Self care part 2: your people
Updated: Feb 5
"What Shamu taught me about a healthy marriage" is an article by Amy Sutherland in the NYT in 2006. It made great waves in the psychology and relationship counseling world. I never forgot that article. It is long but in essence says Amy led her husband to be a better, more reciprocal partner through techniques she saw trainers use on dolphins. Now whether or not you are opposed to keeping these great creatures in captivity, the article makes a valid point. Humans, just like animals, can be trained.
What does this have to do with anything, you ask? I reference this article when getting deeper into self-care. In the last post I talked about the concept of self-care. Now we must apply this new found sense of self to our environments. This part can be even trickier than the first!!
Our families (in and out of the home) are like little efficient machines. Our routine and roles all lay comfortably within each day. Each of us wakes, and falls in line with the things expected of us. We know what our responsibility (or lack thereof) is to our people, household, job, school; this is because we live it, day in and day out. Much of this rests in our subconscious- we don’t even acknowledge any of it, we just proceed through our days just like the last ones.
Now add into this finely humming system a family member (that’s you!) that wants to change things up. Change their role. Change your role. Shake things up so that you have to be conscious about these things you rested so easily into. Assigning yourself a new role means the others around you must be assigned new ones too. The apple cart is tipped. Folks in your sphere are now awake, annoyed and uncomfortable. Guess what? They will live.
This takes conscious effort. This will be a ginormous pain in the ass. No one in your household (or work or extended family) can read your mind when you are depleted or exhausted and need a break. Do you know why not? They are not trained to see it. If your role thus far has been to fill in the holes for everyone at the expense of yourself, then your suffering becomes impossible to see. Train your people differently. They have been comfortable and cared for and up until now, and that has been enough for you. Waiting for one of them to see you need help and thus change up their own roles to do so is like watching out the window for grass to grow. Expecting they will fulfill your needs without you asking is unrealistic. They love you. They do not mean you harm. They just have been humming along in this situation nicely. They will need your guidance to begin to alter their roles in your home or outside life. They will need help helping you. They will need you to step up and be the voice of change. The actual voice, not just a bunch of subliminal messages you hope they catch on to. You will need to be firm. Stand strong. Begin to delegate. Guilt will plague you. Resist its familiar pull. Keep consciously reminding yourself you are worthy of this.
The blow back may be epic. Or it may be a small whine. You may live/work/be related to lovely, malleable folks, or stubborn assholes. I am here to tell you they can ALL be trained. If you stay the course, make this outward and conscious effort to make yourself part of the equation in your daily life, they will begin to do so also. Begin to step back from tasks they can do themselves; delegate with purpose. At first, they may pretend to not have heard you ask. Let the clothes stay on the floor, dishes in the sink. Your uber driver license can be retired. You don’t have to be at every single sports event your kid participates in. You don’t have to answer the phone when your needy family member calls. You don’t have to stay at work late. Examine the things in your daily life that bring you joy and those that feel heavy. Prioritize the things that fill you, the ways in which you do participate in these units that you enjoy. I am not suggesting you pack a bag and take a long vacation. Or go on strike. I am suggesting you alter your own role through these types of behavior modification techniques so that your days do not fly by without you having done one damn thing for yourself. So that your head doesn’t hit your pillow at night overwhelmed, exhausted and resentful. Having your people step up is good for them too. Remembering they have a responsibility to their people makes them better folks in and outside of your home.
Slowly but surely, you can “train” your loved ones and beyond to add you to their priority list. You do this by making yourself one and following through consistently. Through reward (i.e. praise for their efforts) and extinction tactics (ignore the resistance, set clear boundaries), you can re-enter your life as an equal member and not an indentured servant.