This has been an ongoing struggle for me, and I think it’s a fairly common problem.

We’re taught from an early age that being selfish is a bad thing, that we need to consider the needs of others first.  Sometimes we watch our parents sacrifice their own dreams so we can have comfortable, stable lives, or occasional luxuries.

Women, in particular, have been given these messages, and taught to be nurturers and caregivers.  From our first babydoll, which we’re supposed to feed and bathe and clothe and put to bed, to our pets and siblings, and eventually our friends, then our own families when we grow up, and often that translates to our neighbors, our church communities, the homeless, the elderly, the starving children in another country – our own needs often end up at the Very Bottom of the To Do List.

Most of my hypnosis clients are caregivers of one kind or another.  Some are professional, such as nurses, others are taking care of an ailing family member.  In every single case, these people have given So Much of their time and energy, that they are simply exhausted.  They have never been taught Self Care (beyond the basics that get them through each day).

The concept of making sure their own needs (physically, mentally AND emotionally) are met FIRST is foreign and uncomfortable to them.  In many cases, they’ve sublimated their own needs so thoroughly, they’re not even aware of what they ARE.  “What more could I possibly need?  I have food, clothing and shelter…”

Each person is different, and those needs will vary wildly.  Some need a creative outlet, some need physical activity, while others need a wider circle of friends that is Just For Fun and still others, although they go to church every week (twice! not counting volunteer hours…) need a deeper spiritual connection.

I love the metaphor of the airplane trip.  You know, every time, when the Flight Attendant gives “that talk” that you automatically tune out?  “In the event of a sudden pressure loss, masks will drop in front of you.  Be sure to PUT YOUR OWN MASK ON FIRST and then help others around you.”

Wait, WHAT??!?!  Shouldn’t I help my child, who is to small to put her mask on herself?  Shouldn’t I help the little old man who clearly has arthritis?  No, you most definitely should NOT.  If you help someone else FIRST, and then pass out yourself, who will be there to continue to help them?  You must make sure your own needs are met so you can continue to provide quality, unselfish service to those around you.

Isn’t it terribly selfish of me to put Me First?

Clearly, we all know people who live by the philosophy of Me First.  Or perhaps I should call it Me Only.  I wish to be clear that I am NOT advocating Me Only as a lifestyle.

That being said, it’s reasonable and healthy to make sure your own needs are met first.  Interestingly enough, you’ll find that when you DO take care of yourself, you’ll actually have MORE to give to others.

So figure out what it is you need, and carve out time for it.  Communicate your needs (and your intentions to meet them) to your friends and family, and stand firm on it.  Enlist help and support from those around you, and if you’re not getting it, it might be time to set some priorities.  Many times, we’re afraid that if we dare to speak up for ourselves, those around us might resent it (and toss out that painful word: selfish), but will we ever really know until we try?

Ask for a trial run if necessary – give it a month or 6 weeks.  When those around you notice that you’re more relaxed, more refreshed, and even more cheerful about giving your time and energy than before, they’ll be more likely to accept the new paradigm…

What do you think?  What do you do for Self Care?  How did your friends and family respond when you started something new?