Some time ago, one of my husband’s family members had a bad accident. The family was awesome. Everyone rushed to his bedside, visiting, praying, showing up at the hospital at any odd hour of the day.
But as the weeks dragged on, the most important person at his side was always his wife. It was she who held his hand when he went through depressive states. It was she who advocated for him to the nurses and doctors. And she received the brunt of his anger when the pain got to be too much.
And she felt it. She got more and more tired, more and more depleted. And even though lots of people still checked in with her, she had trouble asking them for help. At the end of the day, she remained the person who picked up most of the slack.
Lots of women have trouble with that. They give and give and can’t help but feel responsible for everything. The might allow others to help, but emotionally are so tied into the other person’s needs that they can’t really relax. They keep worrying even when things seem to be under control.
Ask yourself: Is it hard for you to withdraw your supporting energy from others even just temporarily, and take care of yourself? Do you find yourself becoming the go to person to help others, again and again?
One way to change that is ...
Everybody talks about having healthy boundaries. But what if our boundaries are too thick?
For a long time I woke up in the middle of the night and worried if I had enough friends. Never mind that I have good relationships with family, neighbors and several communities, of a spiritual and professional nature. But somehow in the wee hours of the morning, when lots and lots of people seem to lie awake and worry, none of this counted. I felt lonely. I made lists of people in my head I should be calling. I analyzed why I could possibly feel this way. I the morning these thoughts had disappeared. But then they came back, during another sleepless night.
Loneliness is maybe the number one cause of any fragile mental health. It lurks in the background of most depressive states, causes anxiety and panic attacks, and leads to addictions and premature death. Mental health experts have long found that in order to live a meaningful life, we need healthy relationships and a network of strong community ties.
So why are we so lonely? Isn’t ours one of the chattiest and most extroverted cultures on the planet?
Ask most women what brings them pleasure, and you will meet at least one moment of silence. Lots of women don’t even really know what self care and having fun for themselves means any more. There is so much focus on the family (younger and older), on getting things done, on making money and taking care of the house, on cleaning up other people’s messes, that there’s not even mental space for her own needs.
Years ago, I too could barely come up with anything beyond the typical “take a long hot bath”, or “eat lots of ice cream”.
The mere sight of a tree or a houseplant may seem unlikely to offer any significant benefits, but thanks to a growing body of scientific research, it has become clear the human brain really does care about scenery — and craves greenery.
The little known field of Ecopsychology and Ecotherapy has been slowly simmering away over the last few decades and with more and more books and articles written on the benefits of nature and people like Alistair Humphrey's promoting the back-yard micro-adventure, things are slowly starting to become more mainstream.
About the difficult art of seeing others as they are, not as they are to us. Because: Relationship is always mutual.
The task of renewing Earth belongs to Earth, as the renewal of any organism takes place from within. Yet we humans have our own special role, a leading role in the renewal, just as we had the dominant role in the devastation.
We know that our real self shines through when we are in a relaxed, calm state. When we have enough energy and strength to explore the world with curiosity. When we are creative and can focus the mind on designing something new.
It is present, when we feel connected: connected to a person we love, connected to nature, connected to a sense of purpose. It is triggered even through a short encounter with a stranger that is fun and pleasant. The true self is in action when we feel confident about a task we’re doing, or about a skill we have acquired. And it is genuinely compassionate.
Many women (and some men as well) learn to be overly compassionate with others. There is nothing wrong with showing empathy to others, but it is wrong when we forget to be compassionate with ourselves. When we deplete our resources, we disregard our own needs. That is not the true self. That’s another part that needs attention.
When we are in touch with our true self, we stand in our true power. Genuine power is not power over others, but power within oneself. There is no need to dominate others, because we are at peace inside.
It is not hard to find your Inner Self. You don’t have to meditate for 20 years to find it. All that’s needed is a state of calm. It’s not something magical and mystical - although it can have these qualities. It is present when we are not distressed and can simply be.
It may not be there all day long. And that is ok. That’s what being human means. The mind is always in flux, as the Buddhists rightfully teach. There is always movement - sometimes in big ways, and sometimes in small. But there is no permanence. And that also means that we cannot be in our larger self every minute of the day. You will be tired, you will be triggered and you will lose touch with the larger self - temporarily.
