I have written before that my youngest daughter Abigail is one of my newest and greatest teachers. There are so many things that she just inherently understands, even at such a young age, and being reminded of some these truths through her eyes is always such a gift.
The most recent lesson I received from her was about what it actually means to set boundaries, to be in balance with how we give and receive, and that people-pleasing is an unnecessary and ultimately, futile endeavor. I see this in her because she wants others to be happy and okay… and she wants it for herself as well. Not only that, she has no problem expressing her feelings, needs, or desires. In fact, I witnessed that she feels powerful in doing so.
For her birthday, this year she wanted to go to the Sugar Factory. For those unfamiliar, it is exactly like it sounds. An extravaganza of all things sugar made popular for being the “Most Instagrammed Restaurant” upon opening. As someone who typically avoids sugar altogether, I wasn’t exactly excited about her choice. I might also mention that it was very cold and loud inside (need-to-scream-to-talk kind of loud.) I asked her if we could go to a different restaurant (admittedly one I liked more) and sweetened this deal by reminding her that The American Doll store was right across the street from the restaurant I preferred.
She replied calmly, “Okay. But can we do both?”
It was clear that she wanted me to have what I wanted and still expressed her desire. She isn’t even clocking in at double digits yet and she still somehow understands compromise and healthy boundaries!
In the end, of course, we went to Sugar Factory because it was her birthday. And seeing her joy was my joy.
Abigail came into the world this way, with a full belief in the fact that she is deserving, but the rest of us have to learn it. To claim what we desire, we have first to believe that we are deserving of it. Sacrificing what we want in order to make others happy or smooth out situations only leads to resentment and while many of us understand that this kind of self-worth is important in theory, why is it so hard in practice?
The simple answer: negative beliefs.
There are a handful of societal and cultural symptoms we could point to, but ultimately it comes down to the way we think. Psychologist Barbara Markway specializes in social anxiety and has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, and has contributed to The New York Times and The Washington Post all to educate us about why self-esteem is so difficult to come by, and negative thought patterns are at the root.
Maybe we think that by sacrificing our needs “this time,” other people will see our sacrifice and approve of or accept us, making us worthy of asking for what we want the next time. You can probably see how this would be an unending cycle.
Perhaps we believe that if we criticize ourselves enough, we’ll stay in control of how people see us. If we are constantly monitoring ourselves, weighing it against whether people approve of us or not, we can feel “in control” of our image and our life.
The most common probably is the idea that by never communicating what we desire, we will sidestep the disappointment, rejection, or shame that can come with being denied. If we never ask, we won’t get hurt.
Giving to others and watching their joy is a huge part of what makes sharing so beautiful, it’s one of the many reasons the kabbalists have cited giving and sharing as one of the surest paths to personal happiness. However, it is never supposed to be at the expense of our joy or desire. Our desires, every single one of them, are gifts to us from the Creator. They are invitations to follow our unique purpose, clues that lead down the path of our unfolding potential. To deny them is to deny ourselves. No wonder we’d be unhappy!
You can be okay, and you can work to make others okay at the same time. It’s not a zero-sum game.
The next time you find yourself fulfilling someone else’s desire at the expense of your own, stop. Try communicating what would feel the best to you and if that’s too difficult at the moment, make it a point to give to yourself in another way. By balancing out giving and receiving this way, you’ll be rewriting the script in your mind that says others deserve more than you do.
Desire is a gift. We never need to go without in order to please others. It is actually all to the contrary. The more we allow ourselves to receive, the more we will be able to give, which again, is one of the greatest keys to a life of true fulfillment and happiness.
As for me, I can certainly say that getting to see Abigail experience her desire of a birthday at the Sugar Factory was infinitely more divine than going somewhere that wouldn’t have inspired her. Everybody won.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Practice communicating what you desire this week, even if it seems small. See what shifts as you begin to step into your worth in this way.