I recently read an article about a mother who had lost a significant amount of weight after being overweight most of her life. When asked what she did to lose the weight, she said she gave herself permission to succeed. She went on to describe feeling guilty about taking the time for herself in order to achieve her goal. By giving herself permission to succeed, she gave herself permission to take time to care for herself. Although she may feel selfish in the short term, in the long term her improved health and emotional well being will benefit her entire family.
This fight with own guilt to take the necessary steps to succeed in any area of our lives is common, especially among women. A new study in the Spanish Journal of Psychology has found that women experience more guilt than men. The study focused, in particular, on the interpersonal aspect of guilt. The researchers suggest the difference between men and women is linked to greater interpersonal sensitivity and higher levels of empathy found in women.
Empathy and interpersonal sensitivity sound like positive qualities. But what should you do when your concern for others keeps you from achieving important life goals? There is no simple answer to that question. However, in the article describing the mother who lost weight I was struck by how her struggle was very much in her head.
Women often develop beliefs that keep them from achieving personal goals. Beliefs that interfere with self care include:
- "saying no is selfish"
- "Making requests of others is self-centered"
- "It's wrong (selfish, bad) if someone gets upset with me" and
- "I should sacrifice my needs to others"
Everyone worries about standing up for themselves. If you're stuck in thoughts that you don't deserve it, it may be helpful to counteract some of your beliefs and worries and give yourself permission to succeed. Linehan offers cheerleading statements in her Skills Training Manual used to teach DBT skills groups. Some thoughts that might give you the courage to act on your own behalf include:
- I have a right to assert myself, even if it may inconvenience others
- I am under no obligation to say yes, simply because I am asked
- Giving is not the end all be-all of life. I am an important person as well.
- Saying no does not make me selfish.
- I can feel good about myself, even if someone is annoyed with me.
Modifying beliefs that keep you stuck is one of many methods to achieve your goals. Keeping in mind that you have permission to succeed is a great way to balance a high sensitivity to the needs of others.