We all pretty much believe that empathy and compassion are good things. In fact these days it seems that they are being heavily promoted as stepping stones on the road to happiness and health. In fact there are many wonderful things about both these qualities. The problem comes with our perception and interpretation of these virtues and their practice in everyday life. The issue is really one of balance between the needs of self and the needs of others.
A continuous outflow of energy through giving without refueling or replenishing yourself cannot possibly end up anywhere but in fatigue and burnout. It is then that resentment can set in not to mention damage to your own health. You must stop and refuel in order to keep going.
Each of us can only give away what we have. Humans are adaptable and it may seem that we can give from nothing, or run along on empty for quite a time, but the truth is that the bill for such behavior will eventually come due. It may seem ironic that in caring for others you need to put yourself first. However, it is truly the only way to assure a reserve of energy so you can care for others without creating problems for you! Regular self care and self nurture is essential to create the inner resources that allow for a constant and even flow of energy for both you and the ones you care about.
It is very easy to feel we do not have time to care for ourselves. The reality is we don’t have time not to since a lack of self care will always lead to a depletion of inner resources. As both a personal and professional caregiver, this is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again! I believe that there are a strong cultural myths about self sacrifice and caring for others that keep us trapped in negative spirals that do neither the giver or the receiver any good. Mother Teresa was amazing, BUT she had all her basic needs cared for and her work was a deep spiritual calling that was obviously part of her purpose of being on earth. It never works to take on or mimic another’s role if it does not suit us or our place in the universe. The saying, Be You everyone else is taken comes to mind!
Our typical pattern may be to become depleted, crash and then have to recharge in order to begin again. We may even be aware of this pattern but feel that it’s okay. One issue may be that when we’re down and out, care comes flowing in from a variety of sources. Finally, people may realize that we need attention too. They may also leave us alone thus creating the time needed to rebuild reserves and to re-balance. The problem with this approach is (1) it is a state that is already playing havoc with health; (2) there is a tendency with this pattern to recharge only to once again begin the roller-coaster ride– so it is honestly not a solution
If you have a long standing pattern of “giving it all away”, believing in self sacrifice as good and holy, or have a lack of awareness regarding healthy boundaries and healthy entitlement then it can be difficult to turn this bus around! You can start with some simple steps.
Create a Map For Self Care
1) Awareness–what are your feelings telling you? If you are feeling exhausted, resentful or even just moderately snarky about some of the interactions in your life, take time to get honest about your feelings and needs.
2) Notice how you feel about taking time and space for yourself. Instead of glossing over the feelings that arise, do some introspection and see if maybe guilt, misplaced loyalty, old family beliefs, or secondary gains/pay offs may need to be dealt with.
3) Make a list of things that you would like to do for yourself. What would recharge your battery? What could you do everyday, once a week, once a month that would help you maintain energy and balance?
4) Pencil in your self care into your daily “to do list’ or calendar.
5) Be willing to address the resistance to changing this pattern that will inevitably arise! Be gentle but firm with yourself.