For years I dressed myself daily in a very predictable manner. I'd put on my "button-down-responsible-adult" shirt on top my "dutiful-daughter-and-sister" pants and layer on my "prompt-responder-to-all-crises" vest. Before heading out the door I'd don my "going-above-and-beyond-anything-I-tackle" coat and, for good measure, I would take my "you-can-rely-on-me-for-everything" hat and "sure-I-can-do-that-for-you" scarf.
As the years went by and life became more complex so did my wardrobe. I began amassing new 'looks' as I took on more roles and responsibilities, adding outfit after outfit to my already overstuffed closet and drawers.
Initially, I didn’t mind some of the tight, constricting clothes I had to wear. After all, my "exercise-until-you-fit-into-a-size-zero-or-else-you're-fat" pantyhose and my "work-hard-every-second-of-your-life-to-prove-yourself" dress resulted in oh so many compliments. Who doesn't like being admired? And as others' admiration and respect for me grew, the more I measured my worth by the hats I wore and the sacrifices I made.
With time, the undergarments of "discipline-and-selflessness" and "I-can-be-Wonder-Woman-and-gracious-at-the-same-time" bra began to pinch and be very uncomfortable. I could barely wait to get home to tear them off so I could breathe freely.
As my tolerance for self-inflicted pain and misery waned, a radical thought began to form...
"What if I peel off these layers of duty, role, responsibility, identity, conformity, and expectation? What would be left?"
The internal dialogue that ensued lasted for years and involved a devil and angel on each shoulder.
Then, like a flash of lightning, the truth illuminated the stormy landscape of my thoughts. The birth of my nephew ignited a spark of clarity.
With reverent awe, I marveled at this tiny wonder, the unfathomable miracle I held gingerly in my arms. This wee baby entered the world without any clothes or identities; in fact, he didn't even have a name. He didn't need a cloak of conformity to be pure preciousness; he just was.
As I imagined this sweet existence growing up into adulthood it was clear to me that his developmental metamorphosis would not in any way change the fact that he was a priceless being. Another luminous thunderbolt: the same holds true for me, and you, and every single human being on the planet.
So, what did I end up doing, you ask?
No, I did not become a nudist or shun all attire as a result of this realization.
I simply began to acknowledge my true nature prior to getting dressed everyday.
Now, I take a moment to nod to the fact that I am life manifested; that I am enough.
I do not need to define or justify my existence with the garbs of identity;
I enter and exit this world in my skin; the garment of my soul.
If you’re looking to shed your own confining layers and feel free and light, take a look at my private community. It’s what I now do for a living: helping people-pleasing women shift from being everyone else’s life-saver, to savouring their own life.
I have just discovered this blog-post! I love it! I can remember you in your many garments and can definitely see the healthy change you have made, yay!!
I do have one question, though: how do you differentiate between our need to be there for others and pleasing?
I had this dilemma while working through the same issues, and even today I feel that it is not always an easy choice. Sometimes something that may seem like pleasing, and therefore the behavious I want to change, can actually be my heart’s desire to be there for a friend, although it does not feel ideal or exciting for me. I’ll appreciate if you can share your thoughts on this.
Beloved Bana (aka "Arjuna's Arrow"),
I love your question.
I have to agree with you that it can be tricky deciphering between a genuine desire to be there for someone and the people-pleasing urge.
I use two things as a gauge: First, I ask myself "what is the real motivation behind my desire to do 'x’'?" If I feel even a little bit of pressure to do something, or my motivation is to avoid feeling guilty or to gain approval, it usually means it's the wrong decision.
If there's simply a sense of joy and an 'inner pull' or wanting to let someone know you care, then it's typically a sign to follow through.
Secondly, I use my 'body compass' to inform me. If I think of helping 'x' and I sense discomfort (ex. tightness, tension, a knot) or anything besides expansion and lightness in my body, it typically means the conditioned people-pleasing 'me' is responding.
If I feel 'lighter' or this sense of 'calm energy', or an urge to smile and stand taller, it's a green light.
Having said that, it's not always that simple. Sometimes you need to break things down even further. In this case, I picture myself following through on helping 'x' and check in with my body as I walk through each step to see what feels good or not. If, for example, talking with my friend feels good, but the thought of driving to her house to do so doesn't, I am then clear on which actions to take and which not – I can offer to chat on the phone or ask her to come over instead.
In my experience, really kind people often overtax themselves by doing too much, or giving up too much of their time – learning to moderate that and set boundaries on what/how much feels good for you is the key.
Lastly, how you feel after interacting with someone or doing something is one of the best indicators to guide you… there are situations where someone is an 'energy vampire' – where you feel drained after interacting with them and no matter how much you give it's not enough. In those cases, it's a clear 'no' (for me).
Please let me know if I answered your question or if a new question has arisen, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
(As you know, the 'body compass' is easier 'felt' than explained in words… so if you want more detail here please let me know).
Love you, Bana!
Thank you so much, dearest Kaliopi!
You know that I know all this in theory, and reading your detail and caring response brought an a-ha to me why this is so tricky sometimes for me. One is that I question my body compass to make sure I read it accurately, and this takes me to an over-thinking mode, instead of just feeling. The other is that a lack of time and not being able to rest properly make it difficult for me to read my body compass.
So, anyway, I need to make more adjustments in my life in order to be more in alignment with myself, which definitely also means taking off some layers of clothing, as you put it!
I'll meet you on the beach!:-)
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond!
P.S. I loved Arjuna's Arrow reference! 💗
You are so right, the theory is one thing and reality is another – learning to be able to read your body and gut feelings accurately is a skill that takes time and practice and is difficult when it's one of those 'murky', tricky situations that have you feeling conflicted.
I am glad my response triggered an a-ha for you… by the sounds of it, the first step is rest rest rest (yes, I know, easier said than done).
It makes sense you don't trust your inner 'compass' and that your poor body is unable to give you clear messages; it's worn out and needs some TLC to function properly and do its job. It can't weigh in on other areas of your life until it has been made a priority. In our fast-paced modern lives, it can be so hard to practice extreme self-care when your job or certain commitments (life!) take up most of your waking hours. My hunch is that this is the real problem, finding time to consistently make yourself a priority and rest. Tell me where I'm wrong? 🙂
So… which beach are we meeting at? You're in Europe, I'm in Canada… how about something in between? The Canary Islands? You bring the suntan lotion, I'll bring the towels. Deal?
You are exactly right, of course… And I've been aware of that, too, but still in the liminal phase of figuring out how to make more room for me in my life!
The Canaries sound fabulous! I'm bringing the sunscreen, and shade is always welcome!
P.S. I have just had another a-ha moment coming from this metaphor we used: good self-care doesn't end with taking off what's in the way. It takes some additional handling with care, in order to avoid burns…!
What came to mind is something I read several years back and never quite understood: "You can’t always oblige, but you can always speak obligingly." Now it clicked – the last step in setting boundaries with love!
Hope I'm making sense! Thanks for this inspiring exchange, Kaliopi, and keep up the great work!
The pleasure has been mine, Bana!
I love your latest aha!
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