Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Converse Golden Rule

For some of us, the Golden Rule is not difficult: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Treat others as you want to be treated.

If you’re anything like me—if you have the Golden Rule nailed—you might be such a giver and so other-oriented, you might want to learn its complement. I call it the Converse Golden Rule: Do unto yourself, as you do unto others. Treat yourself as well as you treat others.

I pour myself whole-heartedly into every job, friend, family member, committee, club, and project to the point that I often drain myself of my own life force. My first job was as a social worker, and I admit, I have always done some sort of social work ever since, whether in my day job, avocation, or part-time work on the side. It might have been called something else and the purpose may have appeared to be something else. But it was still “social work.” I am a do-gooder and helper through and through.

When Giving Hurts
Unfortunately, like anything done to an extreme, excessive “doing unto others” can be damaging to both the giver and receiver. There are often hidden psychological issues behind too much giving. One possibility is a need for love and approval. Another can be that we are mimicking an intense nurturing style from a parent. We tend to do as we are taught until we consciously break the cycle, whether it’s being abusive or smothering a kid with rib-crunching hugs till he yells, “Uncle.”

Whatever the cause—and, if it applies, that’s for each of us to examine and work on—helpers need to learn to help themselves. There is nothing wrong with caring about others, but when it’s at the expense of your own health, accomplishments, joy and fun in life, it’s time to meet the Converse Golden Rule.

I was finally able to turn around some of the more destructive aspects of my Giving Tree behavior by deciding to treat myself like I’d treat one of my closest friends. What a concept! I wish I had thought of it sooner. This I knew how to do—well!

My reference to the
Giving Tree is a book I remember discussing at my women’s consciousness-raising group in the ‘70s. (Remember those?) While many would find Shel Silverstein’s children’s story endearing about an apple tree who loves a little boy so much, it gives and gives till it has nothing left to give; some women on the cusp of liberation were not amused 35 years ago. They were righteously indignant. They felt this was the wrong message to be sending our children—to give and give with no regard for themselves. It touched too close to the bone as the traditional role women were expected to play. They were tired of being nothing in and of themselves and only regarded as valuable in their role as compulsive givers.

On Balance
Boomers have had to integrate some true extremes in our lifetime. Most of us were children in the ‘50s but reached young adulthood in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Could any two eras differ more?
Ozzie and Harriet meets Michael the Meathead and Gloria. My struggles with being pulled in these two opposite directions are full of both humor and pathos when I flash back on my life. I felt schizoid in the ‘70s trying to sort it all. I did not understand who I was or who I wanted to become as the palette of possibilities expanded, thanks to the Women’s Movement.

But one thing I learned the hard way, while stumbling all over my own self-discovery, is that I had to love myself more—a lot more. This is what nurturers ultimately have to realize. If our joy is in giving: we will have nothing left to give once we are completely wrung out … a dish rag killed in its prime by constant overuse, cleaning up other people’s messes. Who gave to the Giving Tree kid once the giving was all gone?

Loving You
Doing nice things for yourself will get easier, once you live by the Converse Golden Rule and become your own best friend. Soaks in a hot tub, days to yourself declared and taken behind shut doors or away from home, weekend spiritual retreats—they are all yours for the taking. Sorry, but most of your excuses are lame. So are mine.

But I think it has to go even deeper than R&R. You have to resonate to and vibrate outward a deep love of your own being. Self-love is not vanity. It’s knowing your own magnificence as a reflection of Creation and Creator.

Whatever you have to do to find that connection with your spark of the divine, give yourself that Valentine.

Whether it takes journaling, talking to your best friend until her ears burn, or years of therapy: give yourself a gift this year and the same one to your loved ones by creating a wellspring of self-love from your innermost core. It’s a wellspring because it emanates from the Ultimate Source.

Now for my gift to you. Here’s a clip of the most beautiful song I have ever known that celebrates self-love. It’s called
How Could Anyone Ever Tell You (you are anything less than beautiful), written by Libby Roderick and performed by Shaina Noll. The album it comes from, Songs for the Inner Child, is something your own inner child would love on Valentine’s Day or any day.

Now, go hug yourself!


Photo credit: WOMAN SHOWS HEART, ©
Foto.fritz Dreamstime.com


Beverly Mahone said...


This is the best post I've read from you. It speaks volumes about giving unto yourself. Sadly, some people don't know how to do that---others THINK they are--but really aren't.

Joyce Mason said...

Beverly, thank you for your kind and supportive words. This one comes deep from the heart--and experience.

rosie said...

I admit that I understand, realllly understand all too well what you are talking about. So, I am going to HUG myself more and more and more. Thanks for this eye opening opportunity to virtually see some things I have been ignoring.

PopArtDiva said...

What a great post just before Valentine's Day!!

We should all remember to treat ourselves with respect - you have nothing to give if you do not give to yourself!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Melodieann said...

I do try to "do unto myself" but I always feel guilty afterward. Perhaps that can be my Valentine to myself - a guilt free day to self-indulgence.

Karen O'Bannon said...

I like what you are saying--treat yourself as well as you treat others. Whew! I need to put that in a frame and hang it on the wall. Thanks for your insight.

Eileen Williams said...

What a fantastic post! You laid this vital life lesson out so clearly it made me realize so much about my own journey. You're right, our generation of women went through profound issues around the Golden Rule--whether or not we recognized it as such. I think aging and hormonal shifts bring new insights to this very same issue as I find myself giving in to my own needs more and more.
Thanks so much for this, Joyce. I'll be thinking about your remarkable words throughout today (Valentines Day) and for some time to come.

Joyce Mason said...

I want you all to know how much I appreciate your comments--and how I'm still working on this issue myself! It is a huge goal for me in 2009 to bring more Converse Golden Rule into my life, especially when it comes to giving away my time. I barely recognize myself today compared to the no- boundaries bleeding heart of my youth; however, I know I still have a ways to go. Let's support one another on developing true "doing unto others" balance.

Ann Pietrangelo said...

I've always believed in the "do unto others" philosophy. But until this very moment, I never thought about applying it to myself. Strange, isn't it?

What a thoughtful and insightful post. You've left me with something to think about.