What Weighs You Down?



Courtesy of Fouro via Flickr

Here’s something important I learned on my weight loss journey: what keeps my extra weight packed on has less to do with food and more to do with the people, places and things that weigh me down.

What weighs me down? At the top of my list are unreasonable expectations of myself tied to what I imagined my father’s expectations were.

Next came self-imposed stress, trouble setting limits, saying no, guilt over never being able to do enough. You know… the usual.

Once the things that weigh me down were recognized I could begin to address them.

Awareness is a good start but Action is the golden ticket.

First I wanted to do something once and for all about the weight I was carrying regarding my father’s expectations. This is going to sound corny, but what the heck: I wrote him a letter. In it I declared my independence and hoped that he could accept me, be proud of me, even better, respect me, as a wholly different person from himself. Doing this was painful, I don’t deny it, in fact I avoided it for weeks.

Finally, the discomfort of avoidance became greater than the anxiety over writing the letter. To make it a bit easier on myself I started by using a dictation app on my iPod (Dragon). That helped because some of the translations from voice to text were hilarious!

Once I started “talking to” my Dad, the flood gates opened. I had to stop and cry here and there as I said out loud what had been swimming in my head for years. I needed to be who I was. If that disappointed him I couldn’t own it any more. It was for him to deal with, not me.

I imagined my father’s serious face as he listened to me. I heard him responding in his gravelly voice, surprised by his compassion and understanding. (Did you know they have Internet in heaven and he subscribes to my blog?!) He didn’t agree with all I was doing but could sincerely say he respected it. What a relief!

I felt lighter, literally.

Secondly, the self-imposed stress deal. I am all about making healthy choices, setting limits and all that. Practicing what I preach is a challenge and I think I figured out one reason why.  I need to give myself permission to disappoint people.

This little insight occurred to me when I was talking with a friend, an entrepreneur working mom, over lunch. She was asked to take over the leadership of a business women’s group and she was stressed out about it. The burden of starting her new venture, caring for the needs of her child and home were enough. One more thing was going to break the camel’s back.

“Don’t do it,” I said. “Let them know you are honored and in a few years when your kid is older and you have your business on cruise control, you will be happy to take the job. Just not right now.”

She felt bad because these women were wonderful and she didn’t want to let them down. I said, “You just finished telling me how you are just managing the stress you already have. Maybe you need to give yourself permission to disappoint them. By saying ‘no’ to them you take care, not only of yourself, but your family, too, don’t you think? If your friends are reasonable people, maybe they will be disappointed at first but they will totally get over it and in the end, probably respect you more for your ability to say no.”

Courtesy of Fouro via Flickr

 

 

Isn’t it remarkable how we say the wisest things when we are helping our friends? Wow, I thought, that was good! I need to do that! It’s not just my Dad’s expectations I was carrying around like extra baggage, it was everyone else’s, too. And here’s the weird thing. A lot of what we think are other people’s expectations don’t really exist. We exaggerate them in our head.

Putting these insights into action is a continuous challenge but yup, I’m definitely feeling lighter here!

4 comments


  • Natalie

    Reading this had me thinking… I still don’t know who the voice belongs to when my expectations get out of control. Then I read this:

    “A lot of what we think are other people’s expectations don’t really exist. We exaggerate them in our head.”

    And that had me thinking again… I think I know who I THINK the voice belongs to, but if I were to ask that person if he truly thought of me that way, he’d tell me no. I know this because I’ve asked him before. Yet, he’s the one person I always think I’m going to disappoint when/if I fail at something.

    Thanks for this. Perspective… it’s a funny thing, ain’t it?

    2011/05/14
    • Absolutely, Natalie. I love that quote! Do you know where it came from? I’d like to use it.

      I am so glad you ‘checked in’ with the person you thought had all those expectations. That’s so much of the trouble. We don’t ask to see if our assumptions are true. The huge majority of the time, once we check, we see how much we’ve exaggerated things ‘in our head’. Thanks so much for sharing!

      2011/05/16
  • Maureen

    Dear Dr. A,
    I am reading THE BEST book right now that uncannily mirrors what you wrote about your dad here! The book is called, “Stay Tuned: Conversations with Dad from the Other Side” by Jenniffer Weigel. It’s a true story. I can’t put it down! This may be the first book in 10 years I actually finish reading.

    Also, about expectations: I wonder if the expectations we think other people have for us are really the expectations we have for ourselves? Somewhere along the line we made those expectations our own? (not sure if that makes any sense …)

    2011/05/15
    • Maureen, thanks for telling me about the book. I will look it up. It’s not as if I actually talk with my Dad’s ghost, though, I just want to clarify. And maybe Ms. Weigel doesn’t mean that either. Just having it out with the person I remember and who is ‘in my head’ weighing me down, that’s what I needed to do.

      And yes, we do incorporate real or imagined expectations from others and make them our own. As grown ups, to be truly independent, we need to ask ourselves, are they all expectations we want to keep? Maybe we’d be better off giving a few of them back.

      2011/05/16

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