Break Your Conditioning Chains
I’ve been working a great deal lately with women who are exhausted.
They have been taught from childhood that everyone else comes first. The husband, the children, the neighbors, the community… no matter how we look at things together, they always say “oh, but that’s not polite. That’s not right. People will get mad at me if I don’t do things. Besides, no one else ever bothers, so it has to be me.”
At that point, I point out to them that they are living out their conditioning like good little circus elephants…
In the old days of circuses, baby elephants would have heavy chains put around their leg so they couldn't go very far. Gradually, the chain got lighter and lighter until sometimes it was only a rope; but they had been CONDITIONED into thinking when they are hobbled, they are completely trapped.
Women have been dealt with the same way.
Women are taught to compromise their own wants, to put others first. Our wants are somehow wrong.
It starts when you are small. You see these shiny silver things on top of the white thing and you reach for them… your mother grabs your hand and says, “NO! Hot!” In this case, NO is the fastest and smartest way to teach that what you want might hurt you.
But then, you’re four. And you see a plate of cookies sitting on the table. Now, you’re a smart little girl — you know there is more ‘cookie’ in the big one than the little one, and so that’s the one you reach for. But then your mother grabs your hand and says, “NO!” again.
This is where, at least for my generation, it all went wrong. “NO” was followed by, “you were going to take the big cookie and that means you’re selfish.
Good girls always let everyone else take a cookie first.
So you’re getting punished — you won’t get any cookies at all.”
And then she gives that cookie you wanted to your little brother — who, if he’s like most little tykes, eats it in front of you, making your disappointment and shame even more palpable.
Some mothers even compounded that by saying, “Besides, if girls eat cookies, they get fat. Do you want to get fat? No one likes a fat girl.”
Somehow, boys never got fat on cookies and could have all they wanted, but the only girl worth anything was the thin girl who always said no, even when she wanted to say yes.
By the time we were six or seven, we‘d been subliminally taught that whatever we want is wrong…it’s bad…we’re bad for wanting it…and if we dare to ask for what we want or say what we need, we will be punished and someone else will get what we wanted.
That’s why most women in my practice, when they are asked what they want in a situation, sit mutely and then shake their head. “I don’t know. I really don’t.” And they mean it.
If any relationship is going to work, both parties need to be able to ask for what they want, without shame and without guilt.
If you need one-on-one time with your spouse, say so.
If you want to be part of a project, ask to be included.
If you want to find a new career, start looking.
And if someone tells you why you shouldn’t go for what you want, or ask for what you need, feel free to use two of my favorite phrases:
Thank you for sharing. You may think that if you wish.
Then — stand your ground and go for that target you long for. You may not always get there, but at least you honored your desire to see if what you wanted was possible.
Finally, if someone keeps telling you that their needs and wants are more important than yours — if they try to intimidate you, or guilt you, or manipulate you into saying or doing what you don’t want to do, then remember that NO Is A Fabulous Idea.
You have a right to your “no” as much as to your “yes” — and if the world doesn’t understand that, stand in your truth until it does.
Break those chains, my baby elephants.