Plautus came up with this around 200 B.C. and the idea still lives. Life. It can be so hard. Especially when we follow Plautus’ formula and work to please others while neglecting the care of ourselves.
A friend told me she realizes her cup must stay full in order to really give. Do many men ever think this “hey I need to fill up my emotional cup”? Is it not more likely, that many men just think, “oh there is a free power source, let me just go plug in there”!
Often ready, willing, and able, to freely be their outlets, we may think “how cute they are taking care of their kids, here let me help them. Wow, look at how hard they are working, let’s make sure we do everything for them. We go into “mommy” mode and then have a grown man for a son. We may think on one level this is absurd and on the other do exactly what we think sounds absurd! Some of us may go the other way with hostility and think “hell no, do your own laundry”. A few of us may be fortunate enough to be in a balanced partnership where there is a healthy give and take.
Many believe it’s just because men and women are wired differently. The book, Men are from Mars and Women Are From Venus, explains this.
“Mars, her biggest struggle is maintaining her sense of self while expanding to serve the needs of others. Venus, his biggest struggle is overcoming the tendency to be self-centered”.
So what happens when we are spread too thin and pulled in too many directions? Are we being used to charge up the kids’ emotional bank, be a grounding force for our partner and the caretaker for other family members? Do we do all this to the detriment of our own health?
If you are a man reading this and want to help a woman in your life, here are some tips. Note: Do not ask “what do you want” unfortunately many women will not know how to answer and the one’s who do will be hurt that you have to ask because it just means you have not been paying attention. Women can anticipate the needs of others and guess what, men can to if they make it their mission to do so. Here are some tips to get you started. Take just one day and all day think “what would help my partner today”?
Start with a hot beverage in bed to wake them up, maybe a foot rub, are the dishes done, is the house tidy, is there a project they asked help with, have they talked about something that is bothering them, do they need a massage (buy a gift card), can you cook a nice dinner or ask someone to help you cook a nice dinner (look up a simple recipe online), tell them how much you appreciate them throughout the day. Get off the phone, turn off the t.v. and just be present or if that’s too hard make a reservation for breakfast, lunch or dinner where you can just talk uninterrupted. Hire a sitter and make all the arrangements yourself. Make a pledge not to make one demand on them for a day “what’s for dinner, where is the pen I had, what is the number to x, where is my shirt, can you iron this, can you get this, etc). For the day just figure it all out for yourself or ask the kids or go without x.
If you do any one of these they will probably gush with appreciation or if you’ve been emotionally unavailable they may just wonder what you ‘really want’ and be skeptical. They may even be hostile and tell you “NO!” because they are so used to doing it all and don’t want to be disappointed again by letting you help knowing that it’s only a temporary state! Either way it’s a true base line of how the relationship is doing and what level it is at. If the response is number three, then commit to doing at least one thing on the list every day, for 30 days, and see if that starts to turn things around but a relationship at stage three means there are a lot of issues to work through and healing will take time.
What happens after we absorb all these roles? What happens when we hit that wall? Do we shut down and go within ourselves? Does a final demand pop the cork? Do we explode with anger; either outwardly by discharging, or inwardly, by using coping mechanisms that push it all back down?
We see all around us other women pushing it all down with food, pills, emotional explosions, destructive relationships, even jobs that demand far too much and give back far too little. Those of us strong enough to endure, just absorb it all, work out harder, practice tighter self controls to avoid the “food binge”, or hide the pain secretly with cutting, purging, illicit affairs or over spending to name a few (acting out is a cry for help and a sign that person has not been tending to their own emotional development). Some of us may practice self deprivation and personal neglect making ourselves feel unattractive. Some of us may like in ‘hostile land’ where we are quick to explode at every real or imagine slight.
Let’s face it, we are not easy to be around when we engage in these coping mechanisms (which are a destructive way to release the pressure and emotionally immature ways of dealing with our pain) and in fact they are designed to push people away! It’s a cycle. Just as a self-absorbed man with sociopathic or narcissistic tendencies is not attractive to us, these qualities are not so sexy either!
However, this is when we need support and understanding the most but we have to make room and space for others to give it to us. Oh that dreaded “V U L N E R A B L E” word. Where we let our guard down, ask for what we need (start with a girlfriend first and not the man in your life) and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We think the ‘hard shell’ will protect us from being hurt, but think about it, does it really hurt any less? The hard shell just locks us up and still let’s the pain in. So have the courage to drop it because we can.
So what happens if we’ve eaten our emotions into diabetes, drug addiction or restrictive controls that make us less than a joy to be around? How do we unravel from that? Where are we supported in this journey? Does it take most women to hit their 40’s before they wake up and tune into their own needs?
People may say “relax”, but they don’t show up to help because they are too consumed with their own water treading. The family may say take it easy as they continue a relentless stream of demands; dishes pile up, the laundry goes undone and a host of other things are ignored. This is only true if we are the ‘givers’ as many of us are. The takers often live a life of being the victim and taking from others what they believe should have been ‘rightly theirs’. Funny though, it still often holds true they will give it all away to a man.
Some of us may simply give up. We know what that feels like! All we have to do is look around (or in the mirror) and see what happens when we give up; the toll is incredibly high if we give up and have children. The grandma with a bad knee, dirty shirt and diabetes in the park, holding a supersize McDonald’s coke, with her obese daughter “mini-me” and 3 year old that has the weight and appearance of an 8 year old. They yell because they are too large to move and keep up and yelling is what they know. When that fails they squeeze his mouth as hard as they can and drag him from the park. This is what giving up looks like because somewhere along the way, it was too hard to gain access to education or too hard to learn.
Some of us may look at this family and judge. Many of us recognize that a part of us feels just as broken and we are right there with them! Ever walked by a homeless person and thought “good for you because maybe you’re the sane one. Why would any sane person choose to stay in this matrix of pressure and self made misery? Beam me up Scotty I’m ready to go.”
There is little support for this family, so each generation digresses with scientific predictions that 1 in 3 children born after 2000 will have diabetes and 50% of those will be minorities. Those of us fortunate enough to have access to education may feel like we are on an island. The pressure “out there” can be overwhelming if one is committed to raising themselves or their family in a conscious and considerate space.
There are pressures in every group. The group enslaved to body image so no matter how good they look another tuck, suck or pluck is required to hang onto youth. The group who believes they are off the grid with farm food, life bans on big corporations and conscious social groups (most of us don’t have the time to live like this as it is a huge time commitment and requires at least one parent to be at or work from home). The group who wants to make sure their children and life are held up as the example for all to live by so they hide their defects and pain to show up Sunday to fit an image.
So how do we learn to break this cycle? How do we learn to put ourselves first? Is this perhaps the single most difficult shift for us? Can we stop being afraid of how we may disappoint another? Can we live with the notion that we not “be needed”? In fact, our need to “be needed” can become an emotional demand. The helicopter parent who stays distracted from self by over-parenting her children. The corrosive micro-manager with the need for control over a free and meaningful relationship.
We start small. We decide to drop our anger. How long have we been carrying that around? We break whatever cycle we are in by doing something different. Instead of yelling at the kid on our last nerve we say “I just wanted you to know that I love you” and we ask them to say in return “I just wanted you to know that I appreciate you”. We go “Bahhh haaaa pllllll” instead of an angry outburst. We make an effort to be ‘silly’ just because. We think outside the box. We turn all that ‘thought of others’ into thought of what we would like. It may be very scary at first. We may not know. It is a beginning.
Here is a hug for you! You are amazing. You are a gift. You have more courage, bravery and strength than you can imagine. You can learn a new way of being and change your old way of reacting.