After 33 years of living in this body, on this planet, I have figured out that I am not much help to anyone if I am not first taking care of me. My professional life consists of life coaching, massage therapy, teaching, guided meditations, yoga, and reiki which are all modalities to assist and facilitate others’ self-care routines. I’m also a single mother; not a 50/50 or 80/20, but 100% sole parent of a12 year old daughter. I am so grateful for the help I receive from friends and family, but ultimately, she is my responsibility. I run my own practice, household, and make decisions that affect the well-being of myself and a child, as well as two (pretty self-sufficient) cats. I must put out a lot of energy and caregiving into my everyday life. Caregiving is a like a payment system. I give from what I have to offer. It’s like writing checks from a back account. If you’re low or your account is empty, your checks will bounce. There’s another metaphor that rings so true, “you cannot pour from an empty cup”. It’s almost become a cliché, but it’s a fact. You cannot give something that you do not have yourself. Otherwise, you will be in debt. Another example is the oxygen mask in an airplane. If you put the mask on your child first, then you run the risk of not getting yours on in time. The child cannot help you, and you should not expect them to either. They also won’t be able to take care of themselves; they need you to take care of you.
I know so many people, especially women (and I include myself) who feel they need to make sure everyone else is taken care of before they can relax. Somewhere, probably many times in our lives, we were taught that others come first. “Don’t be selfish. If you’re nice and serve others first, you’ll get yours. Wait your turn. Sacrifice your needs for the betterment of others.” We were taught to feel guilty for asking for things, for saying “no”, or for choosing ourselves first. It’s not helpful to put others above you. If you don’t stop to take care of and enjoy your life first, you will be pulled in hundreds of directions. There will always be someone who wants a piece of your time, energy, or resources. You can share these as much as you’d like once you cultivate them within yourself. It’s not about being selfish, you just aren’t putting others’ needs above your own. It’s also important to state, no one is responsible for your well-being but yourself. You also cannot give in hopes that someone else will return the care. When you start opening yourself up to be of service others without first filling your cup, you will build resentment over time towards those people. You won’t have anything left to give, and you’ll be frustrated when they don’t return the favor. You’ll put yourself in debt.
If you’re still operating from this space: of giving when you have nothing to give, or not taking time to honor your own needs, that’s okay. Recognize it, give yourself grace, and do your best. You’re most likely a loving, caring, and nurturing person, and the world could definitely use more of that. But how amazing would it be if everyone took care of their own needs first? What if they didn’t rely on you to take care of their needs, and because they are strong within themselves, could actually lend a hand? It starts with you! It’s time to start by loving, caring, and nurturing yourself FIRST! It’s time to give care to others from a place of fullness and sustainability. Your self-care is non-negotiable. Tend to your garden first so that you are giving from a place of abundance and not from hoping they will one day return the favor. Then recognize why you felt the need to take care of others first: Was it to avoid taking care of your own issues? Is it a form of manipulation; something to hold over their heads at a later date? Were you made to feel guilty if you didn’t take care of the needs of those around you? Do you get anxious about voicing your own opinion and needs? Is there conflict when you decide to take time for yourself?
When I helped others take care of their ‘gardens’ before my own, my garden would catch fire, or become a barren wasteland. Then, I would be upset when they wouldn’t help me water mine. I have realized that it’s much better to grown my own garden and give from a place of surplus. If you’ve ever gardened, you know that you end up with way more cucumbers, tomatoes, and eggplant than you can comfortably consume yourself. That’s when it feels so good to give! When you have a brown paper sack of fresh, ripe, beautiful tomatoes to give your loved ones from your abundant plot.
Self-care is not selfish, it’s necessary. It’s essential for your well-being and ultimately for the well-being of others around you. When you operate from a place of high stress and burnout, it’s easy to only think about your own needs. You get stuck in a pathway of surviving versus thriving and then you’re unable to help anyone else. It’s already been addressed that the more you have, the more you have to give. Another way taking responsibility for your self-care helps others is that it shows them, and gives them permission, to engage in their own self-care. You leading by example is the best way to get your message to others. Responsibility to actualizing our own sovereignty is a powerful gift to yourself and the world. This ripple will also benefit you as others stop expecting you to fill them up, and because you aren’t drained, you won’t be seeking someone else to fill your needs. One of the best things we can do for our loved ones is to allow them to suffer the consequences so that they can learn. Enabling another hurts you both.
So what does self-care look like? Images of bubble baths, massages, facials, isolating yourself from others, indulging in a decadent dessert, or going on a retreat might be something that pops into your mind. These activities definitely can have an impact on filling your cup, but there is so much more to it! Self-care is doing what you need, and being honest about what that looks like to fill your cup. It’s not just about filling yourself for the present moment, or to unwind from a long day, it’s also developing practices to build the foundation for your ideal future. Self-care isn’t always about the fluffy, feel good, and luxurious activities, but those are definitely part of it. Self-care requires the openness and ability to dive into self. A large part of self-care is becoming more self-aware. How can we expect to know what we need and desire for our self-care if we don’t know what we are about? It’s going to look different for everyone because we all have unique ways of expressing ourselves, desires for our lives, and different situations. My self-care needs and activities look different day to day in my own life. I also try to schedule in a full day every week to take care of my needs. I have daily practices that personally help me feel that my needs and desires are met, and they help develop my self-awareness. There’s a whole list of activities I can choose from, but my go-to exercises are journaling, movement, breathwork, and meditation. I’ll be highlighting these and other modalities in subsequent articles!