Changing Perspectives Blog
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“Get over yourself.”
“Stop being so sensitive.”
“Let it go.”
“You’re too needy.”
That was the message I received the other day, before I had even left my bed.
I had decided to take a few minutes to read through my social media pages before officially starting my day. As I laid there groggily scrolling through my friends’ updates, I came across an article on friendship. Without a moment’s hesitation, I opened the article.
In the words of Julia Roberts, “Big mistake. Big. Huge!”
The overall theme of the article was pretty clear: sensitive friends take too much time and energy. The author of the article had come to the conclusion that it was time to turn away from those relationships, choosing instead to focus on friends that were more secure in themselves and didn’t require so much attention. To me, a sensitive person, the words stung. I identified with the friends the author was letting go of because they were “too sensitive.” And, just like a sensitive person, I took the article to heart.
I allowed my interpretation of the article to set the tone for my entire day. The words echoed in my head as I got my kids ready for school and myself ready for work. The words brought back all the feelings that I’ve struggled with for so much of my life, struggles that I see lots of others face too: the push to conform and be something or someone different to make others happy; the push to hide who you really are because who you really are is just not right.
The truth is, it can be difficult to be my friend. It takes a lot for me to actually let a new friend in and then once I do, I have pretty high standards. I want to be included in things. I want my friends to be honest with me, even if it’s difficult. I also need my friends to understand that sometimes, as an introvert, I get overwhelmed with too many social activities, crowded places, or as my niece calls it, when things are “too people-y”. Sometimes I retreat and go dark for a bit. Sometimes my own depression and anxiety rear their ugly heads and I can’t get out of my own way. I need friends who won’t judge me during those times or tell me to “just be happy.” I also need my friends to take ownership and apologize when they’ve done something that hurts me, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I am a complete juxtaposition of a person at times. To be friends with me is a lot to ask of someone. I get that.
But, does any of that make me a bad person? A bad friend? Am I wrong to feel the way I feel? Am I out of line to approach friendship the way I do? Am I too sensitive? I think for most of my life, I answered “Yes” to all of those questions and allowed myself to feel shame for who I am as a person.
But, as I contemplated that article, I began to wonder not just about my own potential shortcomings but those of the author. What about her? Could it be that she and all of the people that liked and shared the article were wrong? Is there something wrong with them? Are they out of line to approach friendship that way? Are they too abrasive? Are they not sensitive enough?
Which of us is right? Which of us is the better person?
I’ve chewed on this question for the past few weeks, weighing out the benefits and drawbacks to each personality style and approach to friendship. While being the way I am has certainly posed challenges to those in my life and to myself, it also has probably led me to where I am in life. It probably makes me a better clinician. It probably makes me better able to understand the pieces of my children that are just like me. It probably has allowed me to feel things, not just bad things, but good things as well, on a deeper level than others that aren’t quite so sensitive. It probably is what allows some of my friendships to feel so very deeply rooted. Would I really want to be a version of myself that didn’t have these components? I don’t think so.
Does that mean that I am fully grown and have reached enlightenment and can’t improve as a person? Absolutely not. I think I can be someone who still wants to improve and grow AND can also still be someone who can be proud of who I am.
So, which of us is right and which of us is the better person?
In the weeks since I allowed that article to punch me in the gut, I’ve come to believe that friendships come with a price, just like most things in life. When it comes to friendships, all of us have a budget of emotional energy to invest in friendships and it is up to us to decide how we spend it. We can decide whether the cost is worth the return. For some people, what it costs to be my friend might be too much for too little in return or they just may choose to use their budget differently. The author is probably one of those people and that’s ok with me now. I get it. Her decision doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with me. It doesn’t mean that I actually need to stop being so sensitive or need to get over myself and my feelings. It just means that we aren’t a good fit for each other.
So, to those of you that have been told you are too sensitive, let me tell you this: you keep on being you. To those of you that don’t want to be friends with someone like me, you keep being you too. Neither one of us is wrong. Neither one of us is better than the other. Neither one of us is more well suited for life or for friendship.
