Have you ever felt that miserable knot of resentment in your stomach when it’s time to take care of someone? I have. It’s an awful feeling.
It goes something like this:
“Why am I always the one who has to… clean up after the kids… do the bills… get up with the baby?”
“It sure would be nice to… go to bed when I’m tired… get a few minutes to myself… go to the bathroom when I have to go!”
When I have thoughts like this, I get mad.
Then I feel sad.
“No one notices that I’m drowning here. Why am I left alone with all this? No one loves me or cares for me like I am caring for them.”
And then I get ashamed.
“I am a terrible person to feel this way. What’s wrong with me?”
I hear this pattern from women ALL the time. In fact, I think it is a mega-trap that most of us moms fall into. Almost all of us at one time or another have been drowning in this mad, sad, shame trap and we think we’re all alone.
Well, we’re not alone and there is a way out.
First, we have to understand why this resentment cycle begins in the first place.
You see, deep down, we are nurturers. And as nurturers, we give and give and give.
It starts out as cheerful giving but eventually, we end up sacrificing our needs to an extreme. After a while, it can start to get tiring and then downright painful.
When you sacrifice your needs for everyone else, it never goes well. Not for you and not for the people for whom you are sacrificing.
Why do we do this?
Covert means “undercover” as opposed to overt which is out in the open. Givers are often operating on hidden agreements that we’ve committed to. Usually, we’re not even aware of them, but they can become our guidebook for how we approach life, representing what we expect to happen when we give.
Here are two examples of possible covert contracts and why they don’t really serve us.
- If I do everything right, then I will be worthy of being loved and my needs will get taken care of. (Another version of this is: If I am a “good” girl, then people will love me.)
“Doing everything right” and being “good” often means self-sacrificing and not complaining about it. This can be a gender reinforced message some women received when they were very young. Certainly, decades ago, it was part of the entire culture regarding the role of women. However, if you ask the men and children in families if they want a wife and mother who silently serves their needs at her own expense, I have found that every single one of them will say that is most definitely not what they want.
Being “good” doesn’t earn you love. Love is something that is linked to who you are, not what you do.
It’s easy for us all to get a little confused when it comes to serving the needs of a family, but separating out what you do, from who you are is the first step in letting go of the good girl syndrome.
Taking care of your family is a gift you give to them, not the required payment for their love and acceptance.
- If I meet everyone else’s needs without them having to ask, then they will meet my needs without having to ask.
Even as I write this, I can hear myself thinking… well, that should absolutely be true!
Unfortunately, it isn’t true. There are a couple of reasons why this belief is not accurate.
- No one else knows about this contract!
We are married to completely separate and unique individuals who have their own background and expectations. Throw in the gender differences of processing and communication styles and we are sunk if we think our husbands should be able to know exactly what we need without us ever having to tell them. Not to mention how impossible it is for the underdeveloped child’s brain to manage that kind of forethought and empathy.
- We have trained the people around us to think that we don’t have needs that require their help.
When we aren’t clear about asking others directly for what we need, we can give the false message that we’re doing just fine.
Women often worry about the welfare of their spouse and children and try to anticipate their needs. It’s not unusual for us to ask them if they are okay, or if they need our help. And even when they say they’re fine, we often search for the indicators that they really aren’t doing so great. In other words, we are used to digging deeper and reading between the lines so that we can truly protect them and nurture them.
Though this is a wonderful attribute that so many of us have, it is not uncommon that husbands, children and even other women just don’t have the same gift and understanding to give that back to us.
That means if we tell our family that we are “fine”, then they will probably believe us, even when in reality, we are not “fine”.
The problem with hidden or covert contracts is that we are acting under very false assumptions and experiencing very real disappointment and feelings of abandonment. These assumptions may have been taught to us by our parent’s examples or we may have picked them up in our culture. Either way, it is so important to be aware of how they may be showing up in our thinking.
The better way to give.
When we push our own needs down and make everyone else’s needs more important, that puts us in a one down position and those we serve up on an unrealistic pedestal. If we’re not careful, we can end up trying to give from an empty tank.
This will always feel bad.
Instead, we can balance our giving to others while wisely attending to our needs.
Is it possible to do both?
Yes! But, it will take changing the agreements by which we live.
What if we changed the covert agreements to something much more respectful. What if we could ask for what we needed directly and felt at peace taking as good care of ourselves as we do our kids and husband? We can ask for the love and help we need from others.
So, take a minute and check to see if you have any hidden expectations or agreements surrounding needing and giving. Just a little awareness goes a long way in learning how to get your needs met right along with those of the family you so deeply adore.
If this sparks your interest, check out 4 Things to remember when you need to ask for help.