The Superwoman’s Practical Guide to Getting as Much as She Gives
New York Times Best Selling Author
Things Will Get As Good As You Can Stand – When You Learn That it is Better to Receive Than to Give
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Topics Covered Below:
- Fill Your Own Cup First
- Receiving Requires a Full Cup
- No one Can Fix Me but Me
- How to Lose Friends and Irritate People
- Self-Care is a Discipline
- Forming a Happy Habit
Spend time and energy making yourself happy everyday.
Do at least three things a day for your own enjoyment, such as taking a nap, having lunch with a friend, meditating, taking a walk or doing a crossword puzzle. This will not only make you feel well taken care of, you’ll be more grounded, which will make it easier to keep your balance when difficulties arise. Others will be drawn to your poise and know that you’re willing to accept good treatment from them because you already give it to yourself.
“All of the animals except man know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.”
When you don’t take time for your own pleasure, you run the risk of becoming drained, which leads to feeling needy. Neediness is a sure way to block yourself from receiving from others, who will recognize the hallmarks of a bottomless pit and steer clear. You can’t control what your husband, boyfriend, boss, kids or staff will do, but you can control your own energy reserves by taking good care of yourself. Others will be more willing to help you if you are already content than they will if you’re running on empty and are about to drain them of everything they have.
Unless you fill yourself up by making sure you get enough rest, play, nutrition, pleasure, socializing, hugs, solitude and affection every day, you’re going to begin to feel needy.
Needy is not the same as receptive. In fact, they’re opposites.
When you’re receptive, you’re already fulfilled. That means you’re not desperate for anything because your basic needs are met. You’ve given yourself eight hours of sleep, spent time socializing, read something stimulating, grounded yourself spiritually and moved your arms and legs to get the blood pumping. Life is not perfect, of course, but you’re content, and then somebody comes along and delights you further by inviting you out to the movies (you accept), sending you home with the leftover gazpacho after a dinner party (you gladly take it), or saying that your new haircut looks fabulous (you say thanks). When you’re receptive, you’re pleased to have the niceties that they’re offering but they aren’t the equivalent of water when you’re dehydrated and stranded in the desert.
When you’re needy, on the other hand, it’s because one of your most basic needs—food, sleep, love, fun, solitude—hasn’t been tended to. When that happens, it’s easy to lose perspective and feel that someone else could or should be making us feel better. Neediness is the mistaken idea that if someone else would just do what you want them to do, you would feel relief from your misery. A good example is feeling lonely and thinking you would feel better if only the man you see at your coffee shop would ask you out on a date. Another one is being overtired and feeling that if only your family would pick up after themselves you could get more rest. If you haven’t had any fun for a while, you might reason that your boss is working you too hard and wish that she would just lighten up.
But the truth is, none of those problems can be solved from the outside. The only cure for loneliness is to call or see the people who already love you, even if none of them is Mr. Right. The only cure for being overtired is to rest. And the only cure for the overworked is to take a break from working. And guess what? Only you can make any of those things happen. That’s the thing about neediness—the cure is always an inside job.
Naturally, there are times when you actually need help—like a ride to the doctor for a blood test, or to borrow extra chairs for Thanksgiving. Those things don’t make you needy—just human. They aren’t problems you can only solve yourself—they are simple, one-time things that friends will gladly help you with if they can—and if you don’t approach them from a place of neediness.
Jennifer recognized this difference when one of her friends, Georgia, was always complaining about her medical problems. No matter what Jennifer suggested, Georgia said it wouldn’t work and went right on complaining about how much pain she was in. Jennifer found herself inventing reasons to reject Georgia’s invitations to spend time together because she was tired of the complaining. But when her friend Barbara came down with the flu, Jennifer was quick to drop by with some chicken soup and medicine from the drugstore.
“I felt like I I wanted to do something nice for Barbara when she was sick even though she probably wasn’t suffering as much as Georgia does,” Jennifer said. “But I felt like I could brighten her day, whereas with Georgia I don’t think anything I could do would make her feel better. Stopping at Barbara’s felt light and easy and even made me feel good afterward. With Georgia, I have a hard time getting motivated to even talk to her, much less go over there with soup.”
By tending to her own self-care, Georgia probably would have felt less desperate for someone to listen to her complaints, which in turn would have made Jennifer more inclined to want to help. To borrow from Ben Franklin’s famous maxim, friends help those who help themselves.
When I’m feeling needy (and all of us do, from time to time), I generally want my husband, friends, parents, siblings, work associates, or anyone else in sight to fix me, but I’m just setting myself up for disappointment and looking in all the wrong places for relief. Once I’m back in balance after I’ve focused on my self-care, I naturally attract more of the things I felt desperate to get when I was needy: spontaneous affection, compliments, and attention.
The difference between being receptive and feeling needy is that receptivity is light. If you get something, you think it’s great. You’re pleasantly surprised that someone is doing you a good turn. You would have been fine if you hadn’t gotten anything. You feel good already.
