If you follow my blog, you know that I have been reading like crazy this summer. My latest find: Big Fat Lies Women Tell Themselves, by Amy Ahlers. When a friend recommended this book, I thought, "I'm a psychologist. I work all the time with people engaged in self-deception. Why would I need to read this book?"
You know the Japanese proverb, "When the student is ready, the teacher will come"? Apparently I was ready. I just didn't know it.
Ahlers had me hooked from the get go with this eye-opener: "The most important relationship in your life is your relationship with YOU." The people-pleaser in me objected immediately: What about my husband? Best friend? Mother? Dog? Neighbor? Mail carrier? Then she went on to say, "I finally got it: Women are really hard on themselves despite their external circumstances. We all engage in beating ourselves up both for the big things and for the tiniest imperfections." The student in me raised her hand: Guilty as charged.
At that moment, I decided to put my ego aside and read the book. I finished it in one sitting. It wasn't always pleasant, mind you. After all, Ahlers was calling me on every lie I ever told myself. But it was necessary. And Ahlers offers challenges, exercises, and affirmations to help you through every lie in the book.
Here are some of my favorites:
1) I'm not good enough. I've been conducting research on self-esteem and body image for over 15 years, and I've tried to convince myself that it was because I wanted to help other people with self-esteem issues. What I've learned is that we study what we don't understand within ourselves. Translation: I study self-esteem and body image issues because I have self-esteem and body image issues. And it all boils down to this big fat lie. I know I'm not alone here. Many women fall victim to this one. In our society we seem to be taught from an early age that we'll never be good enough until we have [fill in the blank] or until we become [fill in the blank]. But success is not measured by things; neither is self-worth. We need to learn to value ourselves for who we are, not what we have or do.
2) If it weren't for me, nothing would get done. Otherwise known as the "martyr complex," I think many women put themselves last in their lives. Self-care occurs only after everything gets scratched off the lengthy to-do list, which of course never happens. Many of us have trouble saying no -- myself included -- because we honestly believe that if we don't do it no one else will. But as my colleague likes to say, "No one is irreplaceable." As much as my ego begs to differ, he's right. No one is irreplaceable -- not even me. So the next time you put yourself last on your laundry list because you think no one else will rise to the occasion, try this instead: Don't do it [whatever it was that you thought only you could do]. You might be surprised at what get done when you get out of your own way. The people in your life might even appreciate the chance to shine.
3) I don't fit in. As a self-professed introvert, this one has always rung to for me. Put me in a crowded room with a bunch of strangers and I'm the one cowering in the corner trying to become one with the wallpaper. This is really just another big fat lie though that can either stem from high self-esteem (I'm special) or low self-esteem (I don't belong). It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's likely not a true thing either. None of us fit in everywhere. We are each unique. We ironically want to be different and special while at the same time we want to fit in everywhere we go. But you can't have it both ways. And why are we trying to fit in anyway? Celebrate yourself for who you are!
4) Taking care of myself is selfish. I love this one. Do you know how many times I've guilted myself over taking an hour out of my busy day to get a massage? Just about every time I've done it. But the truth is that if I don't have the time to take care of me, I don't have the time (or energy) to take care of anyone. It's like my friend Shakaya Leone puts it: "Give from your saucer, not from your cup. It sounds easy enough, but do you actually allow yourself to be filled up to overflowing so you can give from your overflow? Or do you just keep the bare minimum in reserve and even dip into that whenever someone else needs something from you?" If you're like me, you usually give from your cup and end up with nothing to show for it but exhaustion.
5) I cannot ask for help or support unless I'm in crisis. Do you know how many times I've gotten in trouble over this one? I'm the type of person who doesn't stop until I'm worn down to the ground. As a result, I don't get sick, I get pneumonia and almost die (see #4 above). All this to prove that I can do everything myself and do it well, which is ludicrous. No one can do everything and do it well. Most of us can't do one thing perfectly because perfection doesn't truly exist -- it's something the mind makes up to guilt us into doing things that aren't necessarily in our best interest. Lesson learned: Ask for help before you start to feel overwhelmed. Quite a concept, huh? One I've been working on for years, but I am getting better about saying no and asking for help when I truly need it -- before the crisis hits.
There are countless more big fat lies I identified with, but we'd be here all day if I filled you in on all of them. So if you are intrigued, I encourage you to pick up your own copy of Big Fat Lies Women Tell Themselves by Amy Ahlers. You can also visit Amy at http://wakeupcallcoaching.com/.
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