What would it be like to put yourself first and everyone – and everything – else second?
Would it even be possible? I know it was not possible for me for most of my life.
From a young age, I felt like a burden and did everything I could to be super-responsible. It became normal for me to do way more than the average child, and later, way more than the average adult.
At work, I had this pattern of doing more than my own job’s worth of work. As you can imagine, my bosses loved me and I quickly became a favorite. I put my company before my own needs, interests and life. I was the perfect corporate citizen. One of my friends at work once said that it’s as if I’m constantly looking for more things to do. We laughed about it at the time, but it was the first time in my life that I started looking at how much responsibility I assume – unquestioningly.
What was I getting from all of this responsibility? In my mind, I was getting ahead – getting promotions. In fact, I was getting approval – that feeling pseudo-love that comes from people who are happy with what you’ve done. At some point, I must have believed that if I just did more, I’d get more approval. If you had asked me about 5 years ago, I’d swear that this was how to get ahead.
Caretaking vs. Compassion
I was a caretaker – taking care of everyone and everything. Caring for others took up a lot of my time, thought and energy. I would worry about whether others were okay. Any time someone was in a bad mood or treated me badly, I would take it so personally, that I’d feel terrible for days. I really believed that I was a bad person, that it was all my fault. I carried the weight of the world upon my shoulders – as if I could possibly control how other people felt or treated me.
Caretaking is when you spend a great deal of your time thinking, worrying and doing things for others. You do this so often, that you are almost numb inside – because you’ve forgotten to take care of yourself. In fact, you may feel like you don’t have any needs, that everything is fine. And yet, deep inside of you, you may feel like something is missing.
For me, what seemed to be missing was nurturing – and someone who truly understood me, cared for me and loved me unconditionally. I felt misunderstood and unloved. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was so busy taking care of others, that I had nothing left for myself – not even the recognition that I needed anything! So how could I have asked anyone else for anything? I also learned that I created a protective shell around myself, so no one would know just how much love I needed. Love equaled vulnerability and I was supposed to be strong and responsible.
Self Care vs. Selfish
Eventually, I learned about the importance of self care. Most of us believe taking care of ourselves makes us selfish. That’s what I always thought – plus, I didn’t have any needs, remember? 🙂 So I started doing things to take care of myself. First of all, I started to put myself first, before anything and everyone else. That was very difficult – believe me! But with a little practice, it got easier. I started leaving work at a normal time so I could go to my yoga classes. That was a huge relief – finally, doing something for myself in my personal time – it was quite a novelty! After that, I did other small things – asking my husband to share more household responsibilities, getting more sleep at night, taking the time to learn about & cook healthy foods, etc.
At one point, I started to feel a HUGE need for more and more self-care. It was weird. It was like my mind was finally feeling the tremendous void of self-care that my body was going through. My body and spirit were neglected. Completely. And it was like they were desperate for more self-care.
Self-Care – Good For You, Good For Everyone
The funny thing is, I actually ended up being a better wife, friend, daughter and coach when I took care of myself. How is that possible? Self-care is completely different from being selfish. Being selfish means you don’t care about other people. Self-care means that you do care about other people – AND – you recognize that to have the energy to be there for others, you have to HAVE energy. Self-care replenishes your energy – it how you build the foundation of your life & health. Think of it this way: if you have chronic back pain, how much energy do you have for others? Now what if your mind, body and spirit are in pain? How much do you have to give others? How often are you in a good mood? Are you truly able to give unconditional love?
What would it be like if you were at peace? Well rested? Full of energy? Feeling truly healthy? Completely confident and secure? These things come from taking care of yourself. When you take care of others without taking care of your own foundation of body, mind & spirit health, you end up depleting yourself. If you don’t replenish your energy, it just gets worse over time.
Remember what the flight attendant says on every plane ride: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before helping someone else.” If you fumble with the other person’s mask, you risk both of you dying. If you put yours on quickly, you have the ability to help others. You are much more capable if you take care of your own personal needs – you have much more to give. And what you give comes from a place of peace & love – rather than fear, negativity or depletion.
The bottom line is that you deserve to take care of yourself. We all deserve to feel good and to love our lives. Self-care means that you treat yourself as well as you’d treat someone you love – with kind thoughts and kind actions. With encouragement and compassion. You do this everyday for others, what would it be like to do this for yourself?
When you take care of yourself, you will find that your need to be loved by others is less of a concern. While love is important, you feel safe, secure and loved within yourself. You know that you’ll be okay because you know how to meet your needs. The love you have for yourself allows you to feel perfect, whole and complete just as you are. Coming from this place – what you have to offer others is so much more, so much greater than you can imagine.
Your Actions: Write the answers to these in your journal
- In what ways do you wish others would take care of you?
- What would it feel like to be really, unconditionally loved?
- Make a list of how you really want to be cared for – what would people do or say?
- Review the answers – what on the list can you do for yourself?
- What would it look like to do these things for yourself? Make a list of what you’d do.
- Pick one thing from your list to do each day or a couple of times per week.
- Select some things you like from the self-care list below – or make up your own. Do these things on a regular basis to care for yourself and replenish your energy.
Sample Self-Care List
- Get 7 – 9 hours of sleep.
- Take a nice walk.
- Take a bubble bath.
- Go out with friends.
- Eat healthy, nutritious foods and trust that it is nourishing you & keeping you healthy.
- Take something off your “to do” list.
- Ask for help with a project.
- Say affirmations – tell yourself how wonderful you are. Catch yourself saying negative things in your mind and replace them with loving thoughts.
- Write yourself a love letter.
- Create a box with all the things you love – nice letters from friends, compliments you’ve gotten and any small token that makes you feel good.
- Keep it at your desk and look into it whenever you start to feel down.
- Read an inspirational book.
- Do yoga or gentle stretching, really appreciate what your body can do.
- Meditate – Consider the healing meditation I posted.
- Breathe – take 10 deep breaths a few times during the day to relax your body & mind.
- Get a massage.
- Draw, paint or do something artistic and creative – express yourself!
- Do that thing you’ve really been dreaming of for a long time and putting it off.
Experiment with self-care and keep track of how it makes you feel. Make plans to take it at your own pace. Your body will love you for it! The more you learn to care for yourself, the more your body and mind will start to create some of the peace that ED tend to take away.
You may just find yourself becoming happy for no reason – because real, lasting happiness is created from the inside. It is not something we get from other people or circumstances. Self-care is like building a strong foundation — a body, mind and spirit filled with the energy of love creates natural peace and happiness. From this place, it is easier to deal with the challenges of recovery.
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