Neediness feels miserable because you’re unhappy and usually self-pitying. It’s caused when you have let yourself get too:
Being in any of these states will contribute to a loss of perspective. When you’re experiencing neediness, it’s because you’re depleted of something, and there is no material gift, thoughtful compliment, heartfelt apology or helping hand that can quell it because it wasn’t caused by anything outside of you. Rather, neediness is the result of having been inattentive to your own needs.
One of the hallmarks of neediness is when little things set you off. Your son left the milk out on the counter and instead of realizing he simply forgot you wonder why he is doing this to you. Or none of your friends calls you to make plans for the weekend and instead of figuring they’re busy with other things, you feel abandoned and left out. Your roommate, boyfriend or husband fails to take out the garbage again and instead of brushing it off you go ballistic. Why? Because you have no reserves left. Your cup is empty.
When neediness sets in, you unwittingly broadcast it to everyone who comes in contact with you by wearing a dejected or cranky look on your face, snapping at people and sighing in frustration. One sure sign that neediness is coming on is the delusion that you’d be happy if only someone else around you would change. Another is that you’re complaining—again. A third is a sense of urgency that your problem be addressed now.
In fact, neediness is the beginning of a vicious cycle that compounds itself because it alienates the people around you—the very ones that you fantasize could make you feel better if only they would do what you want. Instead, people naturally recoil from desperation. When you’re needy, people around you pick up on it and realize that no matter what they do for you, it’s not going to be enough. So they stop trying to do anything for you because they sense that their efforts won’t make a dent.
The way to break the cycle is to avoid the depletion that leads to neediness. In other words, you have to practice good self-care.
Leah was relieved that she wasn’t available to talk on the phone when her friend Suzanne called saying, “I really need to talk to someone right now.” That’s because Leah suspected that her friend was calling with yet another litany of complaints about how Suzanne’s husband didn’t pay enough attention to her. Something about Suzanne’s tone and her urgency told Leah this conversation was going to be just as miserable and draining as the last few on the same topic. Early on Leah had tried making suggestions and consoling her friend, but nothing seemed to help the situation—or put an end to the complaining.
“It seems like he’s only interested in me if I’m making other plans,” Suzanne had said previously. Leah imagined that Suzanne’s husband, Josh, was probably just as eager to avoid being around someone who was clearly a bottomless pit of need.
The next time Leah spoke to her friend, she gently told Suzanne, “I know you’re in a lot of pain about your marriage right now, but quite honestly I can’t listen to your complaints about Josh anymore because it’s draining me. I don’t see any improvement in the situation, and I would just prefer we talked about other things. I’m sorry, but I just can’t hear about that topic anymore.”
Suzanne was clearly hurt and angry and initially reacted with even more neediness. “I don’t have anyone else to talk to about my problems,” she told Leah, “I thought you were my friend.”
But a few days later Suzanne called Leah with a new tone.
“I think you did me a favor by telling me you couldn’t listen to my complaints anymore,” she started. “At first I was just mad at you and felt you weren’t there for me. But then I noticed that Josh is reacting to me the same way, but not being as direct. I figured he was avoiding me because I was so unhappy. So I made an effort to have a really great weekend whether he was paying attention to me or not. I got plenty of rest, went for a bike ride on the beach, took myself to the movies and read a Dave Barry book. I was giggling while I was reading when Josh came up behind me and put his arms around me. My first instinct was to say, ‘it’s about time you paid attention to me!’—but I didn’t. Instead we laughed together, talked and enjoyed the evening.”
This time, Leah was happy to listen—not just because Suzanne had solved her problem, but because she no longer sounded urgent, desperate and miserable.
Clearly, Suzanne’s neediness was driving away both her husband and her friend. Fortunately, she discovered a way out of the trap of her neediness. The key for Suzanne—and the rest of us––was tending to her own needs. Only then could she receive affection from her husband as well as support from her friend.
It really is nearly impossible to keep perspective when you’re depleted. Recently I went to bed too late the day before I was traveling across the country. When my flight was delayed, which caused me to miss my connecting plane and made my day even longer, I was really cranky about it. You’d have thought I was being forced to walk across the country by my reaction. I wanted the airlines to fix my problem, but they were doing the best they could. Even if they could have done something more for me, I bet my needy approach wouldn’t have inspired them to do much of anything but try to get rid of me.
The bigger problem was that I had no perspective because I lacked sleep— something only I can give myself. I tried to improve my attitude by telling myself I was just overtired, but that only went so far. It wasn’t until I got a good night’s rest that I regained my sense of well being and became receptive—instead of needy—again.
“The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains.”