And then you can work to get back in touch with it.
Women have much to offer as spiritual teachers: to their children, their families, their communities. But many of us have not quite developed the confidence to know that this is an innate ability and even responsibility of ours, which must be nurtured and passed on.
Many women are trapped in the belief that their voices don’t matter. That their intuition is not valid, or maybe even that it’s not safe to speak up. But we need women’s voices to get through the transition we are currently in on a global scale - in politics, society and redefining what gender identify means today.
To develop spiritually we first must wake up. We must wake up to all the ways we can make a difference. So many of us have learned to hide their true selves - behind roles as mothers and wives or caretakers. Sometimes that means we have to grow up. To leave behind a sense of dependency on a relationship or a job we may not be fulfilled by.
Signs of Awakening, writes Maria Harris in her book “Dance of the Spirit - The Seven Steps of Women’s Spirituality”, are when we stop telling ourselves “Someone will always take care of me”, or “If I please them, they’ll be nice to me”. Waking up and growing up are closely related.
When we awaken we learn to speak our truth. We realize that some relationships will change or fall away because of that. We won’t be able to please everyone any longer, live up to others’ expectations. We learn to trust our own intuition, and our own sense of what’s right and wrong. And that may no longer work with what your husband says, or your pastor, or your own mother. People who take care of us have a certain power over us, and it is up to us to take that power back by taking care of ourselves.
Growing up also means that we have to acknowledge our own imperfections. That each of us has a “shadow” side that we must own and work with. It’s no longer “them” who are to blame for the mistakes and the suffering out there. We have to fess up to how we contribute to the imbalances in the world, and roll up our sleeves to try and rectify them. Only when we are in touch with our own suffering and imperfections can we have true compassion and a sense of agency.
Harris quotes from a novel of Margaret Atwood who wrote: “Above all refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that, I can do nothing. I have to give up my old belief that I am powerless and because of it nothing I do will ever hurt anyone. A lie which was always more disastrous than the truth would have been. Withdrawing is no longer possible, and the alternative is death.” That sounds dramatic, but there are many small deaths to be died by continuing to give up our own power.
All of this is, of course, incredibly hard to do. We need the support of other women to keep us going. Much of how we think as a society is based on victimization. It’s always someone else who does wrong and is to blame. But Awakening is the most important step on the spiritual path. No one has ever said that Awakening is easy.
Codependency is defined as one partner being dependent on the control and the needs of another, like when a self defeating partner falls for a narcissist. For the codependent person, the needs of the other become paramount, and one’s own needs and desires – sometimes even the whole personality are obliterated.
The primary task of a codependent person is individuation. Becoming one’s own priority. Knowing and realizing one’s desires. Discovering the self. And eventually standing on your own feet within a partnership.
The way a person becomes codependent often goes back to childhood, when a parent or an important family member or a caretaker used the child as an extension of the self and did not allow the child to develop his or her own personality.
The most important job of the child was to attend to the parent’s needs – be it directly by obeying whatever the parent said, or indirectly, by becoming the person the parent wanted us to be: be good, be quiet, be compliant, be like them, be the nurturer, become the better version of the parent and so on.
Parent and child became emotionally fused. There is no independent will the child may pursue. There is only the needs and fears of one person, the all powerful and dominant parent.
Even when the parent outwardly rejects the child, because he or she doesn’t seem to live up to their expectations, the child will still try to gain the approval of the parent and won’t be permitted or able to become an individual.
Children of emotionally fused parents will end up in codependent relationships later in life. Becoming aware of this dynamic is very painful. The first task is to grieve the lost self, and to find the pillars on which one’s own personality rest.
Even if it feels like all energy goes into the needs of other people, there is still a fundamental inner core that represents the true self.
Go back and look at old pictures. Maybe there was an aunt or a grandparent that fostered independence and new ideas in you. Maybe there was a game you played with other kids, or an art project in school that represented your innate sense of yourself.
Maybe you read a certain kind of books, or created your own world inside your mind. What did that look like? What kind of stories did you feel drawn to? What places did you retreat to that gave you peace and joy?
There is a place inside that is indestructible and will expand and flourish if you start paying attention to it. It is never too late to start.