Emotional Health

Learn to Tune in to Your Own Signals

As mothers, we can be exquisitely attuned to our child’s needs but have trouble later, as they grow older, ignoring the child’s desires when appropriate. Another issue occurs when we feel responsible for others’ feelings, and think that it our job to “fix” things for everyone. Effective parenting often requires that our children learn to fix things themselves. Effective, true friendship can flourish more by listening and empathizing than offering suggestions and opinions.

Learning to overcome this can be challenging. Many people hardly know where to begin. One woman I worked with was trying to overcome her disordered eating patterns by learning to pay attention to her internal cues. She had been ignoring them for so long she could not recognize them. For example, when she looked at a menu the first question that confused her was how hungry was she, really? Then, she had to figure out what she truly felt like eating. This choice was complicated not only by her long-standing habit of restricting calories, but also by other distractions. She would consider many other factors—the cost of the items, the health benefits, the particular restaurant’s specialties, what she had eaten earlier, what the others were ordering, etc. Everything but what she really wanted, which was obscured by all these other considerations.

Similarly, when confronted with free time, women with “self” problems are often confused and unable to discern what they really want to do. As one said to me, “I always have the feeling that someone, somewhere, is expecting me to be there or do something and is mad because I’m not doing it.”

The prescription for this is recognizing and tackling the underlying problem of damaged self-love. This can be a long-term project, requiring therapy. Another antidote is learning to recognize others who either don’t see you as a separate person or don’t care to, and staying far away from them, if possible. If it is not, learning to restrict time spent with them, set boundaries, and understand in advance that such people can throw off your balance with their overly strong “self” radio signals.

Learning to be quiet and mindful can help too. Like the woman with the menu problem, turning off distractions of all kinds can give you a better chance to hear your own signal. Both yoga and meditation have been shown to boost well-being, and help us feel more “grounded” and in touch with ourselves.

While it may seem that the problem with our society is that people are too involved with themselves, this can be a defense against low self-esteem. Learning to respect and appreciate yourself in an appropriate, measured, and compassionate way is an essential foundation of our ability to give to others. Only partly tongue-in-cheek, I might say, “Do it for others if not for yourself.” And then learn to do it for yourself, too.

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