Many women who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s were unconsciously programmed to be caregivers. We learned from our mothers and grandmothers the importance of taking care of others first and ourselves last. As adults we continued to carry on this tradition. We took our responsibilities very seriously.
Proper etiquette dictated that at mealtime women were to take care of family and friends first. Then, when everyone else was satisfied, they were free to help themselves to whatever was left. Women were instructed to keep a smile on their faces no matter how much their feet hurt. Slaving over a hot stove preparing a scrumptious meal was what they did. It was their job. They never thought to question that there might be an easier way.
When a loved one needed assistance, women were taught to drop what they were doing and immediately rush to their rescue. Someone might need help removing a splinter from a finger or a raisin from a nose. The possibilities were endless. They were on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Fast forward to 2016. Flight attendants now remind us to put our oxygen masks on first before we assist our children. It is a new dawn and a new day and now we are having challenges in our relationships. Relationship gurus tell us we need to ask for what we want. How are we supposed to know how to do this? For decades we believed that showing our love meant taking care of others without addressing our own needs.
How can we learn to communicate more effectively in our relationships and ask for what we want?
1. Accept that we are worthy of goodness and respect. This is all about empowerment. As we begin to realize how accomplished we are, we will comprehend that we are worthy of asking for what we want. When we pay attention to the positive choices we make, we can celebrate our successes. Most of us have no idea what a difference we make in the lives of so many. Those same care-giving qualities that we are so famous for should be celebrated as huge accomplishments. Sending our children off to school with healthy lunches and loving notes can make all the difference in their day. Delivering homemade soup to an ill friend says I care about you, when perhaps they had doubts if anyone actually did. Connecting through love and kindness is true success not measured by a dollar sign. It is priceless.
2. Begin practicing to ask for what we want in small ways. When we are trying to develop new muscles, we must exercise regularly while not overdoing it. We might want to start by trying this out with a good friend that loves us unconditionally. Next time they ask us where we want to go for lunch, we can tell them. Many of us automatically answer, “I don’t care. Whatever you want is fine with me.” The more we ask for what we want, the easier it will be.
3. Recognize that some people might not appreciate our newly empowered ways. The important people in our lives are used to us acting in certain ways. Some of them may even enjoy the power they have over us. Because of this, when we exercise our independence, things may be a bit challenging at first. This is when effective communication becomes so important. We must ask for what we want and then be willing to stand up for ourselves in respectful and compassionate ways. For example, when asking our children for help we might say, “I know you have had a long day, but I could really use some help with the dishes. Do you want to wash or dry? Oh, and why don’t you put on your favorite music?” Asking for help takes courage and strength, but we can do it. After all, we have a long history of scrubbing floors on hands and knees and staying up all night with sick children. Certainly we have the fortitude to ask for some assistance cleaning the bathroom or doing last night’s crusty dishes.
4. Practice gratitude with people when they allow us to ask for what we want and then comply with our requests. For example, "Thank you for helping me to do the dishes. I really appreciated your help. We sure finished them in a hurry. Your music must have inspired us.” Appreciation is so crucial in effective communication. Most people really do want to meet our needs and make us happy. Often they just never knew what we wanted, because we never asked.
5. Understand that paying attention to the interaction in the present moment is an essential part of effective communication. In relationships it is important to compromise and be flexible. If someone looks a little green around the gills, we might want to rethink the request. For example, “I am sorry I didn’t realize you have such a bad headache. Why don’t you go and rest and I will pick up the kids.” Compassion and understanding will always come back to us at just the right time. It is a universal principle. When we ask for what we want we become empowered. Empowerment provides us with a sense of joy that we are able to pass on to others. Isn’t that all we wanted to do in the first place?
Laura has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development, and a Teaching Credential. She has worked with under served youth and their families as a Child and Family Therapist in the Foster Care System, a Positive Parenting Educator for Burmese refugees, and a Math and ESL Tutor. Currently Laura is a Life Coach helping individuals navigate the waters of change.