By Rev. Patrice Joy Masterson, MA
It is mistakenly accepted that self-care is selfish, If a person doesn’t take care of his or her own needs, eventually the result is burn out. This same person will resent others because they failed to sacrifice as they have. They have a tendency to lose themselves in service in the process of martyrdom and then get upset if others are not martyrs. Perhaps this is generationally passed down from the environment in which they were raised. Role models play an in important part in forming who a person becomes. Doing too much for others and carrying their responsibilities can even seem like a way to give love. Actually this is crippling and training dependency patterns in which a person expects that others owe them and they don’t need to take care of themselves.
We can best serve others by guiding them in ways that teach self-reliance and pride of accomplishment. We help others by encouraging others to help themselves. It is important to look at the reason you are ‘bending over backwards’ to offer support to another person. Perhaps you are trying to get approval or feel this is necessary to hold the other person’s love, or to win their respect. In this case, the motivation that is driving you to over-extend yourself is insecurity and you are actually driven to do for others to feel good about yourself. When this is taken to extreme, chronic exhaustion can result from self-neglect. It is critical to keep the needs of others and you own needs in balance. Some days you have something to give and other days you need to listen to your own emotional and physical cry for attention. This is not being self-centered; rather it is applying self-preservation.
There is a way out of this dilemma by being realistic in the ways you are taking care of yourself and others. By practicing a technique called ‘mindfulness’ you can become more aware of your energy level and you true motivation for your actions. It is a way of living that makes us accountable and aware of the things that we missed in the over-whelmed state of drifting through life. Mindfulness is a process used by author Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. His theory is based on the attitude of paying close attention and really seeing things as they truly are happening. By being fully present in the moment, we can experience it with new insights and perspectives. He explains that a person gets caught up in trying to control things, judging, assuming and living more in their head than in the events of the moment. We spend so much time regretting the past and fearing the future that we miss the present time that is right in front of us to live more fully.
If this process of observance is practiced, we become aware of the reasons for our actions and for our choices in life. We stop blaming others for the mess our life has become and can then take constructive action to take care of our own needs. We stop doing things for others that they need to do for themselves. We let go of the fear of saying “No” to authority figures and find time to have a balance of play, work and rest. An accurate measurement of how much you are taking care of your own needs is shown by the amount of time you give each of these aspects of your life. It is good to help others, but not at the expense of your own well-being. It is not constructive to train laziness or allow others to avoid doing their part in a project. Constructive work habits are not fostered by being a work alcoholic or by letting another person become a couch potato. Let others know you care about them by encouraging independence and demonstrating the role-model of self-respect and self-love. We can’t truly love others until we love ourselves.