Before you can take care of other people, you need to learn how to take care of yourself first.
There are several types of people in the world. There are those people in society who are utterly selfish and narcissistic. For example, that ex of yours who just couldn’t stop making everything about him/herself. Or that aunt who would waste hours of family time staring at herself in the mirror. And then there are those people who are on the complete other end of the spectrum. Those are the ones I’m talking about in this post.
These people aren’t as clearcut as the selfish/narcissistic individual, and they come in many forms. They could be an overprotective parent, a needy spouse, a micromanaging coworker, a bossy friend…etc, the list goes on. This person could even be you.
What these people all have in common is that they care. They may be empathetic and supportive, but to the extent where they’re putting their own self-care responsibilities to the wayside.
What This Means
According to Psychology Today, for many people, learning to love him or herself first is something that’s difficult because it might come off as being selfish. That seems to be where the confusion is…knowing what’s considered “selfish” and what’s considered “self-care.” It seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? How can you possibly take care of another person physically, emotionally, or financially if you suck at taking care of your own body, emotions, or finances? How can you be there for others if you can’t even take the time to care for yourself?
A good rule of thumb to follow is to listen to what you’re telling other people and apply it to your own life. Are you the one scolding your intern about how she should eat healthier, yet you’re the one who can never find time to eat at all? No one likes a hypocrite. Don’t be one! Chances are if you’re trying to care for someone else, you want them to listen to you right? Well, if you’re guilty of the exact same thing (for example, if you smoke but you’re telling all your friends that they shouldn’t smoke), what right do you have to tell someone to do otherwise?
I used to be that co-dependent girlfriend in the relationship. You know what I’m talking about. The one who threw herself into her boyfriend’s life, career, and goals, while pushing her own responsibilities and goals to the corner. It seemed that every boyfriend of mine would grow to their max potential during our relationship. I would be there whenever they needed help, guidance, support.
When I was younger, I was in a long-term relationship with an aspiring musician. I helped him brainstorm ways to move up the ladder, I’d go to every single one of his shows, help with his resume, go to his practices, prepare his food, go to all his family outings and obligations, I’d go with him to work, you name it. I was there. I saw this dude every day for nearly four years in a row, and I made it all about him.
You can imagine how I felt about myself. After neglecting my own goals for so many years, I felt incredibly insecure about my own career trajectory, the quality of my friendships, my physical health, and my own talent and skills. I spent most of my time either talking about my boyfriend and living through him. Whenever someone asked about my own plans, I’d just pivot the conversation back to my boyfriend’s successes. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but with a 9-5 job and the rest of my time dedicated to my boyfriend and his activities, I didn’t write a thing. My skills never progressed.
I’m not gonna delve into my entire codependent relationship with this one, but at the end of that relationship, I started feeling unsatisfied with the relationship, insecure with my own beliefs, and jealous of my boyfriend’s success. That’s right…JEALOUS of my boyfriend! I started resenting him because he didn’t do the same things for me.
Because being supportive and taking care of him was something that I prioritized first before myself for many years, my own baggage started spilling over–ultimately affecting our relationship and my self-esteem.
How To Apply to Your Life
OK, so you want to practice more self-care. Here are a few ways you can take care of yourself every day.
- Set aside time for yourself every day. Whether it’s 20 minutes or two hours, do what you gotta do. After I finish my work for the day, I find time to watch at least one of my favorite guilty pleasure Netflix shows every night before bed.
- Practice meditation. This can be as short as 1 minute a day. Simply clear your mind of all the day’s stresses and focus on even, deep, breaths. Doing something this small can make great strides in your stress-levels and help with mental health.
- Get your workout on. Doesn’t have to be the gym. You could go for a short walk around your house, eventually working up to around the block. You could schedule a weekly hike. I like to integrate weekly activities with different people, so I can maintain my friendships as well. In my own life, I go surfing every other Friday morning with my friend Jen, I go hiking every Sunday with my dog, I go to spin class after work with my coworkers, and I squeeze in the gym Tuesdays/Thursdays with my boyfriend after he gets out of class.
- Practice healthy habits. Whether it’s your nutrition, sleeping habits, or addictive habits, work towards treating your body like the temple it is. You can’t be there for your kids if you end up overdosing off alcohol or you’re taken down by a heart attack.
- Being financially responsible. Yeah…don’t be giving financial advice if you suck with money. Sure, your friend Suzy might be sad about her relationship and she NEEDS you to be there for her by going to the latest EDM festival with her. But if you can’t afford it, don’t spend the last of your own savings because you feel the need to be a good friend. What’s the point of joining her if you’re gonna be stressing about your lack of funds for yourself.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST! If you don’t, that neglect might just manifest into something worse and bite you in the booty later on. If you take the time to really grow yourself, not only will you be happier for it and feel more secure about yourself in the long run, you might actually have that extra UMPH in you to take care of other people.