Do you find yourself saying “yes” a lot? And not in the fun, Jim Carrey living his best life hear me roar, kind of way?
You’re not alone.
There’s plenty of reasons why you might find it difficult to set boundaries and assert yourself: guilt, assumed responsibility, fear of being judged or disliked, or maybe you take pride in being a tireless caregiver. Whatever your reason for putting everyone else’s needs before your own, know this it’s time to start putting yourself first – and that doesn’t make you a di*k.
As Rumi, said, “never give from the depths of your well, but from your overflow.”
As a recovering people pleaser myself, learning to say “no” and put myself first has been a very challenging lesson in a bid to improve the quality of my life, but one that I wouldn’t change for the world. I’ve discovered that I simply can’t give what I don't have, and that includes my time, energy, and resources.
What does self-care really mean?
It means listening to what your body needs. What your mind needs. What your heart needs and what you are feeling. And being willing to attend to your needs first because you are the caretaker of your body and life. No one can do this for you.
Prioritising your own emotional, mental and spiritual needs is not something to feel guilty or selfish for. Your optimal life requires fully charged batteries, so sectioning out time for the things that bring you joy and fill your cup up is imperative. You would want your loved ones to feel their best right? Think of yourself as a loved one and you’ll suddenly feel a lot more peace with taking time to do things purely for you.
But I don’t want to alienate people…
There’s a lot of stigma around putting yourself first as we tend to think it selfish to consider ourselves before others. This is an incredibly binary way to view self-care.
In reality, self-care is far more fluid. In fact, truly healthy boundaries are assertive but flexible, strong yet compromising, they are loving to ALL parties involved (this includes you).
To quote SparkPeople, “If ‘putting yourself first’ (a common admonition) sounds too selfish or too hard, try something simpler: put yourself on an equal footing with those you love and tend to.”
Whether you’re a people pleaser or just unable to assert yourself diplomatically, there’s no doubt that we need to learn how to love recognizing and voice our own needs minus the guilt.
Cara Maksimow, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Maximize Wellness Counseling says that connecting the term self-care with selfish can be a stumbling block for many. “Being selfish implies that we are doing things that make us happier or better at the expense of others and that is not at all the case. The belief that if we take care of ourselves we are not taking care of others is false because if we are not healthy and happy our ability to care for others is diminished.”
So how do I put myself first?
Your mind and body work very closely together to keep you functioning, trust what it has to say. If a favor makes you uncomfortable and weighty then say no to the request. If the favor asked doesn’t make you uneasy then consider saying yes. If you’re not used to tuning into your body, and even if you are, intentionally spend some time alone away from the social distractions and noise so that you can listen to your own thoughts and voice. Even if it is 10 minutes a day before everyone gets up or when everyone is in bed.
Try not to think about declining an offer as saying "no" to someone else; instead, reframe your mindset to realize you're actually saying "yes" to yourself.
Some people who pride themselves on having strong boundaries actually have rigid ones. They wear their boundaries as a defensive shield. For them, setting boundaries is equivalent to keeping people away. They are quick to say “no,” and slow to say “yes.” They have difficulty with “maybe” because it requires the inner strength to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. Healthy boundaries require flexibility — a pliability of mind and heart. It requires a capacity to pause and consider what we really want, as well as how we’re affecting others.
A subtle, counterintuitive point is that we may set boundaries in a rigid way because we’re so afraid of losing ourselves — ignoring or minimizing our own needs — that we quickly send a “no” message because we’re not really sure about our right to say “no.” When we’re uncertain about our rights and needs, we have a tendency to either ignore them, which leaves us feeling resentful or depressed (or both!) or we assert them aggressively.
Set your boundaries, but maintain a softness that allows for life to be real. We can’t control anything other than our response, so do your best and stay grounded in your own truth.
By the way, YOU are a priority. Plain and simple. Be intentional about what you say “yes” to and what you say “no” to.
Communication is the one tool that can help any situation. If you’re known for being tirelessly generous with your time and energy, it may come as a shock to those around you. This is not a bad thing. Just as you need to establish your boundaries, others need to learn them. Be kind in your approach if someone mentions something, and be assertive in letting them know what you need and where you’re coming from in that moment. What may be true to you may not be true to someone else. You can’t control every situation and how people decide to react and choose to feel about you.
So give yourself a break. If you don’t, who will?
Those who truly love and value you will adjust to the new you.
It may be hard for them and it can take time, but as Brendon Burchard said “Don’t give up on them. Patience + caring + empathy = Love”
If nothing else, just remember that you are worth looking after, just as much as everyone else, and it’s up to you to make sure that comes from the most important relationship you’ll ever have - the relationship with yourself.
If anything, you should feel guilty when you don’t take time to prioritize yourself, because it affects how well you can then care for others. I feel this in the mornings. For years now, the first hour of my day has always been for me. I fill this hour with exercise, meditation, yoga or being creative. Trust me when I tell you, I’m a much better person for it! Everyone gets the other 23 hours, after all, so I don’t feel guilty at all.
Sounds good, I’m ready to put myself first
Now you’re in the right headspace and don’t feel like such a di*k for looking after yourself, feel proud that you are going to be more conscious about honoring your needs that support your core values. It doesn’t mean you don’t respect and consider others. You are instead deciding to make a deliberate choice to take care of your-self first, and that makes you pretty freaking awesome!