But through a child’s eyes, that’s not what I saw…
Instead, I observed what appeared to be a very unhappy woman. She said things to me that were painful for me to hear. She told me she was miserable.
At the time, I didn’t know that she came from a long line of women who obtained much of their identity from what they did for others. I didn’t know that she, and many of the women around her thought self-care was a selfish luxury they couldn’t afford. I certainly didn’t know she thought neglecting her own needs was her responsibility and an honorable practice.
I was oblivious to any of this. I just knew she seemed sad when all I wanted for her was happiness, a little laughter and maybe even for her to hug me once in awhile.
Replaying the Pattern
Fast forward a couple of decades and I (unknowingly) created the same pattern in my life.
It started out like a nagging discomfort, but then it escalated into a sort of bitterness.
For many of the “nice” things I did for others, a part of me felt resentment. I resented feeling like I gave of myself again and again. I resented that I didn’t feel like I got much in return. I eventually resented the very people I was giving to. I even resented myself for feeling resentful!
When I finally recognized the pattern it was like looking in the mirror and seeing my mother staring back at me. In my heart, I knew this was the same unhappiness I observed in her all those years ago.
At first I didn’t know what to do. For years I’d instinctively attempted to refuel myself with food. When I felt depleted, carbohydrate-rich foods were my go-to items. But except for a few minutes of distraction, they never actually helped. In the end they left me feeling even more empty.
Eventually I learned that in order to have anything left to give those around me, I had to honor my own needs. I had to fuel myself first.
From this perspective, how could I (or anyone) consider self-care to be anything but necessary? It became clear: Self-care is not selfish or decadent. It’s actually the path to truly being of service.
After all, an empty lantern provides no light.
Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly. <– (Click to tweet)
It doesn’t always come easy for me. I have moments when I want to abandon myself. Some days I have to remind myself that my suffering isn’t noble and doesn’t help anyone.
I must remember that my gift is in being whole and being the best version of myself that I can be. That wholeness doesn’t come from neglect.
When We Look to Others to Satisfy Our Needs
I now know that the things I used to want from other people — I can give to myself. In fact, I need to to give them to myself. It’s not up to anyone else to make me feel happy, loved, appreciated, etc… Putting these responsibilities on others is a quick way to cause strain in the relationship.
When we each take responsibility for our own needs — we can then offer the best of ourselves — with love.
The little girl in me wishes my mother could have gotten that message all those years ago. But the adult in me thanks her for the lesson she passed on.