One of the hardest tasks in life is being true to one’s self. However inadvertent, most little girls are taught to value niceness over self-affirmation: “Did you make your friend cry?” “Don’t make Mommy mad.” “Be a good girl and smile”. While it is admirable to be a kind, considerate, nurturing person, too often we make this a priority at expense of our own needs. When generation upon generation parents with this goal of creating “nice” girls, models and skills are lacking to teach:
- How to balance our own needs with the needs of others.
- How to be strong and secure in oneself, able choose what works for us in the face of others’ disapproval.
- How to preserve sense of self against the ever-constant societal expectations for women to please, serve, or nurture others.
This lack of a strong model of “this is me, warts and all” leads to the biggest mistake that I see in relationships: sacrificing one’s self for the sake of the relationship. Women aren’t silly putty, forming to the container created by others in their lives. Accepted common sense in relationships (thanks, feminist movement!) asserts that we must be willing to compromise. We know that partnerships involve give and take, negotiating so that each party’s preferences are met at times. Too often, in our ever-present all or nothing thinking, however, we confuse this healthy compromise with sacrifice. There needs to be a balance between compromise over issues and sacrifice of personality preferences that leads to loss of self.
Let’s explore this. Person A loves to entertain, and Person B, (partner of person A) is extremely shy. Person A can compromise, and agrees to only invite two guests to dinner at a time. This might be an acceptable give and take. However, if Person A does not wish to stress Person B, so gives up entertaining all together, this is a sacrifice that may lead to resentment. In a recent episode of the award-winning drama House, MD, a couple was treated who were allegedly asexual. They each had agreed that sex was not important to their marriage. House, in his relentless style, pursued this problem until he discovered a pituitary tumor in the husband which had rendered him dysfunctional sexually. When treatment restored sexual function, the wife revealed that she was not actually asexual. She had chosen this path for the sake of her husband.
Granted, this arrangement appeared to be working for this TV couple. However, too many women sacrifice similar parts of themselves, to appear to be something they are not, for the sake of the relationship. I have yet to see that this is a workable model for relationship success. The challenge is to be yourself in all realms of your life. We want to surround ourselves, in significant partnerships and friendships, with others who can accept us as we are and enable us to be our best selves. In this month of love, that’s the truth for which we want to strive. I’m my own unique me, and my choices make me who I am. My goal is to affirm that, regardless of others’ reactions. This is truly one of the most difficult–yet ultimately rewarding–challenges of life.
Be yourself. Know in your heart that you are acting in a way that works for you. And feel the strength grow within you as you do.