It turns out that what some may see as our flaws or weaknesses may actually be our greatest strengths and assets.
If you are like most people, the term “self-care” has a way of making you roll your eyes. Just last week I read a viral post on social media blasting medical professionals for encouraging patients to practice good self care. Yet, here I am. About to tell YOU to do the very same thing.
So many people have fallen prisoner to the fast paced nature of our lives. We wake up and immediately rush head first into the day. Many of us don’t even have time to sit and eat our breakfast, opting instead for breakfast in the car or not at all. We field phone calls and texts on our way to work or while shuttling the kids to school, shout reminders at our phones, and consider it a luxury when we can take a quick break to use the restroom. The evening routine is much the same, especially for those of you with busy children. It’s a sprint to the finish line of the day, scrambling to get dinner tossed on a table, wrapping everything up for the day, and preparing to do it all the next day. Then our day comes to a screeching halt as we climb into bed and wonder why we can’t seem to be able to fall asleep.
Recently a patient came to me with her head hung in shame as she shared that she has been spending time exploring a new hobby. This new hobby isn’t taking any time away from her family or her responsibilities yet it seemed to her as it had no real value. It wasn’t earning her money. It wasn’t teaching her a new skill. It wasn’t helping anyone. It was just fun. And she felt guilty for having fun. For many of us, we’ve forgotten how to give ourselves permission to slow down, have fun, breathe, and enjoy life.
We need to change our perspective on priorities in life and it starts with our own lives. I challenge each of you to take some time and consider how you can implement at least a few of these 9 strategies for improving self-care:
1. Practice healthy sleep hygiene
How do you approach sleep each night? If you are like most people, you finish whatever tasks need to get done for the evening, brush your teeth, change your clothes, hop into bed and then pick up your phone or turn on the tv. I get the temptation. Scrolling mindlessly through social media or perusing blogs like this one can certainly help us to calm down and make us FEEL like we are preparing ourselves for bed. But, truthfully, these actions are examples of poor sleep hygiene. We don’t chomp on sugary candy while we are brushing our teeth, right? So, why are we activating our brains with electronics when we are trying to get ready for sleep?
Take stock of your bedroom. Could you add an essential oil diffuser, salt lamp, soft lighting via lower watt light bulbs or even flameless candles? How would some relaxing music make you feel at night? What about reading a book (a real book, or on a kindle – not a tablet with harsh lighting)? Think about how we approach bedtime for babies. We turn down the lights, soften our voices, turn on some white noise, darken the room and just make everything a bit cozier. What would happen if you did the same for your own sleep?
2. Nourish your body
I know that you know what foods fuel your body well and what foods you eat because they are convenient and/or satisfy you emotionally. Can you make a commitment to increase your focus on nourishing your body in at least one concrete way? Can you make a concerted effort, for example, to increase your water intake or decrease your soda intake? How would it feel to cut back on your sugar consumption or limit your fast food trips? These changes don’t just happen magically. They need planning. I encourage you to pick one small goal to better nourish your body, write it down and figure out how to stick to it. After a week, check back in with yourself and see how you are feeling.
3. Get moving
Here we are. We are at the part of the list where people start scoffing and scowling at their computers and phones. “If I HAD time to exercise, I wouldn’t NEED to be reading an article on how to improve my self-care!” I get that. I know how minimizing it can feel when someone tells you that if exercise is important to you, you’ll make time for it. I know that there are many of you out there who literally cannot find time or the funds to go to a gym or invest in workout equipment at home. I’m not one of those people that will try to shame you into making it work. What I will ask you though, is can you find 5-10 minutes a few times each week to go for a walk during your lunch break or in your neighborhood? What about while waiting for your children’s games or practices to start? Could you pop on a Zumba, yoga or dance video on YouTube or download an exercise app that will guide you through a quick routine a few nights each week? What would it take to get you to invest just 5-10 minutes in yourself, not to lose weight or burn calories, but just to get moving and give you a break from working and thinking?
