Getting a spine

By Sharon M. Weinstein | 03/24/2015

You need one to survive and thrive!

Photo of spine x-ray

A lot of people are afraid to tell the truth, to say no. That’s where toughness comes into play. Toughness is not being a bully. It’s having backbone.
 
A spine. You need one to survive and thrive!
 
Have you ever felt used, abused, taken advantage of, insecure? Chances are we have all felt that way at one time or another, especially in childhood. I grew up with very little—if any—self-esteem, and yes, I was walked on—and over—many times. I gravitated to folks similar to me. One of my first boyfriends was a wonderful guy who would give you the shirt off his back and never ask for a thing in return. And everyone took advantage of his generosity and kind spirit. 
Sharon Weinstein
Being known as Mr. Good Guy may work for a while, but it certainly cannot last forever. At some point, even the most generous of us will finally say, “Enough!” Chances are, when that does happen, things have come to more than enough, and we are at our wits’ end trying to decide how to get on with our lives and assert ourselves.
 
Think back to your clinical rotations in school. Did you ever fear the supervisor who oversaw your unit? Were you amazed that no one—especially you—would ever stand up for what was needed at the time? Would you question a physician’s order? Did you sometimes feel as if schedules, patient acuity levels, and the workload were unfair? Did you just go with the flow and not wave any flags, so the day would be peaceful and you could eventually go home? When you got home, how did you feel? Were you wasted, exhausted, drained, emotionally spent? Does any of this sound familiar?
 
How much of a spine—or backbone—do you have? To answer that question and determine where you stand and what you need to do to get out of your own way, ponder these questions. Respond honestly. ​
  • Is the whole world out to get you?
  • Do you moan and groan?
  • Do you worry too much about what other people think?
  • Do you avoid taking a stand?
  • Are you easily distracted from your goals?
  • Do you avoid all risks, even small ones?
  • Do you control what you will do each day, or do others control you and your behaviors?
If your responses are anything like mine were at one time, it may be a good time to grow that spine, get a life, and move on! There’s no time better than now!
 
Where to begin? Think assertiveness. If you want to have better self-esteem and get your own needs met, you must learn how to assert yourself. At the very heart of assertion is knowing who you are and what you stand for and then expressing it in your everyday activities and encounters with others.
 
Assertion is not manipulation. It is a way of looking at life and knowing that you matter, that you count! Assertion is growing a spine, and when that happens, it is empowering. Once you feel good about yourself, you can go through life—and your workdays—with a healthy sense of pride, dealing with challenges that come your way. Make a commitment to be assertive, and be patient. A spine does not grow overnight. It takes months to develop, so focus on the big picture and what is important.
 
Now that you’re feeling good about yourself, or at least better than before, stop apologizing for everything and everyone. I have a beautiful granddaughter—of course, everyone’s granddaughter is beautiful—who, at age 3, has learned to manipulate her two older brothers to her advantage. When she gets her way, she smiles coyly and says, “I’m sorry.”
 
How often do you find yourself apologizing and saying, “I’m sorry”? Practice standing up for yourself, and trust your voice. This is an ongoing process, and it begins with these easy tips:
 
Communicate effectively
There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth—to listen more and speak less. Good communication mandates that we listen to others and express our feelings appropriately. Begin sentences with “I” rather than “you.” Think carefully about why comments and approaches of others sometimes offend you.
 
Years ago, I participated in a Marriage Encounter weekend aimed at enhancing communication between partners. It took a long time to learn to say, “When you ____, I feel _____.” But I learned to do it, and I improved my ability to share my feelings and thoughts openly. By avoiding blame, we improve understanding and are better able to accept the words of others.
 
Nonverbal communication is equally important. Check your body language. How you present yourself to people around you is important. Stand up straight with shoulders back. Relax your arms to communicate openness and confidence. Make eye contact, and smile.
 
Relax
Stop and smell the roses. Take a deep breath through the nose, and exhale completely. To reduce stress, learn to relax in tense situations. Think meditation, deep muscle relaxation, emotional relief techniques, and more.
 
Be authentic
Know thyself. Use self-discovery to know who you are, what you like, and what you dislike. Discover your authentic self, and then show the world. Speak the truth, and avoid being judgmental of others.
 
Practice mindfulness
When you are fully present to the world—both inside and out—you are being mindful. Mindfulness can change your brain and help you deal with fear in a more effective manner. When you are mindful, you appreciate joys when they come your way, you’re focused on the here and now, and you are present in the moment. Mindfulness rewards you with sound sleep, relief of stress, and an overall sense of well-being.

Be tenacious
The world is filled with doubters who question our motives, our ideas, and our dreams. Some may be family members or co-workers. Tenacity is our ability to persevere, regardless of challenges we face. It is our ability to continue to pursue our dreams, to follow our heart, to do what is right. And we need lots of it!
We are all familiar with “Next!” Perhaps it is a tryout for a part in a play, an interview for an incredible position within an academic medical center, or an opportunity to shine as a Magnet coordinator for our health system. Sometimes, we are overlooked for a part, a position, or a role. When that happens, don’t give up! Continue to advocate for yourself.
Yes, we need that spine to survive and thrive. A strong backbone will help us in our personal lives, career, family, and many other areas. It does not grow overnight. It requires commitment, confidence, and concentration, but when it appears, the impact is life-changing! 
Sharon M. Weinstein, MS, CRNI, RN, FACW, FAAN, author of B Is for Balance, published by STTI Publishing, is a motivational speaker, consultant, educator, and certified environmental and physical wellness specialist. To read a sample chapter from B Is for Balance, click here. To visit her website, click here.
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