Do you find yourself giving or wanting to give of your time and energy to everyone and everything around you, only to feel that when all is said and done, you have nothing left for yourself?

Yep—I totally hear you.  I’ve so been there!

Now, I know this topic can be controversial for so many of us.  We all can feel pulled in so many different directions in our lives.  We have responsibilities.  We may have others around us to care for.  And yet, I so believe that when we put ourselves last on the totem pole, everything else in our lives seems that much more out of balance. 

I so, so believe that it is both so loving and so important—for our physical, mental, and emotional health—to find ways to care for ourselves that speak to us, and to make those ways a priority.  But so often, society seems to give us a completely opposite message.  I find this is true for men as well as for women, so stay tuned, guys.  I’ll get to you later in this reflection.  Here’s what I’ve observed. 

Women especially have often been the traditional “caretakers” of everyone from children to seniors for thousands of years throughout history.  So I really believe that there is actually a part of this that is physically programmed into our DNA.  (If you are skeptical of or fascinated by that statement, do a few Google searches on the science of epigenetics.  What you may find may blow your mind!)  ;) 

We as women seem to have this built-in tendency to feel incredibly guilty anymore for not doing anything nice for ourselves.  Sometimes those things can even include things that can be essential for our health.  I’m no different—I work with balancing these things in my life every day as well. 

These things don’t just include physical health necessities such as eating nourishing foods and getting adequate exercise.  These things can include things that can be personal to each of us and which can fully benefit our emotional and mental health and allow us time to ground into ourselves, rejuvenate, and recharge. 

Anything that calls to us and that feels refreshing and relaxing to us can be put into this category.  Getting a massage, reading, meditating, gardening, listening to music, dancing, singing, writing, creating anything, and taking time to spend in nature are just a few things we might feel a pull to do when we know we need a time out to center ourselves again.     

Now, not only is there likely a part of this that is programmed into our woman DNA, but we are bombarded with messages constantly that seem determined to proclaim how “selfish” we are for anything we desire to do for ourselves.  If we put our kids in daycare, we’re “selfish.”  If we raise them at home, we’re “selfish.”  If we come to work when we’re sick because we feel we’ve got obligations to meet, we’re “selfish.”  If we stay home when we’re sick so we can actually rest, we’re “selfish.”  If we put Grandma in a nursing home, boy, we’re so “selfish.”  But if we take care of Grandma at home and it takes time away from our other obligations, we’re just being “selfish!” 

This list could go on and on!  And do you see how crazy-making it is?  How it doesn’t matter which choice we make, where someone somewhere will think it’s okay to label us very negatively as “selfish?”  Or even if they don’t come out and say it, we may still feel it within ourselves because of all of these conflicting, crazy messages? 

And what if we actually want to indulge?  The advertisers have been having a field day with this idea lately, especially with women targets!  Have you noticed this?  Now, according to the commercials, we can “indulge” by biting into a tiny chocolate candy piece!  We can “indulge” by treating ourselves to our favorite yogurt with fruit in it—with less sugar!  We can “indulge” by buying _____ (insert name of convenience food product here) so we don’t have to make dinner and still have our family love us!  Wow!  Really?!    

Men, you get this too.  You are often juggling career and family responsibilities too.  In this world where we are all so connected, maybe you also feel more disconnected than you have before.  You need friendship and camaraderie also in order to thrive as healthy human beings in this world.  And you may or may not find those connections where you work, or with others around you. 

And you also need to feel that you matter enough in this world and to those around you so that you are motivated to take care of yourself and to do things that you really enjoy and feel enlivened by.  You need time out for yourself and your own passions, just as we ladies do.  You are just as human as we are.  But you may feel pressures from society and maybe from your families and yourselves as well, to work late, to provide for those closest to you, and to “be strong” and push through or avoid any legitimate needs or feelings you may really have.  Those kinds of things may be programmed into your DNA also, after thousands of years.         

There is also what I’ll call a “serve others” mentality, which, in my opinion, seems to have gotten out of hand especially in our society.  Now, there is no way that I’m denying here that it isn’t important and meaningful to look out for and to help others throughout our lives.  Service is one aspect which can give our lives great meaning.  But why have so many of us seemingly decided that we shouldn’t be included in this service?  Is it really fair to ourselves if we give and give and give to everyone else?  Is that really serving us?

And what will happen as we stop serving ourselves and only think we should serve everyone else?   Won’t our own health and energies be depleted?  Won’t our quality of life diminish greatly?  Won’t we find so much less enjoyment, so much less purpose, and so much less contentment when we are constantly running around like crazy people, trying to serve everyone but ourselves?

