Who’s first? This is a question that may get ignored as we make quick decisions, especially this time of the year. We put on the automatic pilot that often chooses others before ourselves: “Yes, I’ll drop off the kids,” “I can loan you the money,” “I’ll cover your shift at work...” Does this sound familiar? These decisions can fall into a pattern that leaves you stressed, overwhelmed and/or resentful. If you are experiencing these feelings about agreeing or going along, it may be a warning you are not making the best decision at this time.
Step back for a minute and imagine what it would feel like to turn off that automatic pilot and evaluate each choice that comes your way with yourself in mind. Yes, you can come first.
When I mention this concept to some of my clients, I see the physical cringe followed by the most common response, “That would be selfish.” Selfish has become an ugly word, however, there is a big difference between being selfish and what I call “self-full.” A self-full decision comes from a place of being OK with making sure your own needs are met and that you have the realistic ability, time, funds and interest in helping others. For some, this goes against every instinct, as some of us come from families who practiced the others first motto and it is tough to say that “bad word”… No.
If no is a tricky word for you, try this method, say “Maybe, let me check” or “I will get back to you.” You may find this easier and then return and give a thoughtful answer. This gives you time to check in with your gut, your schedule, and your desire. Sometimes the answer will be, “Yes, I’d be glad to help,” but if you need to say no, it becomes a more considerate no and comfortably accepted by others. I often have clients practice by not automatically responding yes for a week.
You may have heard the word “Co-Dependency,” it has been thrown around a lot lately, but what does it really mean? There are two parts to Co-Dependency; the first aspect means you are putting others first without regard to your needs, abilities and desires. Secondly, you make decisions based on what others will think, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, rock the boat or the strong desire to be liked by others.
When you fly, you hear the flight attendant say, “Please put on your oxygen mask first, then help the person next to you.” He/she doesn’t say; “If you are concerned about what others may think of you, or to avoid conflict, help the other person first.” This is a perfect example of being self-full, it puts you first and being first, you are in good condition to help others. This is ideal, however, it takes a little getting used to. The key is to be tuned in to your motivations and then make the best judgment about the current situation, if you are spot on, you won’t feel stressed, overwhelmed or resentful.
Two suggested readings on the topic of Co-Dependency are: “Co-Dependent No More” by Melody Beattie and “Facing Co-Dependency” by Pia Mellody.
Gigi Veasey, LCSW, LISAC, CCBT, is a private practice therapist in Ahwatukee Foothills and executive director of Alcohol Recovery Solutions, Inc. Find information on addiction recovery at bigsteptorecovery.com, and information on therapeutic personal growth retreats at inspiredlifestrategies.com.