TOSS THE GUILT
It's a cloudy, chilly day here in the Midwest. I step outside because Alexa says it's 48 degrees which, for this time of year, is absolutely balmy. But without any sun and with snow still on the ground, I shut the door and grab a sweater. The unfulfilled promise of spring is a cruel one.
It's been five years since I turned seventy and almost that long since I started to blog. When I scroll through many of my posts, I try to see if there are some issues surrounding women and aging that pop up more often than others. Sure enough, there are those themes: memory loss, changing bodies, invisibility as older women, frayed relationships, friendship, mentorship.
Today, I'm tired of complaining (I can't promise about tomorrow) and am hereby vowing to take a more positive stance on all of the challenges that are part and parcel of aging. I've posted before about the benefits of learning to say no but am revisiting the promise of older women stating their feelings clearly, clarifying when they don't want/shouldn't have to do whatever the issue at hand might be, and, most importantly, not feeling guilty. Most of us have shouldered the responsibilities as a mother, wife/partner/husband, professional, cook (Well, not me), housecleaner, babysitter, teacher . . . I'm sure you can add to the list.
“No” is not a word that women are brought up to use at work, or at home. We are raised and conditioned to believe that being nice and cooperative is what gets you praise. If we speak up, we risk being labeled aggressive, pushy, unfeminine. And the guilt--well, it comes with the territory. Men, on the other hand, are expected, encouraged to speak their mind: being assertive is considered a plus/manly/a way to get ahead in this world.
“Guilt can prevent us from setting the boundaries that would be in our best interests, and in other people’s”. Melody Beattie, author
I don't know about you but, for me, learning to say "No," or "I don't wanna" to quote my BFF has been a process that has taken longer than I would have wished. Who knows where my apprehension to speak my mind comes from. I'm the oldest of what were four siblings (my brother took his life decades ago), and I remember feeling like hot shit. I was the leader, the one who set the rules. So how I came out of childhood shying away from conflict is beyond me. I don't like conflict. Plain and simple. And I operated under the assumption albeit false that I might say something to hurt someone else's feelings or might get them mad at me. Man, oh, man: that sounds rather pathetic at this point in the game.
What I've found is that speaking up, being honest, kicking guilt to the curb makes for better relationships all the way around, for me, and for all those I interact with. It's ironic that I've written about active listening a lot but like a lot of people (I'm thinking many a therapist here), it's not always easy to practice what you preach. (I could go there but will save that discussion for another day.)
The older I get, the easier it is to set boundaries. My patience ain't what it used to be, and I've learned how to be assertively kind without guilt. It's been a tough year for everyone. That's a fact. We've had to spend months cooped up with our significant others. All of our nasty shortcomings have become personality disorders. There has been nowhere to hide. Space has come at a premium. It's not surprising that the incidence of spousal abuse has skyrocketed.
Our homes have become laboratories for the study of clear, honest communication. We've had the opportunity--well, that's a bit of an overstatement--to get this no-guilt business under our belts. We can shut the office door and spend time alone; we don't have to explain why. We can order in instead of cooking. (Again, this does not refer to me but to my husband.) We can read a book instead of sitting with our housemate and watching TV. We can say we're not interested in knowing all the details of a conversation.
I am thankful that I've gotten this guilt thing under control. If gives me more thing I can cross off my "Oh, brother, I'd better get this right, or I'll have to come back around and do it all over again" list.