It’s important to ask, “What do I feel and what do I want?” When we neglect to take time to consider our choices we often commit self-betrayal, which then results in betrayal of others…
A friend recently called me for advice. Every year her family eats a Christmas meal at the home of one of her in-laws. She’d decided to host the meal this year and then found herself at odds with her mother-in-law without being sure how a conflict had developed.
Normally, after visiting several hours, her family leaves in the evening and comes to our house to play games. After inviting everyone to her home, my friend asked her mother-in-law, “So…when does everyone normally leave? I want to coordinate a visit to my friend’s house later that night.” Naturally, her mother-in-law was put off by this question.
I asked my friend if she could see how she had failed to take responsibility for her own wants upfront and as a result was putting the burden of responsibility for getting what she wanted on her mother-in-law. At first she couldn’t see this. I explained she’d neglected to ask, “What do I feel and what do I want?” fully before taking action. I asked, “Did you really want to host this dinner?” After a pause, she said, “Well, no one else was offering, so I thought I should. I see now it’s also important to me this choice not be at the cost of our usual tradition with you.”
I helped her see that if she would have slowed down and sat longer in the question of “what am I feeling and what do I want?” she would have made a more responsible and accountable decision. She might have then said, “I want to host the Christmas meal and I also want to make sure our family keeps our tradition of visiting my friend’s house. Therefore, we want to conclude our meal by 8 p.m. Will this work for you?”
Accountability is when what we think, feel, say and do is aligned and we are fully aware of and willing to accept the consequences of our choices. Ultimately, my friend’s lack of self-consideration (a state common among women) actually led to the very selfishness she and so many other women fear. In our work with clients, we teach that each and every person has personal power and is responsible for how they consciously exercise it.
Unfortunately, due to common parenting and educational methods, most people don’t receive adequate guidance and training in personal responsibility. Instead we are often told our wants are selfish and our job is to make sure others are happy, accept us and validate us. We are taught we “have to”, “ought to”, and “should.”
Because my friend made a choice from “I should”, she was behaving in what we call an “other-directed” rather than “self-directed” manner. Neglecting to ask, “what do I feel and what do I want?” she failed to fully own her choice and committed self-betrayal, which always results in betrayal of others and a lack of full engagement. When other-directed, we either resentfully comply with or resist a real or perceived inner or outer authority figure. We then don’t feel 100% responsible for our tasks, relationships and moods. This was evident when my friend focused on the minimum, didn’t see her role in offending her mother-in-law nor felt her own negative mood about the event which was obvious to me as her friend.
Predictably, her mother-in-law experienced my friend’s behavior as that of “victim” and as “mean”. This is always the result when someone is in “other-directed” mode. What is most troublesome is that if my friend had remained unconscious of the cause and effects of her other-directed choice-making, she would not see her role and be unable to make adjustments. She would continue to inflate her own virtues (“I was nice enough to offer my home this year!”) deflate the virtues of others (“What’s she getting so upset about?”) and be more likely to resent and blame her in-laws, creating further negative effects.
Ironically, diligent self-care is the best guarantee for generosity, social interest and a state of overflow. Rather than asking, “Am I selfish?” a better question would be, “What do I want and freely choose?” As each of us then uses our personal power and choice consciously, our responses are always best for all and we present ourselves as we truly are – amazing, incredible and loving beings!
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As published nationally in the Women’s Journals, February 2007