Are you Cinderella?

From the fairy stories of our youth to the sitcoms we see on TV, the belief that our spouse or friends are supposed to put our needs before their own-- or go out of their way to make sure our needs are met—is insidious. We begin to believe that's their job, to make us happy, just like WE go out of the way to always put their needs before our own.

I've met many women, and a few men, who feel that their job is to take care of the other people in their life, without regard for their own needs or preferences... or emotions. And that their partner is supposed to do the same thing for them in response. Some even (subconsciously) believe that they don’t have an equal right to get their needs and desires met in a given relationship.

And I have to disagree.

It is nearly impossible to guess just what your friend or spouse needs at any given moment because we are not mind-readers. And it is not fair to place expectations on another person without explaining what we want, and why it is important to us. It is a bigger risk-- and a much more satisfying result-- to ask for what we want, or take responsibility for getting it ourselves.

First, we throw out the Cinderella Complex-- we acknowledge that we are each responsible for our own destinies. No fairy godmother to grant wishes, no shining prince to carry us away from our problems, no rich father to pay our way to happiness, no little mice to do for us what we don't make time to do for ourselves, no magical instantaneous transformations to make our world beautiful and perfect. And, without the imaginary rewards that Cinderella received in the story, there is no reason to play the victim who works so hard to please people who will never be happy, no reason to be the angry, screechy, overbearing control freak, no reason to pretend that we-- or anybody else-- is perfect and flawless and able to meet our every need without any hint from us as to what we needed in the first place. No reason to pretend that our only feelings are joy and hurt. People are multi-faceted. We may want or feel conflicting things.

I am not Cinderella, and neither are you.

Now that we've gotten through the painful part, here's the good news: You are no more and no less human than anybody else-- even those individuals who are still auditioning for a role in the Cinderella docu-drama. And, once you stop looking for someone else to save you, or take responsibility for your happiness, or be responsible for how unhappy you are... You get to take back control of your own destiny! It is up to you to get what you want out of life. You always have choices. They may not always be choices you like-- but they are always there.

And, even better, it's okay to have emotional reactions to people and things, even conflicting ones-- the truth is that you will feel whether you acknowledge your feelings or not. And it is SO much healthier to acknowledge them. What you DO control is how you will ACT and what you will do in relation to what you are feeling.

Speaking your truth-- in a way that respects both you and your listener-- is something that takes practice. The first step is to find someone in your life that it is safe to practice with-- someone who will give you a minute to organize your thoughts, who will respect what you say, and will actually respond to it intelligently, and with love. My hope is that there are many such people in your life. ...and that you can become that person for them, in return.

Believe it or not, talking to a dog or cat can be a great place to start-- a baby step on the road to knowing your self, and trusting your reactions to others. "I really love spending time with you, and when you purr, I know you like the way I'm petting you... but I find your breath very distracting. You know, I just bought a box of my favorite breath mints, and I wonder if you'd try one and tell me what you think of them?" (note that human food can be unhealthy for animals to ingest-- this is an example of practicing honest communication)

I've been reading this excellent book called "Truth In Dating" that discusses the ten aspects of honest conversation-- from saying what you mean, to speaking only for yourself, to keeping it simple. I think the communication skills that this particular book teaches are ones that my clients could apply in any number of relationships-- business, family, friendship, etc.

One of the points that the author makes is that sharing your emotional reaction to a situation in an honest and respectful way is a great way to let the person you are sharing with know what you need, and how to give it to you. And once they know-- it is up to them how they will respond. The truth is that you don’t get to control how others act or react to you. But by acknowledging how you feel, and why you feel that way, you are both respecting yourself, and providing the other person in the situation with an opportunity to respect you in return.

I'm getting better at acknowledging my emotions and honoring my needs. I realize that usually, there's a very good reason for me to feel that way. And out of respect for and love of myself, I deserve to be treated with respect and appreciation by the people around me. It's not that I ignore or discount their needs and feelings--far from it. Instead, I recognize that life is about change, and about working with others as a community-- for the greatest good. For the good of the whole-- including me.

Take responsibility for yourself-- your actions, your reactions, how you interact with other people and with the Earth… And take responsibility for meeting your own needs. It is up to you to satisfy them.

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