As a Psychotherapist and Coach, I see many of my clients trying to give out caring and love when they don’t have enough of it to give. They are depleted, resentful, frustrated and tired. And they are mad at themselves for not having more to offer their loved ones. “Am I a bad mother?”, they ask, whispering. “Am I a terrible wife?”
If this sounds familiar (at least sometimes) then this article is for you. It is about a very simple truth that often goes unacknowledged.
“You have to have it to give it”.
In this post we’re going to explore what this means and how we can get “it” back with healthy self care habits. If you don’t have a solid concept of what self care is, or you’ve never been able to implement it for yourself, then stop reading here and scroll down to last weeks post on self care.
Ok, you’re back? Great… let’s move on.
However we perceive the mystery of life, what we know for sure is that we are in this human body, and that this body has needs. If we don’t meet these needs we become depleted. It really is this simple, we cannot give out what we don’t have to give. And the experts agree: as best selling author and psychiatrist Dan Siegel says, “If we don’t care for ourselves we become limited in our capacity to care for others”.
I think about this mostly in the sense of being a Mum. If I haven’t recharged myself I tend to drag myself toward my children in a way that includes my exhaustion, irritability, short-temperedness and reactivity.
When I’m refreshed, clean, well fed and nourished I can show up as my best self: patient, kind, open, responsive.
Yet, none if us live in a vacuum. The reality is that we have people to care for and sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. On one hand, we are wired to be in relationship and community, and we thrive on the company of others: Family is what brings many of us our greatest joy.
Yet, if we’re not careful we can be left feeling drained by what our loved ones need, and by what other people crave.
As a mother of four children I know too well that if we are feeling depleted then filling someone else’s cup is short lived. Once we run out of everything we’ve got (which I have done repeatedly) we have nothing left to give. At that point, taking care of others becomes an exercise in martyrdom and comes with very little joy.
While this joyless sacrifice may be necessary at times, we want to keep it to a minimum. Mostly, we want to be a carer, mother, friend, employee, or partner out of a balanced and healthy place that feels energising, not draining.
There is really only one way to do this, and that is to keep your cup full.
First, let’s look at some signs that let you know you’re running on empty:
+ feeling irritable, impatient, anxious or depressed
+ being forgetful and scattered
+ finding yourself nit-picking your loved ones
+ complaining more than usual
+ feeling tired, even after waking up
+ not being able to sleep, or oversleeping
+ having physical problems (excessive colds, headaches etc)
+ over or under eating
So, what can we do about this? How can we fill our cup when we feel like we have so much to do? Many of us have the mistaken belief that it is selfish to put yourself before your loved ones. This is often heightened if you are a parent and don’t want to put yourself before the kids.
Yet this isn’t a me vs you situation. We all know the rules of an airplane crash right? You put your own oxygen mask on before the children. Why? Because if you’re not getting the oxygen you need to breathe, you’re not going to be able to help them either. In this light we can see easily that this was never me vs you. Instead it’s always me, then you. It’s me, for you.
These days I keep my cup full. I do this because I’ve changed my thinking to believe that taking care of myself must be done. If I don’t put on my oxygen mask then how can I hope to get the right kind of air to my loved ones?
Likewise, filling your cup must become a priority. There are many ways to do this and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Some nights it may just mean choosing the movie YOU want to watch. Or when you’ve really had enough you can tell everyone you have a headache and spend the day in bed.
There are plenty more ideas in last weeks post on self care, so if you haven’t already done so, give it a read.
The real question at hand is, what kind of parent, wife, husband, or friend do you want to be for your loved ones? Cranky? Resentful? Grumpy?
Or open, loving patient and kind?
The decision is yours. Choose wisely.