It’s no fun growing up with brothers and sisters. Life is a constant battle for supremacy. And whilst being the eldest, or the tallest, or the strongest, should give you the competitive edge amongst your siblings, there’s always a parent hovering in the background who’s just one squabble away from wading in and levelling the playing field with a clip round the ear and comments such as:
“Wait your turn,” or
“Be nice to your sister,” or
“How many times have I told you to share?!”
You can appeal, of course – I often did – but this was usually met with:
“Peter – not everything’s about you,” or
“If you can’t play nicely then I’ll take it away,” or
“I want, I want, I want – that’s all I ever hear!”
It seems that no sooner have we been encouraged to ‘think for ourselves’ and ‘decide what we want in life’ than someone, maybe the same someone, tells us that we’re being self centred or selfish. ‘Putting others first,’ so they say, is the true path to enlightenment.
Now I’m not going to tell you that our parents were wrong – not entirely – but a few of us (and I include myself in this) had this concept of putting others first beaten into us so effectively that we’ve all but lost the ability to consider our own needs, and to do so can often fill us with feelings of guilt. That’s not good.
What our parents should have told us was this:
Taking into consideration our own wants,
to the exclusion of everyone else,
The middle line of that sentence is crucial! Without it, you’re effectively telling yourself that everyone else is more important than you – and whilst there will be those of you who actually believe that, it’s simply not true.
Here’s another thing your parents should have told you:
Taking into consideration everyone else,
to the exclusion of yourself,
is utterly, utterly wrong.
No good can come of thinking of others to the exclusion of yourself. You will end up searching the internet, reading blog posts on how to become happier.
However, these can be incredibly hard concepts to grasp. From the workshops I’ve found that Mum’s especially are often hard-wired to put their own needs or wants on the backburner, or to dismiss them completely. So even if you finally manage to get your logical brain to say, “Oh yes, I see now – I need to strike a balance” – your inner child will continue to follow the put-everyone-else-first rule in the hope that one day that it’ll magically start working for you.
And sadly, undoing this level of brainwashing takes more than a couple of pages on a blog like this.
All that said, there are a few things you could try:
Firstly, there’s therapy. And I’m not kidding. It really is the only way to free yourself from this noble, but none the less destructive, behaviour. A word of warning; therapy is like embarking on a long personal journey through your own psyche for which you really need a qualified and experienced guide. Finding a therapist that works for you can be a challenge. This isn’t a reason not to try therapy, just try, if you can, to see a therapist who someone you trust can recommend.
Secondly, you could leave yourself notes around your house or office to remind you of the two facts above. Will it work? Maybe. It’s a low tech solution that won’t remedy the underlying problem, but sometimes a sticking plaster is all that’s necessary to enable us to continue on in life.
Lastly, you could strike a compromise with yourself. Accept the fact that there are other people in your life and incorporate them into your Wish List. Grab a piece of paper and instead of starting your wishes with the words “I want”, try starting a few with “we want” and see where that gets you.
“We want to travel the world.”
“My mother and I live in a wonderful house, near the sea.”
“I am learning to play the guitar, with the support of …”