I know a few people who talk about how they don’t put themselves first because they love helping other people. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that these are people who get sick often and have trouble in their personal relationships.
In the beginning talking to these clients and friends was a bit of a wake up call for me. Convincing them of the importance of taking care of themselves was futile. They seemed to hate the idea of self-care. Putting themselves first seemed an affront to them. When I heard these people talk about it, in such a passionate way, I realized the flaw in this way of thinking. And that I might have fallen prey to it a few times in my life.
It’s nice to feel needed. We all like it. There is a point, though, and I think it’s when your need to be needed supersedes your need to put yourself first, that it’s detrimental. It’s detrimental not only to yourself and your health, but also to the people around you. Often, the ones you’re trying to help.
I do love taking care of and helping people. It is in my DNA. My dad was a doctor, my sister and mom are nurses. I love caring for and healing people.
However, that can not take the place of taking care of myself and taking care of what’s most basic to me. We do it, though, all the time. I feel like as a society, may of us are just starting to recover from bragging about how far down the list we put ourselves.
How often have you or a close friend bragged about how little sleep you’re getting or how over-worked you are? How many times have you put in 50-60-70 hours at work and felt extremely proud of yourself?
How many times have you dropped everything to bake for the school at the last minute? Or sew costumes? Or help out a friend, who basically needs your help because they dropped the ball in their own life?
There is nothing wrong with jumping to the rescue in any of these situations. It’s a problem, when you’re not taking care of your own needs first and foremost. It’s a problem when no isn’t a part of your vocabulary.
The key here is self-awareness and self-love. So many of these clients say everything is fine, even though, it’s obvious they’re run-down and overwhelmed by simple situations. They call and cancel because they’re sick. Again. Or they’re behind. Again. They’re running late. Again.
I understand. Believe me. I can often bite off more than I can chew. I like having a big life and I like filling it with the things that I love. I have some guidelines for myself, though, so that my life is rarely filled with other people’s needs over my own.
How rarely do you say no? No, is a complete sentence. No does not require an explanation or an excuse. You don’t have to feel like if you can possibly squeeze one more thing in you should say yes. It’s okay to say no, just because. You can say no as a matter of principle or because you just don’t want to. How does that make you feel?
How does putting yourself first feel?
If you’re not used to it might make you feel antsy or edgy. You’re uncomfortable? That’s a good thing. Learning to be okay with discomfort is a sign of resiliency. And frankly, most of us live lives with quite a bit of discomfort, so pushing it away is kinda wasted energy.
So, WHY would you want to put yourself first?
For me, it’s simple. Not easy, but simple.
When I put myself first I regularly engage in activities that I know will keep me healthy and happy. I eat better, I meditate, i get on the mat, my nails and hair look good. I take care of myself. I really give time to self-care.
When I put myself first, I have the energy and the enthusiasm to be the person I want to be. So before I say yes, I ask is this something that helps me be the person I want to be? Is it feeding my ego or is giving me healthy experience/connection/opportunity that’s really enhancing my life? If it just feels good to be needed, it’s probably a place I should say no.
When I put myself first, I spend less time on the couch, less time recovering from whatever self-sabotage I’ve dreamed up for myself and can do the work I’m meant to do.
When I put myself first, I can be the best mom/partner/daughter/sister/best friend/neighbor that I can be.
When I put myself first, I’m a great example. I’m an example for my kids, for my clients, for my students, for the people around me.
The way that I feel; energized, happy, well-cared for, content, is a great example for me, too. When things feel hard, I can remember this feeling and ride out the tough stuff, hoping to return to it.
The biggest argument I hear fighting self-care, self-love and putting myself first is that it feels selfish. You all know me well enough now. Would you call me selfish?
Share in the comments how you’re learning to put yourself first!
And if you like this work and want to do more, join me for Love Yourself Challenge over at our new community. It’s a quiet, peaceful place for reflection, community, connection, healing and learning.