“I don’t know what I want.”
“I don’t know what I want.”
“My dad was a drunk, my mom was an addict, no one was interested in what I wanted. I just had to raise myself.”
“I grew up in poverty we never had enough of what we needed, what we wanted? That never came up.” “Someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I answered, ‘I don’t need anything’.”
If these statements sound like you, then perhaps you should look at how well you know what you need and what you want.
There is an overused phrase: dysfunctional families. It became a joke, because whose family isn’t?
The truth is that some families function very well. Others do not. Poverties, both physical and emotional, produce many different types of problems. In dysfunctional families there are all kinds of poverties: money, time, and history. There is the poverty that comes from generational violence and drug abuse, including alcoholism. Very often there is no time or energy left over to monitor the emotional needs of the children. That can leave us rudderless when it comes to negotiating the waters of taking care of ourselves.
Yet, it is vital to learn how to do so.
Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional IQ , outlines four skills that provide the ability to live effectively: reading the emotions of others, reading your own emotions, and being able to delay gratification and to self soothe (to calm yourself down when upset).
All of these are learned skills and they can be learned anytime. That’s the good news.
So here is a short hand way to learn how to do this:
First of all, reading our own feelings gives us the first glimpse in learning to accommodate needs. Alcoholics Anonymous gives us the famous HALT warning: we are apt to lose it when we are Hungry, Angry Lonely Tired. These are all feelings; physical: hungry, tired, and emotional: angry, lonely.
Physical needs create a physical well-being: enough good food, enough sleep, enough warmth and safety, including safe neighborhoods.
Emotional needs create a sense of safety and self-power. Anger, for example, indicate that someone has crossed a boundary with us. Shame and self-hatred alert us that we are carrying old hurts that were unfairly inflicted.
Exercises to increase self awareness of feelings:
Someone has given me two thousand dollars and I am not allowed to spend it on anyone else. What will I do with it:
Am I giving myself this in my life now? How?
Is it essential for my well-being (a need)? ____________________________________________
Why is it important for me now?
Mindfulness is about being aware of what you are feeling; not censuring yourself, but listening instead. In uncomfortable moments ask yourself: what am I feeling, what would help me feel better? How can I give it to myself?
Finally, make it a practice to give yourself some spending money that you spend on yourself. Even if it is only $5 a month. Taking care of yourself is an emotional regulation skill. For the overburdened caregiver, it is the reminder that you must fill yourself up, before meeting the needs and wants of those around you. They will be the healthier for it. Maybe a little unhappier at first, family members sometimes complain at differences, but give it a while, and say “you’ll get over it” or “it is important for me to take care of myself”.
However, if you will be physically hurt for doing this, get help. Call your local helpline for places you can go for support.
You need to take care of yourself, be aware of your needs, meet them, negotiate with the wants, stop the automatic self-denial and meet yourself halfway.
Print out the faces below. Stop from time to time and look for your face, name your feeling. Get to know yourself.
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