Tough Love—Putting On Your Own Oxygen Mask First (Part 1)

“After you’ve gone through self-disclosure to self-awareness, you arrive at self-acceptance.  You accept yourself for the person you are, with good points and bad points, with strengths and weaknesses, and with the normal frailties of a human being.  When you develop the ability to stand back and look at yourself honestly, and to candidly admit to others that you may not be perfect, but you’re all you’ve got, you start to enjoy a heightened sense of self- acceptance.”

 –Brian Tracy, Self-Development Author and Motivational Speaker

Note from Gail:

Today’s blog is the first in a three-part series, where I walk you through the internal look at the changing of a belief.  I believe this series is my most powerful work yet.

I bare my soul, and stand as a model in my vulnerability, so you can see that moving forward and up in life sometimes involves first being in angst to release the pain of letting go of a way of being that no longer serves us.  The end result for me has been an opening to feeling lighter, more empowered and excitedly alive than I have ever experienced in my life.

 It is by disclosing what we are thinking or feeling to another that we arrive at greater awareness as thought leader Brian Tracy who is quoted above so eloquently notes. 

 With courage, I share with you this intimate glimpse of my journey.

 * * *


The past two weeks were tumultuous and life-transforming, as I realized at a cellular level how my earlier conditioning to help others– sometimes at the expense of my own well-being– limited and exhausted me.  As we are advised when flying, in the event of an emergency, we must first put on our oxygen mask before assisting another.

 Many of us, women in particular, some parents, and those in the care-giving or “helping” professions, often overextend ourselves, putting others’ needs before our own.  For those “who give too much,” learning to fill ourselves up first is required so we can give more genuinely–without rescuing or enabling, but from purity. 

 Insight is great, but it does not necessarily change behavior.  To truly change, we must unearth the belief that has held us back.  Often these beliefs are rooted and “hidden” in our subconscious during the first seven years of life.  Some even think these limiting beliefs are in our DNA.  Most of us need a coach or an outside skilled observer to help us identify where or why we have become stuck.

In being hurt and bullied by those who I have loved dearly, I saw clearly that I had said “yes” so much at the expense of my needs that saying “no” was foreign to those who know me well. 

When I said “no” in honesty because I did not have the resources to deliver on what was requested of me, I was ignored.  The more I insisted on sharing my truth, the more these others got angry with me, and eventually disengaged from me. 

Looking back from my new place of awareness, I know now that bullies are just very scared people who use anger to attack versus look within to see first where they are frightened and feeling inadequate.  Responding at a bully’s level keeps everyone in fear. 

In opting to move forward in bigness and love, I had to look within at my role in the dysfunctional exchange and choose to heal it.  As a powerful coach with tools and techniques to help others transform their lives, I became even more frustrated at experiencing this painful place within myself where I was stuck.

My healing accelerated when I shared my hurt with those in my inner circle and let them “see” me raw and scared, almost in a state of terror as I let go of the comfortable and familiar ways of  being “the giver.”  Staying in truth, I spent many mornings literally on my knees asking for God’s help as I reclaimed my sense of value for being me, without attachment to doing something for someone else (which I literally could not afford to do) to prove my worth.

The shift came, when in exhaustion, I surrendered.  I let go of my ego, my will of how the healing was to occur, and let grace in.  People began lining up and standing beside me.  Those who I thought would think less of me for sharing my angst told me they felt just the opposite:  They admired my courage in sharing my vulnerability of learning to say “no” in bigger ways.

TO BE CONTINUED in next week’s blog, Tuesday, March 20th:  “The Courage to Let Go (Part 2 of Tough Love)”


 1.  I allow myself to disclose myself to at least one person who will not make me feel guilty or ashamed for sharing what has happened or is occurring in my life.

 2.  I allow myself to receive feedback with detachment, learning that I am worthy and valuable even as I acknowledge my imperfections of being human.

 3.  I allow myself to enjoy a heightened sense of self-acceptance.

Beth Shedd’s photo of this Wellesley High School wall mural depicts the elation that comes from courageously sharing our truth with others and feeling our value reflected back.

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