“Guilt can drive us to self-sacrifice to meet the needs of others. This expectation and act is so ingrained in our culture we now call it generosity.”-Rikki Lee
“Can we have some friends over for dinner tomorrow night?” my husband asked, after we had just had other guests stay unexpectedly for 4 days and 3 nights (which I thoroughly enjoyed, might I add).
I could feel my stomach tense and a feeling of pressure rising through my chest like I wanted to explode.
I took a deep breath, and realized that what I was feeling was my body communicating to me that I was over my limit on socialization time, and that I needed alone time.
Knowing what I needed, I was able to communicate it to my husband from a clear, grounded place. “I’m sorry, dear, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and like I need some alone time. You’re welcome to go hang out with your friends if you’d like, but I don’t feel up for hosting and having more people in our home right now.”
I didn’t tell him what he could or couldn’t do; I was able to say what I needed and wanted to do based on how I was feeling, which allowed both of us the freedom to act in accordance with our own needs and desires.
These conversations are ground-breaking to me, as simple as they may seem. The reason?
They represent my ability to be so intimately attuned to myself, my internal landscape, and body cues that I can clearly state my needs without blame, projection, or blowing up which creates not only harmony within myself, but in all my relationships.
Trust me, this wasn’t always the case. In the past, what would have happened would have likely looked something like this:
My husband would ask “Can we have some friends over for dinner tomorrow night?”
I didn’t have any awareness of my body cues/sensations or how my body communicates to me. I was not at all attuned to myself. I’d attune only to him and think, “He’s more extroverted than me and he enjoys it so much, so I should do it for him” or “He’ll be upset with me if I don’t do this, so it’s better to just say nothing”, or “I want to avoid having any conflict over this, so I’ll just do it”.
I only ever thought about what the other person was thinking, needing, feeling, or wanting from me; all my attention was turned outwards towards the other.
What would typically happen after I tuned out my own needs and attuned solely to the needs of my husband would be me exploding shortly after, accusing him of never considering me or my needs, and us getting in a fight over it all. It would end in me scratching my head wondering why in the world there always seemed to be these patterns of my needs not getting met and me feeling like I couldn’t get what I want that would happen over and over again in my relationships.
Notice in this scenario I never communicated my needs to him at all, because I completely tuned them out and was unaware of them and attuned solely to him.
This pattern of being hyper-aware of others needs (while not being aware of your own) gets taught to women early through cultural programming. We learn that our worth comes from how well we are taking care of others, anticipating their needs, and that we are OK if and only when others are OK and pleased with us.
No wonder we learn to be highly attuned to the smallest details of others behavior: their body language, tone of voice, their pauses, not just what they say, but even what they aren’t saying.
These are phenomenal skills. The only problem is that we don’t turn them inwards and use them on ourselves to be intimately attuned and aware of our own needs and desires, then we operate in the world from a position of having no defined self of our own.
We have been socialized as women to believe that:
When you are OK, then I will be OK.
When you like me, then I’m OK.
If everyone is happy, taken care of, and pleased with me, then maybe I can have what I want.
So we turn all our attention outwards towards others in hopes of feeling OK ourselves and getting what we want.
This puts all the control and power precisely where you have zero ability to change anything: with the other person. Focusing solely on others puts you in a position where you have no defined self, no power, and no control over your own life. No wonder it feels so unsatisfying.
What society teaches us will give us what we want and make us feel OK only makes us feel powerless, out of control, and anxiety-ridden. (I lived there for years).
Being able to actually have what we want, have our needs met, have more harmony in our relationships, the ability to go after what we desire, and more joy and satisfaction in our lives doesn’t come from attuning to others more, but in learning to attune to ourselves.
Attuning to yourself is the first and most important step in operating from your place of sovereignty and power in the world and in all relating to others, because there is no relationship that you aren’t in.
So where you do you begin? How do you learn to tune into yourself, first?
Here are some practical steps to attune to yourself:
- Turn your attention to your body and your physical sensations. What are you feeling? Any areas of tightness or tension? Hardness? Buzzing? Any areas of ease or softness? Openness? Where do you feel these things?
- What are the underlying, real, human needs that are creating these physical sensations? (We all have needs as humans, and we don’t ever get to the point where we outgrow them!) If you’re not sure, you can ask the sensations that you feel if they had a voice to talk, what they would say.
- What are some ways that you can validate those needs for yourself? Instead of shaming yourself for having needs or telling yourself you shouldn’t have them, how can you show yourself compassion in this moment and validate that your needs are real and worthy of being met?
- As you do this more, begin to notice patterns of how your body communicates specifically to you. For example, I know that when something is true for me I get whole body tingles and goosebumps. When I need alone time, I typically will feel a tightness in my stomach and chest that starts to feel like a rising volcano.
What are the patterns of how your body communicates to you? The more intimate you get with these, the more attuned you become with yourself, the more able you are to stay in your own power in your life and go after what you want and need as well as communicate these things to others from a place of being centered within yourself.
I’m curious, have you ever experienced a similar scenario in your relationships? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.