“If you really put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price”
~ author unknown
I have spent the morning reading quotes and inspirational bits on kindness, generosity and compassion. I am certain that I have acquired a saintly glow from all these beautiful and noble words, and also from all the love and desire to do good that dwell in my heart. But I just snapped out of it. Because there is such a thing as overdoing all the niceness, to everyone else’s benefit, and one’s own serious detriment. And this is a serious problem that I come across ALL the time.
It just so happens that many of life’s most valuable lessons end up adding insult to existing injury. Not only are we hurt, but we have to recognize that all too often, the reason we’re hurt is because we allowed ourselves to be hurt. This is the one thing people find most difficult to hear and swallow, and it’s also the most difficult thing to tell ourselves, tell a friend, or in my case, a client. The simple yet brutal truth is that we do teach people how to treat us, what is acceptable and isn’t, what the boundaries are. Sometimes we forget that if we carry too much, others will be only too happy to carry very little; and if we allow or accommodate everything, others will learn that anything goes.
Some of us, especially women, have this awful habit of devoting so much of our energy trying to make others (mostly our children and partners) as happy and comfortable as possible. We mistakenly believe and trust that if we give to others, when we need something, they will all rush to reciprocate. Eventually, we find out just how wrong we’ve been. Because the moment we ask for or need something ourselves, everyone looks at us like we’ve gone mad.
The problem is that by giving too much, we condition others to expect everything from us to the point that they feel entitled to it all. What we do and offer is no longer a gift and a privilege. Instead, it all becomes the norm. And why would people think otherwise if we don’t set any boundaries, if we consistently show them that no demand is over the top, and no effort on our part too great? Why would anyone think they should reciprocate if we’re the ones constantly giving, and then apologizing when we need something?
Many women consider it our duty to – dare I say it – accommodate and serve. Women are taught to be nurturers. Our darn hormones force us to be nurturers! We are taught that we must be selfless, generous, patient, modest and hard working. These days, we not only have to be super-moms, but also super-scholars and career-women…or else.
We wanted equality, did we not? So…we have to pull our weight…never mind that we’re already pulling everyone else’s. Alongside a paycheck, we better have a list of daily accomplishments from here to the moon, otherwise we’re just consuming oxygen and taking up space for no good reason. And since nobody can ever produce a list from here to the moon, at the end of the day, on top of feeling overwhelmed by whatever fills up our lesser list, we get to feel guilty.
As diligent and consistent as we are with our giving and nurturing, there are times when we stop, complain, and ask for things. You know, huge things like a little extra attention, a bit of extra love, maybe a compliment, some validation, some recognition and thanks. And what happens? As I mentioned above, everyone thinks we’ve gone mad. Did we forget about unconditional love? If we choose to give, then what the heck are we doing asking or expecting something in return? How dare we make demands? That’s selfish and unacceptable. How can we be so needy and dependent? Shame on us.
And so we bow our heads and go back to our routine. The good gods forbid anyone should ever think we’re not doing everything to make those around us feel better, or improve a situation with an outpouring of love, support, kindly explanations and acceptance. The gods forbid we should ever seem like we’re not trying hard enough or giving 100%.
And if there’s a problem, any problem, clearly we have failed. It’s our responsibility, something we did wrong. We failed at parenting if junior gets a bad grade, we failed at relationships if our partner is somehow displeased or annoyed, and we failed as individuals if we do not behave in rock-like, super-hero fashion, and heavens forbid have moments of weakness…if we falter and need someone to lean on for a bit, or worse, have an emotional outburst because we’re exhausted, feeling a bit uncertain and frustrated. You know, all those emotions that are normal for everyone else.
Some will argue there is a pathology associated with all this, and I mention it with apologies to all the amazing women who do not deserve this additional insult. We must be the weaker sex of course, although nobody will say it out loud these days, only try to prove it with disorders and labels. It’s very interesting how even women discussing women’s issues rush to pathology in an effort to explain our problems. At the same time, I have yet to see a diagnosis that covers selfish, inconsiderate people (dare I say men) who know no limits, act entitled and ultimately disrespectful to the very individuals who give them the most, who care about them the most and who stand unwavering by their side, offering affection and love on a platter. I guess we could use narcissism, but even that sounds endearing…I mean Narcissus was, after all, such a gorgeous specimen, in love with himself…for how could he not be?
In my coaching practice, I leave the pathology aside. Women are still conditioned to values and standards that set them up for some level of weakness and feelings of inadequacy in life. All too often, in spite of being extraordinary moms and/or achieving quite extraordinary results in their professional lives, there is always that underlying theme of not being good enough that women carry, one that leads to our over-doing, over-giving and over-achieving. And it’s not because we’re weak, needy or whatever else. It’s because we’ve been taught that we have to prove ourselves, that we should give more than we should expect in return, that it’s ok to accommodate and make excuses for others, but never ok to need some accommodation for ourselves.
All the wonderful women I know have earned the steel in their backbones through harsh trials. And all share similar stories of excessive niceness, of seeking to please and fulfill their conditioned duties only to end up being pushed around, stepped on and taken advantage of. Some were physically hurt, some emotionally abused, some simply reprimanded, neglected or punished in various ways for expressing and having personal needs, for asking that they be respectfully acknowledged and taken care of.
So what I’m saying is this…there is nothing wrong with ambition, with doing one’s best, with being generous, kind, focused and in-tune with the needs of others. Give with all your heart, love with all your heart, be there for those you love and show them how important they are. But boundaries need to be in place. If anyone, at any time, gets an entitled attitude, starts to take advantage, or fails to reciprocate claiming that they shouldn’t have to “owe” anyone for whatever they take and enjoy, nip it in the bud or else it’s going to grow into a monster of a situation that will swallow you and your love, generosity and kindness, then spit you out with more bumps and bruises than you can count.
Nobody owes you or me for what we choose to give or do, but no relationship on this earth, be it with kids, with partners, with co-workers, with friends, with family members, with pets even, can ever be one-sided. Any interaction is an exchange, one where nobody should be counting or measuring what they give or receive, but everyone should be mindful and interested that their contribution matches what they get from others. And so “owing” someone else becomes an issue of naturally wanting to give back, of caring about creating or enhancing someone else’s wellness without being asked, and most certainly without feeling like it’s a chore.
Bottom line…we teach others what we are worth, we teach them how to treat us, and if we do or offer too much, and all the time, if we accept every claim without making any of our own, then we have to expect that others will do or offer very little, if anything, and make it a habit of resisting any attempt on our part to balance things out. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to be selfish, but I am encouraging women in particular to be mindful of their own needs, to set some limits on their nurturing and generosity, so that those lucky enough to be around them know that even though some things do come on a platter, we must all do our share, and earn at least some of what we take.