To those of us who could stand to be a little bit more selfish:
I often see things telling us to be more compassionate human beings. Go out of our way to help other people, spread kindness. Don’t be mean to people because you don’t know their struggles. Always put others before you. A good relationship is about sacrifice.
These things may be helpful to those of us who struggle with compassion, those of us who are so caught up in ourselves that it’s hard to see others. But what about those of us who are too compassionate or too concerned for other’s needs? Those of us who forget to check up on ourselves and our needs?
In all my classes on statistics, they talk about a normal bell curve where fifty percent of the people are on the left and fifty percent are on the right. In the middle, there is the most concentration of people, the ends trickle out. I’d like to think that people’s need for advice operates on a bell curve. I feel like while most of us may have a pretty decent balance of selfish and selfless behavior, we also have some of us who could stand to be more selfless or more selfish.
This is for those of us who may find they need to be less selfless. I’m in this group, too. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more in life I want to do than spread love and kindness, but it has to start with the love and kindness I direct towards myself.
If you’re anything like me you are more compassionate because you tend to think in terms of other people. You might weigh the pros and cons of your actions in terms of their impact on others. Does it help or hurt others? If it hurts someone, you’re not going to do it. No matter how much it would benefit you. If it helps someone though, chances are you will do it. No matter how much it hurts you.
The person or people you may be putting before you can vary. Some of us may put more people before us than others. It can be parents, partners, siblings, kids, bosses, clubs, groups, church, friends, society, etc. The point is though, you put their needs before your own. Sometimes, you may feel like you don’t even have needs independent of their needs. You don’t acknowledge your own needs at all. This would be those on the very outskirts of the bell curve, those of us who have to work a little bit harder at being selfish.
Now, why exactly do we have to put ourselves first?
Because we tend to think in terms of other people, I’m going to explain how helping yourself IS helping others.
First, you can only give when your cup is full. You can’t give what you don’t have.
When we make sacrifices for others it means we are cutting away from ourselves without fully replenishing. What we do have becomes a scarce resource. We create a deficit for ourselves.
We can run ourselves to death trying to serve everybody. There is just too many problems and only one you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t help people at all, just that you can’t save everybody, so why put the pressure on yourself? It’s not our responsibility to take care of the world. That can feel a little weird to some of us. It feels weird to me, but it’s reality. You owe the world nothing, what you chose to offer back is your gift, not your debt.
Taking care of your self means you are ensuring your gift is at its fullest potential. It’s like we can only offer so much to the world. If we make sure 100% of our needs are taken care of (either from self-help or accepting help in return, which is just as important), we will be able to give our gifts to our fullest capacity. If we start sacrificing our own needs though, to say 75% or 50%, we find that we can only help 75% or 50% of what we be able to do. The amount of gifts we have to offer goes down.
So, what may feel like sacrificing other people for your own self is actually indirectly helping them. People need you to put yourself first. If you never get a full night sleep because you are always helping out your friends when things go wrong in their lives, you’re going to be too tired to offer the best advice you can. If you tell them to wait until the morning, giving yourself the chance to sleep on the issue, you will be much better suited to help. Our brains operate best when fully rested. Take all the time you need to let your brain rest. We have no problem plugging our phones in for hours to recharge, why can’t we do the same for ourselves?
This brings me to the second reason self-care should be prioritized.
By not immediately coming to someone’s help, you are teaching them to help themselves. When you help someone, you are doing something for them, preventing them from developing the tools needed to learn how to solve problems on their own.
This isn’t to say if you are a doctor you should just not tell your patient what is wrong with them so they can learn medicine themselves or if you see someone who fell down you can’t help them get back up, but rather if you don’t tell your friend what to do about the fight she had with her boyfriend until the morning when you get a chance to sleep, she gets a chance to evaluate the situation herself.
You don’t have to feel guilty for not solving problems for others.
In the short run, you may be forcing someone to deal with an uncomfortable situation on their own, but in the long run you are teaching them how to be a better person.
Whether it’s because you have run yourself to death helping others, or just because life happens, there will be times you won’t be able to help others. By encouraging people to work on their own problems, you are not only taking care of yourself, but also helping other people grow. Everybody wins.
Now, my last reason for why we should take care of ourselves isn’t necessarily coming from the lens of helping other people, but rather just focusing on you.
Why are we just focusing on you now?
Because you deserve it.
Chances are if you are reading this post it’s because you have felt run down because you are overextending yourself by helping as many people as you can. You are a very good person.
You are no better or worse than anyone else out there. No matter where we are at in our journey, we are still all just learning. Life is no easier for anybody else than it is for you.
So there is no need to devalue yourself.
You deserve to treat yourself. Embrace the simple pleasures. Maybe the kids really don’t want to go over to grandma’s for the weekend, but you need a break. Don’t cancel your Sunday plans of sleeping in late or going to get your nails done. You deserve to pamper yourself. The kids will be just fine.
It feels good to make yourself feel good. It’s a sense of accomplishment in many ways. YOU are the one who brought you happiness. YOU can control your happiness. When you learn how to treat yourself, even if it’s in small ways, you learn that happiness is something that comes from within. When we share happiness with someone else it’s because our own happiness is reflected back at us. That’s not to say you can’t let other people do things to make you happy, because you can and you should. My point is don’t let them be your only source of happiness.
If you struggle with putting yourself first, it’s because you are a person who cares very deeply. That is a gift. To want to help others should be celebrated, and I do celebrate it. But everything we do comes from within, so make sure you’re coming from a place of happiness and self-love.
My ultimate advice to you is to do everything out of self-love. It may be difficult at first, but I promise you it is worth it.