The best receivers are people who know how to make themselves happy and relaxed. They do this by deliberately doing things they enjoy every day. They beautify their home, go to the gym, make something with their own two hands or watch a sit-com for no reason other than because it makes them feel happy. They do these things as part of their routine–just the way you make your bed or brush your teeth—because it keeps them grounded. The discipline of self-care is just as important as keeping your home tidy or preventing plaque build-up because it helps you guard against depletion and build a tolerance for even more pleasure and enjoyment to come into your life.
Women who practice self-care have enough reserves to handle the unexpected challenges life throws at them. The fringe benefit is that they emanate a sense of calmness and happiness that make them enjoyable to be around. They have an undeniable aura of self-respect.
It may not always be convenient to fit enjoyable activities into your day, but good receivers do it anyway because they have faith that they’ll feel better and more grounded when they do. I’ve had to force myself to go play volleyball in the evening when I was tempted to work longer, but I’m always glad afterward. The change of scenery and pace gives me a more positive perspective. I am now one of those women I used to envy who has a lot of fun, instead of the bedraggled one who wishes she were.
Consider doing at least three things a day for your own pleasure. For instance, you might go to a yoga class, read the funnies and make out with your boyfriend. The next day might find you sharing your lunch hour with a friend, reading a magazine and getting a pedicure. You could play with your child or a pet, spend half-an-hour gardening, and soak in the tub. Going to bed early, having a sensual meal, getting a massage, singing or playing an instrument, listening to music, taking a class you enjoy and meditating are also excellent examples of good self-care.
Your list of daily pleasures will probably include some of these things, but you’ll also want to add to it those activities that are uniquely enjoyable for you.
Be picky about your self-care being something you enjoy—not something that someone else would like. For instance, when a co-worker offered Vicky theater tickets on a night when she had tennis lessons, she was clear that she couldn’t go because she was much more excited about the tennis lessons than the show. For Vicky, going to the theater was only okay—whereas playing tennis was a joy. Sure, she would have enjoyed the show, too, but sticking to her original plan was better self-care.
Sometimes you’ll plan your self-care and still something will pop-up to interfere. Remember that the crafts class, coffee klatch or solitude you were planning are just as important to a gracious receiver as the other tasks on a to-do list.
“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.”
— Leonardo de Vinci
If you’re like most modern women, you’re busy, and don’t have several extra hours in your day for self-care. That’s why the most important step in practicing good self-care is planning it. Otherwise, it just doesn’t happen. Work really will expand to fill the time, unless you make an effort to carve out the time you need to go to the beach or take a nap.
If I plan my self-care and then commit to a friend who will hold me accountable, that’s even better. For some reason, knowing that my best friend will chide me later if I ignore my self-care gives me extra motivation to work it into my schedule, plus we supply each other with inspiration and ideas. Call it the buddy system—studies show it works to keep people exercising, and I find it works for staying on a self-care regime, too. I’ve been preaching the benefits of self-care for five years now, and to this day, I still talk to my best friend on the phone most mornings and commit to three things I will do for my enjoyment.
Practicing good self-care makes me more productive. Maybe that’s because it keeps me from getting depleted, which in turn makes me feel more energized and capable. That means it’s easier to finish my work or straighten the house because I’m feeling strong and motivated.
Now that I’m in the habit of making myself happy every day, I can’t imagine my life any other way. I feel so much more grateful and fortunate because I live so richly. My friendships are stronger, and I’m much more clear about how to honor my needs. I rarely feel sorry for myself that I never get anything or do anything because it seems like I’m always going to a game or a party, seeing friends or relaxing. The result is that I’m much more receptive because my cup is already full. I can always use more compliments, help or presents, but I’m not looking for them or anything else to fix me.
Tending to my self-care was a big change in the way I treated myself. Years ago, I ran myself ragged, complained bitterly about being overwhelmed, then collapsed in a heap at the end of most days. I thought things would get better someday in the future, although I didn’t know when. I even found some perverse pleasure in not indulging myself in things I loved because I felt more efficient knowing that I wasn’t doing anything frivolous. Unfortunately, I was also cranky and hard to live with because I was so short-tempered. I was constantly trying to control my husband because I was afraid that I was going to have to pay more, wait longer and have more to clean and I just didn’t have the reserves to handle any such problems. I also felt unappreciated for all my sacrificing—which nobody asked me to do—and never felt like I was getting as much as I was giving. I wished someone else would take care of me, but instead I acted like a porcupine by pricking everyone around me with my crankiness. I was always stressed out, always angry. I was unwittingly sending out a message to everyone near me that said, “I don’t want or appreciate simple pleasures, so don’t waste your time giving them to me.”
Not so anymore. Now that I spend more time and energy on things I enjoy, others see that I’m someone who deserves to be enjoying herself. In other words, I’m setting an example for how they should treat me by the way I’m treating myself. It sounds so simple, but I never recognized before that others respond to me the same way I respond to myself, which was pretty much like Cinderella before she went to the ball.
Practicing good self-care is like deciding to be the princess who lives happily ever-after.