Years ago, I tried to help a loved one through a depression. Instead of getting him out of his, I almost fell into depression myself. That day, I learned a very important lesson: taking care of yourself first is not a luxury, it is a necessity. I had given him all my energy, and then some – too much. By not pulling back and taking care of myself first, I almost got both of us in trouble (he pulled through, by the way).
What is it in us that makes us breach our boundaries like this to care for others? And not just in extreme cases like mine, but most often in small ways, by saying yes when we really want to say no, by keeping in our lives people who drive us crazy because we would feel like the ‘bad guy’ if we took them out of our lives, by always putting others ahead of us.
We’re doing the equivalent of putting the oxygen mask on others before putting it on ourselves, and while the sentence for this is not possible damage from oxygen deprivation or death, breaching our boundaries and giving people more energy than we have is not without consequences. Yet we still do it, because we often don’t realize the consequences until late in the game, when they get severe: burn out, depression, illness…
Do you find yourself breaching your boundaries, and giving more energy (mental, physical or emotional) than you really have available?
First, remember that taking care of yourself is a necessity, not a luxury. You can’t give what you don’t have, or at least not without consequences. Taking care of yourself allows you to replenish your energy so you have more to give to your children, your family, your friends, your work, everyone.
Then, take action to reclaim your boundaries and your energy:
– Identify those people who suck the life force out of you, and put some distance between them and you. If you pay attention to it, you’ll find that some people leave you energized, while others leave you drained – I call the latter energy vampires. Eliminate or at least reduce your contact with the time vampires. If you can’t stop seeing them altogether, put boundaries. For instance, one such energy vampire was a family member, so I made sure to see him only at family events, rather than one-on-one, since the latter left me completely drained. This allowed me to use my energy for myself and people who genuinely needed it. Simply doing this will give you more energy, and will give you a lot more time too (it seems that the energy vampires take time as well as energy).
– Start setting time for you, and keep this time as sacred, not to be disturbed no matter what. You wouldn’t even think of canceling an appointment with a friend to see another one (unless there is an emergency). Why do you do it when the appointment is with yourself? Start treating yourself the way you treat your best friend…