About putting your own needs on the back burner – all the time

IMG_3023Some men and some women that I know have this two-sided talent: They are wonderful at helping others, taking care of others and – well… at self-sacrifice. Two sided indeed. Because obviously, it is not the lesson of servitude that these folks are presented with – they have plenty where that comes from. The course that they find themselves participating in, at least most of them, is called Balance 101.

As it turns out, many of the people I am talking about are either very loving parents or incredibly dedicated teachers of all types. It seems as if work and service never stops for them. It is what makes them beautiful, but it is also their pitfall at times.

Having been surrounded by quite a few such people in my youth was a blessing. It really was. But a blessing in disguise, for what surrounds you may spill over and touch you. And I, too, find myself having to learn some balancing lessons at times.

When you choose to help, assist, advise, and care for others, the most painful thing can become losing yourself in the process of loving too much. Forgetting that you are special too. Putting your own needs on the back burner. And like any tool that serves its purpose: if you are not kept in proper shape by yourself, you will wear and become useless. Resulting in artwork that is found wanting.

So the question is: how do I find a proper balance between service to others and service to myself?

Granted, many people (including yours truly)  see service to their fellow humans – be they family, children, friends, students – as the expression of Love that it undoubtedly is. Sometimes, however, a fear of seeming or – God forbid! – of being selfish can be at the root of failing to say ‘no’ to yet another request for service. And then – in all honesty – there can be this often ignored, but very motivating conviction that you have to somehow earn the love of those you serve by… yes, by serving them. Ouch! In this case your serving others may actually have its own selfish bug gnawing at its roots.

What often helps me is to imagine myself to be my own best friend. Stepping outside of myself as it were, and looking at myself from a neutral position. Would I accuse my best friend of being selfish for not responding to the request at hand? Probably not. We’re always harsher on ourselves than on those around us, right? And about that nagging, gnawing bug? Well if I discover its unwelcome traces, it’s time for a side step in my Balance 101 class, namely a brush-up on Self-Love 102. 

Yes, help others! But help yourself too. Love others, but don’t forget to love yourself too. The trick is in the balancing act between the two. And just like any balancing game I played in my childhood, the way to go is this: allow yourself to lean both ways a couple of times at first. It is actually this leaning back and forth – and back and forth again – that gives birth to stability and harmony in the end.

Do you find yourself having challenges balancing care for others with self-care? Do you sometimes struggle between dedication and down-time? Please share if you have tips to overcome this!

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3 thoughts on “About putting your own needs on the back burner – all the time

  1. Very good and recognizable text. Especially the part about leaning back and forth to find the balance. Many people know one side of it too well, the side of “giving as much as you can”, but to find balance the other side “giving yourself something too” needs to be practised from time to time.
    I don’t have tips for others, as I’m still struggling with this myself (and probably always will 🙂 ), but maybe this recent example of my own everyday life can give others something they can use in theirs:
    Shortly ago I decided to not immediately jump into my car, as I’ve done before, when my dad called saying that he’s completely lost. He’s been denying a lot of help offered by family, friends and professionals, so naturally from time to time things go wrong again, and we children were always there to immediately jump up to provide the ‘crisis support’. This pattern has to change. I see it as a practicing moment for me that I decided not to go this time and instead offered to call the doctor (which of course he rejected as well). I’m worried, feel guilt and feel like a bad daughter, but it’s necessary to hold my ground this time. We will again offer the possibility of “structure-giving daytime activities for the elderly” and maybe this time he will accept, knowing that his children cannot always jump to the rescue. If he doesn’t accept, I’ll just demand that he does, explaining that I won’t be there for him as a professional caretaker anymore, only as a daughter.

    • I totally recognize what you are saying! Most of us will experience being dependent on someone else at some time in our lives. It takes strength to even start accepting that we are not superheroes (anymore) but fragile human beings instead. And it is indeed a great blessing to have loved ones surround us with care and understanding at such times. It is easy to underestimate the secure feelings of familiarity and reliability that our loving safety-net offers a family member in need.

      I guess one of the downfalls of helping and assisting the same person over and over again is that we foster an over-dependency in them. And even though receiving help or assistance can be a blessing, becoming overly dependent on someone can become a curse instead. Such exaggerated dependency on just a few people creates a false sense of control, especially if it is demanded out of habit.

      When we become dependent, recognizing and accepting our own limitations and thereby accepting our dependency on others has to be balanced, I think, with an equal effort to accept the limitations of those we are depending upon. And consequently we have to sincerely explore the possibility of extending our safety net to include non-family members. All with the assurance that our innermost circle of safety will always be there, to give us the love, understanding and assistance of a more balanced – and therefor a more spontaneous kind.

      I wish you great wisdom and understanding in balancing your loving efforts to help your father with a sincere love for yourself. In the end, I am sure your father loves you as much as you clearly love him.

      Best wishes, DidadoDeb

  2. Thank you for this very wise reply, DidadoDeb. It is very comforting to read your words about this subject, both in the original blogpost and in this reply. I hope that others, who recognize the dilemmas, read all this and that it is as helpful for them as it is for me. And maybe post their own experiences and tips. That would be a wonderful effect of this website.

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