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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  • Chris Dowley says:

    I really love the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting another. It underscores the universal need to take care of ourselves because, of course, no one can do for us what we can and should do for ourselves. With that said, partnering and collaboration are magnificent processes when done right. The question becomes, partner with whom and to do what? Some of us are particularly bad at choosing our partners to escort us through this life. The worst bullies (not the one that pushes you down in the schoolyard) are those that promise the world but either can’t or won’t deliver. They love being taken care of, but not being a caretaker. This kind of betrayal is a real struggle to overcome leaving one with a real lack of trust. This is not limited to women. I would suggest men in our society are struggling in their loneliness, unable or unwilling to admit that they are challenged making their way through this world coping with a biological need to be a strong, independent providers who fix the ills of the world. It can lead to a pretty isolating existence. I love the tread and can’t wait for part 2.

    • Gail says:


      Thanks for your valuable insights–and the male perspective. Having been a sole breadwinner myself these past eight years as a single mother, I have a much greater appreciation for that provider role so many men live, and the isolation one feels from having to be so “strong.” Your take on “the real bullies” as being people who don’t deliver as promised is helpful, too. Passive-aggressive behavior is often so sneaky, yet more hurtful than physical abuse to some people, as my clients have shared.

      I believe the new model of success is based on collaborative exchange, where each party brings their own gifts to the table, complementing one another’s skill sets. We thrive when connected, particularly with like-minded others. Yet, to receive from another, we also have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to share what we don’t know or need to learn and not feign perfection. I am also grateful to those who valued me even when I shed a tear in front of them, or told them I was scared. What a relief not to have to be “the strong one” all the time and be seen in our authenticity.

  • Deborah says:

    No matter what situation, challenge or problem that can happen to us, the answer to it and what will get us through it is self love. We need self love just as equally as we need food, water and air. The more we honor, respect and totally love ourselves in every way our life will become abundant with inner security, healthy relationships, compassion, enlightment,and peacefullness (to name a few aspects). Then when situations arise (for our soul’s growth) we will be able to recognize the lesson, release the pain, sorrow and fear and move forward with greater strength and more room (inside) for more self love. The more we are full of self love we then can put “the air mask” on others and be totally able to help them with our infinite supply internal love.

    • Gail says:

      Deborah: Exquisitely, beautifully said. You are a very wise healer. Thanks for sharing your insights with my readers.

  • Very well said, Gail! We can’t be any good to anyone else until we’re good to ourselves. Mary Oliver has a wonderful poem about this– remind me to share with you! We had someone share after our sound healing session last week in Medfield, and he said, simply and beautifully, “It is when we ask for help that we meet God.” When we open ourselves to the infinite love and abundance of the universe, we set an example for others to do the same. Thank you for sharing this truth!

    • Gail says:

      Joe: And thank you for sharing your thoughts about opening ourselves to the infinite love and abundance of the Universe, which is available to each of us. Your great work in bringing sound healing to the world certainly contributes to our sense of well-being and love, from which we can extend ourselves most authentically to others. I look forward to your sharing Mary Oliver’s poem with me.

  • Gus Rowe says:

    As someone who recovered from near death as a result of my own self-destructive behaviors, the subsequent fallout on those whom I love, and the mission I’m on today to give BACK that which I almost lost, I can particularly relate to your story Gail.

    Even now, nearly 4 years later, bitterness remains amongst some of those whom I hurt because of my behaviors. And though I’ve done my part in making amends, their continued anger, even silence, lingers still. I’m still learning too! It’s hard to be a “giver” when we need our cup filled as well.

    I’m reminded of a basic concept I’m sure you know; let go and let God. In the end, that’s all any of us can do. And though “looking out for #1” may appear selfish to some, for me, it simply means maintaining the inner peace I’ve come to know.

    Thank you Gail, this was beautifully written and I enjoyed reading the other comments. Looking forward to the next chapter!

    • Gail says:

      Gus: Thank you for sharing, with great courage and humility, how you have come to your own sense of inner peace. In following your advice of “let go and let God,” we learn how little control we have over others’ behaviors or their reactions to us. Detaching from others’ “stories” and their projections onto us, and staying focused on self-love, is how we remain calm and focused on all the good. Reminding ourselves to BE LOVE, no matter what else is happening around us, requires continual vigilance…but is well worth the effort. I admire your wanting to “give back” from being centered in peace.

  • Jill says:

    Hi Gail – working my way through old posts and just wanted to let you know I enjoyed this one a lot. Thanks again for being courageous and genuine in your sharing. In a world where so many of us feel we must be “picture-perfect” on the outside, our emotions can often go numb when we live our lives with an invisible mask on – one that we may not realize is there until we are tired, scared and lost. By becoming more aware of “all” our emotions and by being vulnerable, we can lead more authentic lives.

    • Gail Kauranen Jones says:

      Thanks, Jill: You are so right–by being vulnerable we can lead more authentic lives. Vulnerability opens us also to people who can truly love and accept as we are, which enriches our lives. We all have a deep desire to be seen and known (and loved for who we are). Warmly, Gail

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