You are so much stronger than you think.
"I abdicated responsibility for myself." That’s what I heard every time I looked in the mirror.
"I abdicated responsibility for myself." I heard it again anytime I allowed myself even a brief break from being busy — way too busy.
"I abdicated responsibility for myself. I abdicated responsibility for myself. I abdicated responsibility for myself." It was a horrible, accusing chant that never let up.
It was also true.
When I got divorced, I had to face a lot of things — a lot of things that didn't make me feel so hot about myself. This one, giving up responsibility for myself, was one of the hardest because it was so embarrassing; because I was an incredibly responsible person when it came to everyone and everything else, and because I wasn't exactly sure how to take responsibility for me.
Like most girls my age, I grew up with a set of confusing expectations. My mom stayed at home. Her daily focus was on raising the five of us kids and taking care of our home. My dad was the breadwinner and took care of the yard and cars. Yet my parents were well aware of the social changes going on in the 70s and encouraged me to get an education so I'd be able to take care of myself financially. The funny thing was that they still held onto the expectation that I would help take care of my siblings and help my mom when dad was out of town. Mom and Dad took very good care of me while I was growing up. But, when I look back, I realize I learned to "do it all" for everyone else. I didn't really learn how to take care of me in any way — besides financially.
This dynamic played out in my first marriage with me being able to handle the finances, to get a great education and a great job when I graduated, to make sure my husband was happy, and … to completely ignore what I needed. Back then I decided it wasn't a priority for me to take care of myself because I thought it was my husband's job to do that. I thought he should just know what I needed in the way that I just knew what he needed.
This was a recipe for disaster. It seemed that the harder I worked at making sure my husband was taken care of, the worse I felt. I started having anxiety and panic attacks. At first, my husband was worried and would rush me to the ER to make sure things were OK, but over the years he got to the point where he was exhausted with my panic attacks and would ask if we really had to go to the hospital again. Realizing that I had abdicated responsibility for myself after my divorce was just the beginning of my journey of self-discovery — a journey that began with changing the beliefs that no longer worked for me.
One of the first beliefs I set about changing was "I am incapable of taking care of me. That's someone else's job." I started tackling this one where I thought it would be easiest; something inside my comfort zone. I decided that I was capable of taking care of me financially. Although I had the knowledge and the skills to take care of my financial needs, I didn't have the belief that I could do it "just" for me.
What finally helped me believe I could take care of myself financially was when I opened up to a friend who helped me look at my income and expenses. He helped me see that everything was OK: I could pay my bills and be responsible and take care of myself. I began to understand that I could depend on myself. Maybe, for now, only financially — but it was a start that I could build on.
The next belief I changed was "I need to be punished for getting divorced." Besides living with the expectation that God would strike me dead if I did anything fun, this belief caused me to punish myself. I thought that the purpose of my life was to work hard and take care of everyone and everything I felt responsible for — again, except for me.
If I did things that got in the way of my "purpose", then I needed to be punished. One of the things I did to punish myself was to avoid eating. Luckily, there was a wonderful couple, Bob and Gloria, who lived across the street from me. They were the same ages as my parents and from the same part of the country. They would have me over to eat dinner with them virtually every night and Gloria would always encourage me to eat by making things she knew I liked. Slowly, I began to realize that I was human and it was OK to take care of me. Eventually, my inner dialogue about needing to be punished disappeared.
Another belief I changed on my way to taking responsibility for me was that I should expect someone I was dating to take care of me, because I was taking care of them. This one was a little trickier for me to work with because it involved my relationships with others; it wasn't just about me. I challenged this belief by listening to the stories of the men in my divorce recovery class, and by talking with my therapist about what a healthy relationship is. I challenged this belief by dating, having my heart broken and dating again. And I challenged this belief by reading a lot about self-care, which is how I first learned about life coaching!
There were many other beliefs I needed to adjust the incessant refrain of "I abdicated responsibility for myself" finally stopped. But the method I used to change these other beliefs was the same as I used for the changes I've already shared with you. I first became aware of the one belief that needed to shift. I allowed myself to trust that I knew what needed to change, and that I could trust others to respond when I asked for the help I knew I needed. That's one of the most responsible things anyone can do.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
What are your current responsibilities? Many people have too many responsibilities that they somehow just wound up having. It's almost like they're responsibility magnets. Take some time and get really clear about what your current responsibilities are.
What have you given up to meet these responsibilities? For each of the responsibilities you've identified, ask yourself what if anything you've given up to meet the expectations of the responsibility. Some responsibilities have a high price — like the one I paid to make sure everyone around me was well cared for. Other responsibilities have little to no price. Then look at all you've given up to meet all of these responsibilities.
If you're not satisfied with your responsibilities, how can you adjust them so you're taking better care of you? The answer I hear most often when I ask this question of my clients is "I don't know. Do you have any suggestions?" I love hearing this answer because it means the person is ready and willing to ask for help and support. That's where I started off changing my beliefs and my life when I got divorced and I know it's just the next positive step on this one person's amazing life journey.
Do you need some suggestions for adjusting your responsibilities so you can take better care of you? You might want to start with asking a trusted friend, your parents or other family member, your clergy person, a therapist or life coach. You can even reach out to me and schedule a Complimentary Consultation.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you're ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.