.
Let me tell you about a client of mine. Let’s call her A. A gives and gives to the point of her own detriment. A since high school frequently gives so much of her time to the point where she takes up residence in a hospital. At 16, she was admitted to the hospital where she resided for 6 weeks because she had migraines so bad her vision was going. The hospital told her it was due to stress levels that are dangerous for anyone. They told her to learn how to destress. The advice was not to give less. It was learn how to continue to serve and not allow the stress to build. Flash forward a decade and this mantra of serving others without caring for herself is ever present. This time, she has a nervous breakdown, fails a vision test with her glasses on and ends up on bedrest for weeks.
As women we have this tendency to serve until we cannot serve anymore. Until it physically causes harm. It may seem that women give because it’s in our nature but if it were natural, would women work until they are physically unable to function? I say no.
Giving is this beautiful thing but I’m afraid it doesn’t always come from a place of a genuine need to serve. There is this massive cultural emphasis on what the perfect woman is. She is slender, demure, sexual at appropriate times, giving, motherly, sacrificial, etc. She’s “perfect”, which isn’t real and if it was it’d be boring.This woman has been burned into our minds for decades on decades. I call her my “good girl”. She’s the one that is ready to say “yes”, so she doesn’t see the hot anger in their eyes or feel the weight of disappointment if she says the opposite. The one who quiets the intuitive pulls in her womb to slow down, savor, and rest. Remember A? Her mother has a similar pattern of giving until she gets physically ill. Her grandmother volunteered so much that she neglected having life-changing surgeries because it was selfish to focus on herself.
Elizabeth Gilbert, writer of Eat, Pray, Love wrote about her own over-giving tendencies in a piece called, “How to Avoid Giving Too Much Of Yourself.” In the piece she states, “When I lost my friends, it was because I had used the power of giving on them recklessly. I swept into their lives with my big fat checkbook, and I erased years of obstacles for them overnight—but sometimes, in the process, I also accidentally erased years of dignity. Sometimes, by interrupting his biographical narrative so jarringly, I denied a friend the opportunity to learn his own vital life lesson at his own pace. In other words, just when I believed I was operating as a dream-facilitator, I was actually turning into a destiny disruptor.”
Men have created this ideal woman and as women we are complicit in the execution of this woman. We police each other. I cannot begin to tell you the judgment a woman faces when she says “no” to a volunteer opportunity. Even that phrase is a way of policing others. Volunteering is an opportunity. When we look at Thesaurus.com, they list synonyms for opportunity that include words like freedom, relief, and liberty. Denying relief, freedom and liberty is frowned upon. But just as Gilbert stated, it can be a detriment.
So if giving so freely of overselves is unnatural for ourselves and others, why do we do it?
I have a few ideas.
I am a firm believer that the patriarchy is still very much in control. I believe that just because women are now at a point of paying closer attention does not mean we have severed the behaviors that tie us to the patriarchy. We’re so used to the “perfect woman” fashioned by the patriarchy that anything else feels dangerous, inappropriate, or bitchy, and by stepping out from under the patriarchy umbrella we won’t be safe, accepted, or loved.
Women are still policing each other. We are still dictating and passing judgement on women for doing what is natural to them. We still use sexist language. We still do what is unnatural because “society” deems certain behaviors ideal. We’re so used to the “perfect woman” fashioned by the patriarchy that anything else feels dangerous, inappropriate, or bitchy, and by stepping out from under the patriarchy umbrella we won’t be safe, accepted, or loved.
We’re going to make a shift, right here, together. When we can recognize certain behaviors as being toxic and no longer conducive to our lives, we can make a change. It starts with each of us making a change.
Here are some things to be on the lookout for:
1. Giving when it brings you no joy
Way too often, we give without finding joy in the service. We just sort of suck it up as something we have to do. But here’s the thing, the only thing you have to do is take care of yourself. We’ve all heard the phrase, you cannot pour from an empty cup well it’s time to implement that ideology. Many of our cups are worn, chipped and cracked. If it brings you no joy, out it goes.
2. When your emotional needs are not being met
This is a huge problem we face as women. We try to care for others before we care for ourselves. If you’ve ever been on a plane, during the safety demonstration the flight attendants will say to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. You cannot save the person next to you if you’re dead. Facts are facts. The same logic follows for our emotional well-being. We cannot serve others at our highest capacity if our own needs are not being met. How can we give what we do not ourselves have?
3. You’re thinking about others reactions if you stop over-giving
I’ve been there and done that. I’ve dealt with the anxiety that comes with the thought process that so and so will be angry if I say no to them. I can assure you that chances are you’re not the only person capable of solving the issue at hand, there are others. Furthermore, it is not your job to solve the problems of other people.
4. Busy is part of your vocabulary
If busy is part of your daily vocabulary you’re doing too much. I am so anti-busy because it’s association of stacking to do’s and other people’s needs so high on the priority list while only running on fumes. Busy is not a badge of honor, even if society wants you to think it is. Being busy is not the same as impactfulness. You can busy but making no impact and isn’t that the reason we as women tend to give so much?
Guilt is something women talk about all the time. More importantly, guilt is something women feel and talk about all the time. Being everything to everyone comes with the price of not valuing yourself. I see posts daily about “mom-guilt.” Where is all this guilt coming from? It comes from a society that says you have to be everything to everyone. If you feel guilty at work for not being with the family but more importantly feel guilty with your family for not working, you have a problem.
This is another major warning sign you do too much. If you’re giving of yourself freely and then feeling resentment and anger, you’re doing too much. As stated before, generosity is never a bad thing when a comes from a good place. If it comes from a place of obligation, ask yourself why you feel so obligated?
As we continue to acknowledge the pressure we put on ourselves, we open ourselves up to new discoveries. The more we get over this patriarchal hangover we’re experiencing, the more we can truly find ourselves. Take up a practice of self-care. This may be the first time you’ve ever thought about self-care. I give you permission to take a pause and care for yourself. I give you permission to break free of the chains that are holding you in a place of stress, anger, anxiety and burnout.
By holding women in a place of constant service, the patriarchy has created a system that has women facing burnout while they can focus on other things like building successful careers. Corporate America is built for men by men. As women we have to decide how we want to engage with a society that tries to keep women in a state of stress. Women have an opportunity to create a life full of joy, playfulness, intuition, and wisdom as female-bodied beings. There’s a life-giving radiance when women are embodied with that. Our choice that reflects that is key to the confident, sexy, and empowerment that we crave.
We can choose to be complicit or we can choose to change. The choice is yours.