By Jewel Safren, LCSW
A couple of months ago I was making lunch for myself and asked my husband if he wanted some egg salad. He kind of shrugged me off with, “Nah, I’m not hungry.”
I went about happily preparing my lunch and was getting ready to sit down and enjoy it (the eggs were nice and warm—I had just boiled them). Then my husband walked by and said something like, “That looks good!”
I responded, “I just asked you five minutes ago if you wanted some and you told me no!” To which he replied, “I wasn’t hungry then.”
You get the gist. An annoying moment, but not really anything terrible, right?
But here’s what happened next…
I GAVE HIM MY LUNCH.
He did not ask me for it. He even said something like, “No, no, that’s yours. I’ll wait.” But I wasn’t having any of it. I forced my lunch on him and went back to the kitchen very annoyed. I started all over again boiling eggs, all the while muttering to myself: “I just asked him five minutes ago!”
But here is the insight I had next: I did NOT have to give him my lunch.
I was annoyed, I felt put out. But that was my own doing! I agreed to do something I did not want to do and then I was annoyed with him about it. But it wasn’t his fault (okay, he is not totally blameless here, he definitely could have told me five minutes sooner, or made his own lunch).
I could have easily said something like, “Okay, when I’m done I’ll make you some.” I could have enjoyed my lunch and then made him something afterwards, and not been upset.
To tell you the truth, at the time it did not even occur to me. I’m so used to jumping to satisfy what I see as other people’s needs that most of the time it doesn't even occur to me to do otherwise. Of course, this leads to a lot of muttering.
But this time it really hit me that I had created this whole upset. I realized that this was a snapshot of the story of my life: Jumping to please other people compulsively, like a jack-in-the-box, doing things I do not want to do, and then being upset about it. But it was me that created that scenario—not them.
It’s okay for them to ask.
It’s okay for me to say no.
This whole egg salad saga helped to open my eyes to the fact that I was creating a lot of my own suffering. I started to watch myself and catch myself doing it, so I could STOP doing it.
Okay, okay, so that’s the OLD me. Let me tell you about the NEW me.
If my husband wants something to eat and I am eating or doing something else, I will actually wait until I am done. I will not rush. When I’m done, I’m done, and then I can make him something—and not be upset with him.
Sometimes my kids will call and my instinct is to drop everything and pick up their call. Actually, my son just called as I was sitting down to write this. You know, I wanted to write; I did not want to talk on the phone then. I felt so strong in myself, not answering the phone. It was like I voted for myself. Like I mattered too. (Of course I'll call him back later.)
This has really permeated my whole life.
These scenarios may sound insignificant, but they have made a very big difference. I have mostly stopped doing things I do not want to do. (Of course I still have to do things I do not want to—like taxes—BUT I can do them at a convenient time.) Very often, I am okay doing these things later, when it works for me. Of course I am not 100 percent on this, but I am definitely going in the direction of consulting with myself before making myself an angry slave to everyone else.
And, of course, I am muttering a lot less.