There is a growing emphasis on prioritizing our own needs. Why is this becoming more prevalent?
As more and more individuals seek help for their mental health, many learn how much they neglect their own needs.
When I was in grad school, one of my favorite mentors asked the class, “Do you know what the mask metaphor is?” The class didn’t answer. Then my mentor said, “Do you ever notice on the plane, in case of an emergency, they ask everyone to put their own mask first before assisting others?” Of course! There is a higher likelihood of survival when you have oxygen to help someone else.
Prioritizing yourself simply means not neglecting your own needs. However, many find it difficult and highly uncomfortable to set boundaries with others. We are taught that our self-worth lies in what we can provide or produce for others. Altruism is taught in our families/cultures but at times is taken to an extreme where it is considered selfish to think of ourselves at all. Many of us know how important self care is but continue to find it challenging to silence that inner critic that says, “It’s wrong to think of yourself.’’
Many of us don’t even know what it feels like to be truly attuned to our own needs.
Constantly putting the needs of others first can cause stress, but not doing so can cause even more stress. Repeatedly overextending ourselves for others can drain our energy to the point where we are left with feelings of frustration, rejection, hurt, and resentment. These feelings can cause added strain in our personal relationships.
So why do we continue to overextend ourselves?
For many of us, the answer is guilt. The idea of being a “good person” often excludes prioritizing yourself and brings up feelings of self-doubt. The possibility of disappointing other people with a “no” can send every guilty feeling in our body to the surface.
(Add to that the internalized expectations based on culture, gender, birth order, etc. and the guilt compounds.) We don’t realize how guilt heavily influences who we are. Guilt can arise when we worry about others not liking us if we set boundaries. Our uncomfortability in putting ourselves first is often based on our fear of how others might react.
AND there is also information in our guilt.
The guilt that arises reminds us that we care and have love for others. It reflects our values, but it doesn’t need to keep us from taking care of ourselves.
We can care about others AND not overextend ourselves.
We can show kindness AND be mindful of our capacity.
We can give love and be loved AND also set boundaries.
Both can be true. All of it can be true.
Being aware of our capacity and setting boundaries are ways to practice self-care and self-compassion, which improves our overall well-being, which then ripples to those we care about. When others respect our emotional boundaries, we feel valued, honored, and safe. Taking care of ourselves does not mean we are not taking care of others as well. We have the capacity to do both.
If you're reading this, chances are you are someone who has a hard time prioritizing yourself. It might be helpful to remember that self-love does not equate to being selfish. We deserve the same time, attunement, love and attention that we give to others. We just need to give ourselves permission to set the necessary time aside. We need to remember that we are worth it.
Written by Jojo Rempojo