Monte Nido & Affiliates Expert Advisory Council Member and Associate Professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita Beth Hartman McGilley, PhD, FAED, CEDS is a psychologist in private practice, specializing in the treatment of eating and related disorders, body image, athletes, trauma, and grief. In her writing, Dr. Hartman McGilley speaks to the stress and pressure many of us experience in our every day lives in an effort to be all things to everyone, and reminds us of the importance of saying “no”.
As the holidays near, most of us are in some form of panic about “what needs to be done before.…” Before the relatives come; before the office Xmas party; before taking finals; before the turkey is done; before the year is over. In truth, for too many, this mad rush to “make our lists and check them twice” is a year round ordeal—a revolving door of self-imposed demands that daily dumps us on the threshold of our self-esteem with nagging feelings of deficiency. It drives some to distraction and others to destruction. Either way, it diminishes our precious capacity to be wholly present, and intra- and interpersonally attuned. What good is a completed list with a depleted list maker? One version of this is the “be all things to everyone” persona. Recognize yourself anyone?
Given that we tend to become what we focus on, I prefer to turn this dilemma inside out and explore what it looks like to “be some things, to someone, some of the time!” One tool I offer my clients, to enliven and embody the qualities they admire in others, is to become shameless spies! I ask them to think of a few people who carry themselves and conduct their lives with the character and integrity to which they aspire. And then set out on spying missions to bear careful witness to how those people inhabit their bodies, how they hold others in their gaze, how they negotiate daily demands, how they communicate in simple matters as well as the profound. Once we have a living template for how those cherished qualities manifest in others, we can try them on and in ourselves. Over time, we can develop our own versions, and they become part of our internal and interpersonal fabric.
One of my most spy-worthy friends is Dr. Margo Maine. A prolific writer and passionate advocate, activist and therapist in the field of eating disorders, Margo wastes no time in revolving doors! She has mastered the fine art of living exceedingly productively with what I once heard called “joyful stress.” She is equally facile hitting the gas pedal as she is in using the brakes. “Yes” and “no” are equal opportunity answers depending on the question, and more importantly, how it impacts her in the moment and the longer term. While some may hear that as being self-centered, it’s quite the opposite. I liken it to the metaphor of putting your own oxygen mask on first if a plane is going down. We are only as effective as we are well sourced. If we aren’t connected to self, our relationship with the Divine is compromised (and vice versa). It’s an act of respect and regard for another to manage ourselves—our time, our energies, our money, our hearts. Our word counts, and when asked to do something we’re unlikely to complete, it’s a LOT easier to say no and then yes, than it is to say yes and back pedal our way back to no! Memorize this people pleasers!
Margo was recently distinguished as a recipient of the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame Women’s Wellness Honorees. All honorees were challenged to answer, in 20 seconds, the following question: What is the single most important thing a woman can do to increase her well-being? She answered: “The most important relationship in a woman’s life is her relationship with herself. Our self-talk can diminish or empower us. In a culture so demanding and dismissive of women, we need to rebel and stop apologizing for not being perfect, and start telling ourselves we are good enough as we are—simply good enough!” Simply. Good. Enough. See how that mantra could burst you out of the revolving door? How would you answer the question for yourselves?
There’s a seriousness to this dilemma that can’t be made pretty, and I offer this to the healers and wholers of the world—no advanced degree required. You, who keep the porch light ever blazing for those in need, who foster and serve the young skin- and fur-clad lost souls, who bathe the feet of the old and dying, who are woke and speak up to indignities. You, who are Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, walking “on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting,” whose nature is so given to giving, it becomes “your place in the family of things.” Your heart doesn’t operate on the clock and the wellspring of your spirit has no depth gauge. You answer the calls, you welcome the tears, you speak truth to power. For you to say “no,” or “not now,” or “not again,” will feel like bending your fingernails backwards. Do it anyways. Give what you give to the person who sometimes needs it the most—yourself. It’s not selfish. It’s self-saving.