Last week, I took my daughter when I went to get my toenails painted, and they always do her nails, too. It’s a little ritual once in awhile, while her brother is in school, and I pick her up earlier from Kindergarten. As I was paying for my pedicure, I noticed that the woman who’d painted my daughter’s nails was now finishing a second braid in her hair. I went and stood next to her, and when she was done, we thanked her, and we left. We weren’t three feet out of the salon when my daughter looked up at me and said, “I didn’t want braids.” When I asked her why she didn’t just say that, she kind of shrugged her shoulders at me. My daughter is a firecracker at home. She has no problem telling any of us what she wants or does not want, in a strong, assertive way. Just ask her brother. But when she doesn’t know people, she can be shy and quiet. She’s also sensitive and caring. She’s a watcher. She asked me if she could take the braids out, and of course I told her she could.
When we got in the car, I told her it was really important that she understand that she gets to decide what happens to her own hair. Her own body. Her own nails, and that it’s okay to say, “No thank you, I don’t want braids.” I asked her to say it to me a few times, for practice. I asked her to say it a little more loudly each time. By the third or fourth time, she was yelling it out the window, laughing, and I was yelling it with her, “I don’t want braids!!” It’s so simple, right? But it’s not always so easy to say what we want, or do not want, or to ask for what we need. I will not stop working with my daughter on this, because it’s a big part of our self-esteem, understanding that we should value our feelings and act on our own behalf.
Sometimes we take care of other people at our own expense. We feel something inside, but we keep it inside because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or we tell ourselves it isn’t that big of a deal. If you make a habit out of that, you’re making a habit out of putting other people’s needs and wants ahead of your own. When we make sacrifices for those we love because it feels good, that’s one thing, but when we make it a way of life to always put other people’s feelings ahead of ours, we’re in trouble. It won’t be long before we can’t even identify what we’re feeling, let alone act on it.
There’s a difference between generosity, and care-taking or people pleasing. If you grew up feeling you needed to earn love, this may easily have followed you into your adult life. You may fear speaking up, or standing up for yourself, because you think if you do, love may be withdrawn, or people might not like you. Maybe it’s such an ingrained way of being, you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Do you say, “Sorry!” when someone bumps into you? I’m laughing, because I do that sometimes, and then, two seconds later, I’m like, “Why am I apologizing?” Am I saying, “I’m sorry you aren’t paying attention”? Or am I saying, “I’m sorry I’m taking up space”? That’s a pretty important distinction, right?
You don’t have to apologize for your feelings. You may not get everything you want or need, but it never hurts to ask. At least that way, you’ve communicated clearly, and that makes everything simpler. If a person doesn’t care about how you feel, you can then decide whether it’s a relationship you want to pursue, or one to which you want to be devoting time and energy, or not so much. If you speak up and a person cannot give you what you need or want, at least you both understand that. You aren’t left in the murky waters of wondering whether you’ve been misunderstood or disrespected or unseen.
Being accountable for how we feel and what’s happening within us is a gift we give ourselves, and everyone we encounter. There are enough mysteries in life. Even if you’re clear about how you feel in every given moment, you’re still going to be part of the mystery that’s happening around us, and you’re still going to surprise yourself by the things you sometimes want or think or dwell upon. Knowing yourself takes work and time, and so does knowing other people. Don’t ever be sorry for taking up space, and don’t ever get braids if you don’t want them. Say it with me if you need to, “I don’t want braids!!”
Sending you love,