I was taught to give. Give help, give support, give attention, give time, give money, give care, give food, give kindness, up to the point of over giving.
During my childhood and adolescence, I often heard my mother saying with pride that she was the type of person who would give her shirt away just to help others. She was often the one called to help in a crisis situation and she was often expected to deal with the hard part, to the detriment of her own needs, wishes or expectations that she had to sacrifice. As a matter of fact, when my grandmother unexpectedly fell sick a few years ago, my mother sold her jewelry in a hurry, to be able to cover her medical fees, as she saw it as her responsibility, instead of asking for financial help from the rest of the family, which was also concerned. Hence, I learned that others’ needs were more important than mine, and in order to be accepted and loved I needed to over-give.
As an elder sister in post-communist Romania, when food was still scarce, I often had to accept that my share of bananas, which back then were a luxury, was gone. Although there were enough bananas for two, my young brother used to hide and eat them all, without being told off or punished. He was a lot younger, he did not know much and I was the elder sister, which meant that I had to know better and forgive him. Hence I learned that I was not really entitled to « the good stuff » compared to him.
As a child and adolescent, whenever I was asking my father for money – for a school trip, for private classes or for anything else within reason – I was first being given a long sermon about how difficult his life was, how hard he was working for us and how ungrateful I was for asking something from him. In the end he was giving me the money I needed, but only after a long wait and after psychologically punishing me for daring to ask. Thus, I learned that asking for money was something shameful and unreasonable and that I was not truly entitled. Later on in life, it translated in difficulty to ask for a pay rise or to assert my value.
Hence, I was raised in the spirit of over-giving and sacrificing personal needs, desires and even entitlements. I learned that money and relationships don’t go together and that I had to settle for either one or the other. I learned not to respect my boundaries and my personal safe limits, but rather to treasure more the needs, wants and entitlements of others.
And this lead me to long-term illness, unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Because when you are over-giving, a huge gap is produced and life becomes unbalanced.
The magic word
Luckily there is a word that can turn the wheel and change the story. This word is ‘awareness’. The more I was becoming aware of how my behaviours had been conditioned by my upbringing, the culture I lived in or the role models that I had, the more my beliefs were confronted and new options started to unveil themselves.
« Put the fish on the table », advised psychologist George Kohliesser in his book « Hostage at the table » and approach the uneasy, potentially creating conflict situations. Because if we avoid creating a conflict, this will remain cold and, over time, grow into resentment, creating even more pain and affecting the relationship anyway.
All that I can control is how I respond
A while ago, I decided to face one of my fears. It is a fear that comes all the way back from my childhood, and this is being rejected, due to requesting something I was entitled to. After some emotional turmoil expressed in a coaching session in which I was the coachee, (coaches get coached as well, you know, after all, they are only humans), I decided to fear the fear and do it anyway. I decided to « put the fish on the table », express my request, as gently, positively and compassionately as I could, despite potentially creating a conflictual situation, risking to be misunderstood, and risking to lose a relationship that I cherish, as a result of a request related to money. I had done it. And what I feared partially came true. My request was initially not received as I had expected it to be and I had to face the potential risk of relational rejection.
With all the compassion I could give, I reiterated my request, although I was tempted to drop it, just as I used to do so many times in the past, as per the behaviour that I was taught and had internalised.
I know I don’t have control of the other person’s behaviour, emotions or interpretations. All that I can control is how I respond. All that you can control is how you respond. And I chose to respond with compassion and care, both for me (my wishes, my needs and my entitlements) and for the person to whom I was addressing the request. And in the end, it turned out all right and my request was heard.
Today, I know that I am entitled to state my requests, even if it will still remain difficult. I also know that I am entitled to receive, all while still being loved and accepted. And so are you.
You are entitled to ask and receive.
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