If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve seen an amazing demonstration of how important it is to put yourself first.  When the flight attendants demonstrate how to put an oxygen mask on in case of emergency, do you remember what they always say?  They say, “Even if you have a small child with you, put your mask on first, and then help the child with theirs.”  I love this so much because it demonstrates how important it is to take care of our own needs first.  In this example, if we put the child’s mask on first, as much as our instincts may tell us to, what will happen to that child if we ourselves don’t survive because we didn’t get our own mask on?  And in our lives, what will happen to our quality of life, our peace of mind, and our contentment if we don’t at least level out the playing field so that the quality of what we give to ourselves is as great as what we give to everyone else?   

So, despite all these messages that try to tell us the contrary, and despite any possible DNA programming, I fully feel that we are not actually selfish when we take time to care for ourselves.  But in order for us to really feel okay doing so, I’ve found a couple of steps we can take to get us on our way more easily.

First, we can consciously choose to give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves and to do things that we love.  And yes, we can even give ourselves this permission when we have other responsibilities in life.  Let’s face it—we all have responsibilities in some way.  And opting out of taking time for ourselves only allows us to continue modeling the message for ourselves that we’re not worthy or deserving of taking this time. 

The truth is that we are worthy, and we are deserving.  We are so worthy, and we are so deserving.  There is a reason I say these words at the end of each of these weekly reflections, because they are words that we all need to hear and to hear often.  And if we really allow ourselves to tap into even a little of how deserving and worthy we are to take care of ourselves and to do things that help us feel alive and recharged, we will be honoring just some of the amazing truth of who we really are deep inside.  Who we really are includes being a human being, not only a human doing.  And we deserve to “be,” just as much as we deserve to “do.”             

Second, we can really take a thought to imagine:  What’s the worst that might happen if I actually take this time for myself—and would it really be that bad?

Might we be asked to trust our kids with someone else for that time we choose to take for ourselves?  If we do, aren’t we modeling for them an amazing thing?  That Mommy and Daddy need time for themselves too?  And that our little ones can maybe use that time to engage in their own creativity?  So if that’s the case, are we really actually neglecting our kids when we take time for ourselves, or have we just put that idea in our own minds and hearts because of programming and all the other messages we hear every day? 

Might we be called to love ourselves in deeper ways if we take time out for ourselves more often?  Are we scared of any aspects of this?  If so, can we trust ourselves enough to know that we will be able to move through whatever may come up during that time? 

Might we be called to drop the heavy burdens of guilt and negative “selfishness” that may often fill our minds and hearts when we engage in a nurturing activity that we really enjoy?  If so, what might it feel like to let go of those heavy burdens?  Do we even have a frame of reference for doing this?  If not, what better time to start in our lives than now?  :)

Might we be called to speak up for ourselves at our jobs if we feel that the pressures are too great?  Again, do we feel deserving enough within ourselves to do so?  And if we really aren’t being treated fairly or are spending so many hours at work and feeling so depleted from it, could there be a message to us that there could be many other things we could enjoy doing in our lives that could also make us a nice living? 

All of these questions are ones that only each of us can answer, depending on our life situations and what our hearts really have to tell us.  But we are so worthy of questioning and answering them.  :)

I’d love to end this reflection with a wonderful quote from bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert.  She talks about how in other cultures, the word “selfish” has more than one definition, unlike it does here in America.  Here is what Liz so beautifully states: 

“I was once told that in Mandarin there are two words that both translate into "SELFISH" in English. One means "Doing something that benefits you." The other means, "Doing something that benefits you at the expense of others." In English, we don't have this distinction. But there is a recognition in Chinese that these are two different notions — that it is not necessarily true that anything you do for yourself harms others. Sometimes you can do wonderful and important things for yourself without taking a thing away from another human being. This is the difference between self-care and greed. Self-care = GOOD. Greed = BAD. They are critically different. Never forget it.”  --Elizabeth Gilbert, August 2014

In closing, I’d simply like to end the way I end every one of my reflections.  I’d simply like to remind you that you are deserving—of taking care of yourself and of having a life that you love.  You are worthy of it also.  And you are good enough—good enough to love yourself right now, wherever you may find yourself in your life, and good enough to continue opening to loving yourself and growing in even deeper ways. 

If you can begin to believe these things—to really believe them and then to put them into practice in your life—you have already won so much of the battle.  ;) 

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And if you’d love to take some time to put yourself first, I’ve written my first book, which may be just for you.  :)  Check it out here:  http://www.francinebrocious.com/all-about-me-book/  

No matter what, always remember this:  You are deserving, you are worthy, and you are good enough.  Keep being you, keep shining, and keep growing! 

With great love,

Francine 

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