It is so easy, particularly if you are a woman, to give yourself away. Society has raised us to be polite, considerate, to always think of others before ourselves. Be quiet. Know your place. Respect your elders (simply for being elder than you, not necessarily because they are worthy of respect). That’s not how a lady (or gentleman) would behave. There is nothing inherently wrong with politesse and certainly many situations in life call for it, but all of these demands we are given when we’re young lead to the suppression of one’s true self in an effort to cater to the comfort and satisfaction of others.
On the topic of giving ourselves away, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“As women, we are often so generous, especially with ourselves, that we give little pieces of ourselves away to almost anyone who asks. At the time, we hardly notice. Sometimes the pieces we give away are so miniscule that they really seem unimportant . . . a favor here . . . letting something go by that we know is wrong there . . . swallowing the anger from an injustice done to us somewhere else. We can handle each one individually, and we are unaware of the cumulative effect of years of giving away little bits and pieces of ourselves.
We have allowed ourselves to be almost devoured by those around us.”
When I first started therapy, this is exactly how I felt. I was living my life for everyone around me. Everything I did was to appease someone other than myself. I felt pulled in a hundred different directions, and as though I was an empty shell living a lie. Every time we hold back from speaking our minds, from telling uncomfortable truths, or standing up for ourselves and others, we give a little piece of ourselves away. Every time we say yes when we really wish to say no, or every time we remain silent in the face of mistreatment or disrespect out of fear of rocking the boat or being viewed as a bitch (a frequent concern for women) we belittle ourselves just that tiny bit more. All of these seemingly insignificant moments add up until we look around one day and ask where our selves went. Someone has taken all of us away. It is a death by a thousand cuts.
The beauty is that by realizing this, we can change it. We give ourselves the authority to take our power back from those to whom we gave it. When you do this, you’ll notice something interesting start to happen. Some people (many, in fact) will rebel against this change in you. True friends, though, will appreciate you for who you are and not what you give to them. Decent people will respect you for being true to yourself. They just may require a bit of an adjustment period to become accustomed to the change.