I’m delighted to be back with you. To all my faithful readers from the past six-plus years, and to new readers as well, I hope this finds you well and happy as we continue on our journeys together.
I want to share with you a topic I consider very important for sound mental health, for you—and for those you care about. I often find myself in conversation about this with patients and friends, and truly believe it is a powerful shift in understanding toward a healthy, balanced life:
When it comes to tending to your needs, there are but two ways you can go—you can honor them, or you can abandon them.
Sounds simple perhaps, but let’s look more closely. Honoring your needs means taking you into account. It means paying attention and giving priority to your needs, your feelings, your happiness and wellbeing. Abandoning your needs means just the opposite. While you may meet the needs and wants of others, if your own needs are not part of the equation, then ultimately, over time, you’ll pay a high price, perhaps with resentment, depression, anxiety. Perhaps with the empty feeling that comes when you’re nowhere to be found in the picture.
Let’s be clear: “Honoring” yourself is not the same as being “selfish.” In my books I use the phrase, “healthy selfishness,” meaning good self-care—taking quality care of one’s self.
So the questions become: How do I not abandon others on my personal journey of not abandoning myself? How do I keep healthy selfishness healthy?
Navigating this, my friends, is the fine art of balanced living.
Here are some ways to shrink-wrap your mind around the importance of honoring yourself. (And make no mistake about it: This is not just OK to do, it’s important to do. In the recipe for a happy life, learning to understand and embrace one’s needs is a crucial ingredient.)
When I give talks about self-care to care providers, I use the metaphor of the heart. One of the primary facts medical students learn is that the first task of the heart is to pump blood to itself. If the heart isn’t taking care of itself, what happens? The rest of the body cannot survive.
When I talk to businesspeople about this topic, I remind them that without enough principal, you cannot generate interest. The “principle”—self-care—is the all-important first part, creating the “interest” necessary to share with, to care for, others.
Bottom line: How in the world can you give enough if you’re coming from a place of not-enough?
Consider these three meditations:
• Denying yourself good care does not allow you to bring the best of you, only what’s left of you. You know what it feels like to be depleted, and so do those around you. It certainly doesn’t make for a happy or fulfilling (“full-feeling”) life.
• We teach others how to treat us based upon how we treat ourselves. If we dismiss or minimize our needs, if we are careless with ourselves, then those around us will treat us similarly. If we respect our needs, if we handle them with care, then we will be teaching others to treat us with respect and care.
• Everyone is responsible for tending to their own needs. So perhaps you’re less responsible for the happiness of others than you’ve come to believe. But you are responsible for your own. When you take an honest look, if you find that you get your “cookies”—you know, the guilt-flavored ones—through the “selfless giving” of the martyr, well, then this may be an excellent opportunity for you to gain some insight.
I’ve been helping a friend with this issue. Recently, at age 73, she said, “Today I’m having a ‘Julie day’.” “What’s that mean?” I asked her. She replied with a mischievous grin, “Well, it just means that today is about taking care of Julie.”
Right on, Julie.
I’ll close with a favorite quote from healer and author Shakti Gawain: “When I’m trusting and being myself, everything in my life reflects this by falling into place easily, often miraculously.”
"Shrink Wrap" will appear the first week of each month in The Pulse