4. Get some fresh air
If you want to be super efficient, you can combine tip #3 and tip #4 so that you are getting moving while outside and getting some fresh air ? Even if you are not moving while getting the fresh air, though, just the act of being outside for a few minutes can reap great rewards. Take a few moments to really breathe in the fresh air. What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you see? Is there a spot at your house or at work or in your neighborhood or outside a coffee shop where you could just sit for a few minutes? Extra challenge: don’t look at your phone while doing it. Just be.
5. Remember that “No.” is a complete sentence
We are so quick to say no to ourselves. "No, I can’t take a break." "No, I can’t buy that for myself." "No, I can’t take that trip with my friends." "No, I can’t upset my boss or my coworkers." What would it take for you to give yourself permission to live by the rule that “No.” is a complete sentence? Are you saying yes to people because you feel like you have to? Consider saying no. You can even add filler to the sentence and even add and apology: “No, I’m truly sorry but I can’t.” I’ve seen this shift in thinking become monumental for people. The next time you are asked to do something that you really don’t want to do, think about whether you really NEED to do it. Is it truly worth it? If not, it’s ok to say “No.” You don’t need a “good enough” reason. What do you want to say "No." to in your life right now?
6. Stop the negative self-talk
I explore this concept a lot with my patients when I first meet them and they almost always deny that they do it. “No. I don’t do that. I don’t talk badly about myself.” But, then we get to talking and I start to hear things like “I’m so crazy.” “I don’t know why I do this to myself.” “Ugh. I was so stupid.” “I hate that I’m such a screw up.” Each time it happens, I encourage them to lean into it, to turn that inner negative voice up for a week and really listen for it – not to believe it but to understand where and when it comes into play. Most times, they are shocked to then find that they have a pretty constant loop of negative self-talk running through their heads almost everyday. The first step in stopping that loop is to identify it. Do you have one? Catch yourself next time you find yourself beating yourself up. Would you say something like that to a friend? Probably not. So, why is it ok to be so mean to yourself? Whenever you catch yourself doing it, counter that negative thought with a positive one. For example: “Ugh. I was so stupid. I can’t believe I did that!” can be countered with something like “Ugh. I really am feeling badly about what happened. I have to remember that I am a human and will never be perfect. I will do better next time.”
7. Start a gratitude or reflection journal
When our heads hit the pillow each night, so often our brains start reminding us of all the things we did wrong or didn’t get done. A good way to dull this noise is to prevent it from even starting. At the end of the day, spend a few moments writing in a gratitude or reflection journal. This can be as fancy as a beautiful leather journal with handmade paper or as simple as a cocktail napkin with some scribbled notes or even a note on your phone. Use whatever method is easiest and most meaningful for you. Write down at least 3 things that you are grateful for and/or that you are proud of. Maybe you drank enough water today. Maybe you went on a walk with your kids. Maybe you put down your phone and sat outside with a cup of tea. Maybe you cleaned out a closet. Maybe you had fun with some great friends. Bringing our attention and focus to the positive can be such a healing way to end our day.
I’ve had the great honor of being present with people as they approach the end of their lives. Not a single one has ever told me that they wished they worked more, took less vacations, spent less time with the people that made them happy, or that they regretted the fun moments in their life. Not a single one. Yet, our priorities are so often around work and obligations, making other people money and other people happy. While I’m not at all encouraging you to quit your job or leave behind everyone relying on you, I am telling you that it is ok to give yourself permission to play. Have fun! What would be fun for you? Make it happen
9. Schedule time for yourself and hold it sacred
Take a look at your calendar. When can you squeeze in some time to get moving, get some fresh air, take a bubble bath, read a good book or just take a nap? Find it and book it. Pencil it into your own schedule. No, PEN it into your own schedule and hold it just as sacred as you would an appointment for your children or a meeting with your boss. This means you have to be truly mindful when you initially schedule it but then, no changes! Start small – just a 5 minute block is more than you are doing now.
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