“It is not selfish to take care of you first, it is required.”
Everyone Else Comes First
I watched as one of my best friends, Dr. Mark Chirila, slipped away quietly at the hospital after 36 hours of excellent, round-the-clock care by the staff at the Riverside Neuroscience Center, Columbus, OH. A fall on the ice Thursday morning left him with a broken humerus bone in his left arm. That led to a blood clot in the basal artery. He was not getting blood to his brain and emergency surgery was performed to remove the block. It was highly successful, so with hope in our hearts for some level of recovery, we waited. Within twenty-four hours, he had a second stroke. This one created swelling at the base of the brain. The care team said there was nothing they could do. It was devastating news for us.
During this difficult and trying time, I noticed something remarkable. In between all of the ups and downs, the re-evaluations, the med schedule and the testing, the critical care team members were consistently courteous, kind, understanding, supportive and respectful of everyone involved. The critical care support, not just for the patient, but for the family was stellar. Blankets, water, coffee, snacks – they supplied it all with gentleness and graciousness. Watching all of this, I wondered: Do they supply the same level of care and consideration to themselves as they do to others?
Nurses, caretakers, mothers, well any woman for that matter, as well as some men spend their life taking fabulous care of others, running after them, keeping the peace in families and fixing every problem that arises only to feel stressed out, burned out, unhealthy and resentful. What is interesting is that our inner wisdom would never allow this to happen to us. In our current state of mind, however, we are taking care of others in lieu of taking care of ourselves. Is there any reason we can’t take care of us and then care for others? No. But, we tend to listen to our mind more than we listen to our body. The body operates best when we are aligned with our heart, or love. So, the key is to align ourselves with love and detach from the thinking.
People Pleasing Syndrome
We can’t talk about care of the self without mentioning the infamous people pleasers. So many of us fall into this category where the care of others comes before the care of ourselves. Without boundaries, we help others to near exhaustion as a way to pacify our fear of rejection because when we are pleasing others, we aren’t being rejected. However, like all thinking based on lack and fear, this is not a foolproof system. It doesn’t always work out for us. In fact, it doesn’t work for us at all. As it happens, even when we bend over backwards helping someone, they still reject us. This is a like a wasp sting on top of a hornet sting.
That was me in the past. I had no boundaries as to what was healthy and balanced in my life with regard to helping others. I consistently helped others to my detriment, and to theirs. I couldn’t say “no”. You see, I was feeding my pain- the mental and emotional pain that believing I would be rejected, and therefore not loved, by others if I didn’t do everything I could to help them. My biggest fear was not being loved by others. I realized later that I didn’t need others to love me, I needed to love myself.
As people pleasers, we have thoughts that sound like this, “You have to put other people first if you are going to be a good person” or “It’s my responsibility to make certain my parents are taken care of no matter what”. Sometimes our thoughts tell us, “Make certain everyone is happy” or “You are the ultimate moderator in the family”- a role you have taken on as a way to alleviate the potential for rejection and loneliness. But, these are just beliefs and thoughts and these are not truths – they are a result of poor mind conditioning or training. If beliefs and thoughts were truths, then we would all have the exact same ones .¨ we do not. That is good news because all of those that don’t support self-care and self-love don’t have to be followed any longer.
It takes practice to break free from old thinking, but you can do it. Each time you hear any of the above thought patterns or something similar, sit with it. Don’t act on it. Don’t ignore it either, but don’t move on it. It will eventually pass. This is a great way to begin taking care of you because it gives you the space to do something different.
5 Ways to Care for You First
Caring for you first doesn’t mean we don’t take care of others. It means we honor our need for peace, rejuvenation and good health as much as we honor that in someone else. When we take care of ourselves first, we are more focused, more efficient and have more fuel in the tank to give to others. This actually makes us better caregivers. It is not selfish to take care of you first, it is required.
Below are some ways to start caring for you today:
- What drains you? Become aware of what help you provide others that drains you, makes you tired or that you feel resentful about right now. These are energy leaks that you are allowing to happen. It is time to plug the leaks. Share the help schedule with other people. Don’t let your mind tell you, “I have to do it all because no one else is there to help.” Find someone. Tell your siblings you are just not going to be available on the first and third weekends of the month or on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You’d be amazed at who will step up when you step down.
- Fill your tank. What relaxes you? What is healthy for you? What allows you to show care to yourself and supports self-love? You can choose anything from gardening, painting, meditation, yoga or long walks in nature. Whatever it is, don’t include watching TV, shopping or catching up on work. This is your time off. Give yourself permission to take this time each day and throughout the week. You deserve it. You must start believing this about yourself. If you believe someone else deserves your time, why are you not deserving of your time?
- Check your thinking. Most of our thoughts are based on a fear that something is lacking in us. In that state of mind, we think and believe things about ourselves and the world that are just not true because they are fueled by that initial lack and fear .¨ like believing we are unlovable. Why is this important? Because it is these beliefs and thoughts that drive us to care for others instead of caring for ourselves. Time for new thinking. In fact, perhaps we can ditch all of the thinking for a heart-based life .¨ a life that supports, shares and encourages love of oneself as a pre-requisite to truly loving others.
- Say “No.” It is time to say “No” more often. Not only do we jump at every chance to care for or help others so we can keep that fear of rejection at bay, we may also think the world will fall apart if we aren’t managing it, fixing it or controlling it in some way. We may also be under the illusion that doing more, and caring for others more means we are a good person. But, these things don’t make you a good person – they make you an exhausted, unhealthy person. Saying “No” is, in fact, a form of self- love and therefore self-care. Additionally, saying “No” allows us the time needed to heal ourselves .¨ we can all use some of that.
- Empower others. Often when we do so much for everyone else, it takes from them the opportunity to learn lessons, accomplish something on their own or feel strong within. But, people are empowered when they feel capable and complete tasks on their own. Empower people by letting them solve their own issues, assisting you while helping them and letting them make mistakes .¨ which I call learning. Let the other person do some of the things you do for them, if at all possible. It takes the pressure off you and is a gift to them.
Self-care is more than massages and green juice drinks. It is a change in the belief about you as a person. It is a merging of the heart, mind, body and soul into a whole being where you are already valued and loved by you first. When you take care of yourself first and then you help others, you are no longer helping in order to alleviate mind-created, emotional pain. You are now serving others in a balanced, healthy way. Don’t wait another minute to take care of yourself first. Start today.
This article is dedicated to one of my best friends, Dr. Mark Chirila: Feb 2, 1969 .¨ January 31, 2015.