My whole adult life (and probably life before that) I have been a prisoner to obligations. Not real obligations, but obligations I put upon myself. Obligations that start with the emphatic “I need to…
drink less diet coke.”
drink more water.”
stop spending money on stupid shit.”
stop dating guys I don’t actually like that much.”
I think you get the point. So last week in therapy, I was dealing with some pretty shit news. No, I don’t want to get into it. The news itself isn’t important. What’s important is that it led to another obligation. Another “I need to…” And I don’t need anymore fucking “needs”. The weight of one more was just too much. And I broke down. Well, let’s be honest. I had been crying almost since crossing the threshold of my therapist’s office. But talking about this additional need I just…I was done. I felt so overwhelmed.
My therapist then reminded me that I don’t “need to” do anything. We revisited a conversation we’d had the week before about eating. I have this constant voice in my head telling me I need to eat better/less/healthier/etc. And he talked about how important it is, in those moments, to remind myself of what I want and to reframe what I’m saying to myself in that way. “I want to eat healthier because I feel better when I do.” “I want to eat less because I hate how I feel when I overeat.” The main thing is how empowering it is to focus on what I want and not make it an obligation.
So, for the past week, I’ve been focused on reframing and restating. It’s not easy. Being raised in a family of overachievers and a religion of obligations and a woman who wants to do everything “right”, “need to” and “have to” are what I know best. But this week has been so eye-opening. And when I can remember to reframe and focus on what I really want, it’s so much easier to live my life in a way that’s congruent with those wants.
I like to joke frequently that, “I do what I want.” And in my head, when I hear that voice saying, “You need to eat better,” or “You need to get more sleep,” my response is exactly that. “You don’t get to tell me what I need to do. I do what I want.” But guess what. When that’s my internal dialogue, I’m NEVER DOING WHAT I ACTUALLY WANT TO DO.
The truth is I want to eat better and I want to get sleep and I want to exercise and I want to be vulnerable and I want to be kind. But the obligation of “needing” to do something was blinding me to that because I was so busy fighting against…myself. And when I can say, “I want…” I’m much better at remembering why I want to do something and making it about me and not about society and external expectations or influences. And when I state what I want to do the fight against myself never happens because the weight of obligation is no longer there…there’s nothing to fight against. What am I going to say to myself after I say, “I want to eat healthier”? No, you don’t?
So here are a few of the “wants” I stated this week when I was reframing.
“I want to go to be now because I am much more in control of my emotions when I get enough sleep.”
“I want to stop eating now because I do not want to feel stuffed.”
“I don’t want to buy that because I want to have more money in savings.”
“I want to be more vulnerable because I want to connect.”
“I want to ask for help with this project so that I don’t dread going to work.”
Such a difference.