For many women, taking care of others is a trait that comes naturally. But if you don’t stop to take care of yourself once in a while, your mental health could suffer, according to psychologist Patricia O'Gorman.
“Women are so good at figuring out what our husbands need, what our children need, what our girlfriends need, that we put ourselves last on the list if we even make the list at all,” said O'Gorman, who has written several books including her latest – “The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power.”
O'Gorman said women are often afraid to step into their power because they are inundated with “girly thoughts” – or negative self-images – which she said can create insecurities and low self-esteem.
“All you have to do is look at the magazine covers at the checkout line,” she said. “These societal messages are always telling us we’re not pretty enough or young enough or thin enough or we’re too smart, too bossy, too old. We can’t win.”
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The best way to stop the cycle of “girly thoughts,” O'Gorman said, is to develop resilience.
“Females are criticized for recognizing strengths the way males are criticized for sharing their feelings,” she said. “Building up your resilience means you have the power to know what you need, the vision to tend to those needs, and the strength to follow through.”
Here are O'Gorman’s tips to fend off the “girly thoughts” and embrace resilience:
• Make your crisis meaningful. “If something isn’t working, ask, ‘What do I need to learn from this?’” she said. “Often we find ourselves in the same place that we thought we’d left. And I see this with patients – they pick new partners and they’re in the same mess they were before with a previous partner. So I will say, ‘I think you need to learn something from this so you don’t repeat this pattern.’ Make your crisis meaningful by figuring out what it is that you need to learn from that crisis.”
• Ditch the fairytale ending. “Research shows girls are more likely to be fearless before they hit puberty,” she said. “And then they shift to being cute and dressing a particular way because the important thing is to be acceptable. It’s ingrained in that fairytale mentality that if we are going to be desirable we need to be weak, like the princess that needs to be rescued. We need to realize that we can rescue ourselves and rescue each other.”
• Listen to yourself. “We’ve got to turn up the volume on our inner voice,” she said. “Most people hear their children’s homework assignments more than they hear that they need to go to the bathroom. You can take five minutes for yourself to tend to your needs and still help with the homework.”
• Create helpful boundaries. “I like to use the word ‘helpful' and not ‘healthy,’” she said. “The concept of whether or not something is healthy becomes another way we beat ourselves up about our choices. If we are in a situation and we ask ourselves, ‘Is this helpful for me?’ instead of ‘Is this healthy for me?’ we are less likely to judge ourselves.”
• Help other women. “When women judge other women, they are just furthering the cycle of negativity and feeding into the dialogue of those ‘girly thoughts,’” she said. “We need to be advocates for other women. If women joined together and accepted themselves, I say to them, ‘Look out world!’ They would be unstoppable.”