I’m a helper. Always have been.
From the time I was a kid, I was trying to cheer people up, diffuse arguments, help people see the good in life, rather than focus on the problems. I learned to value this part of myself; that people appreciated my help, and I felt good having helped them, and receiving that appreciation.
It felt good to matter; to make a difference in people’s lives. It still does. It’s this drive to help others to overcome their obstacles, face their demons, and to see the “lotus among the mud” that has led me to getting my masters in counseling, teaching meditation, and walking my own spiritual path.
Yet even in this practice, balance is crucial. It’s the whole “too much of a good thing” concept, except with helping others, it seems a bit different, a bit… sneakier? It has become so easy for me to help, that if I’m not careful, I begin to prioritize others needs over my own. It feels good, it’s easy to get caught up, and can act as replacement and distraction for that self-care that I really need.
It’s also safer. Sometimes giving ourselves the love and care we need can require us to face some hard truths, helping others can be a powerful distraction we use to avoid those truths.
If we’re not taking care of ourselves, how do we expect to truly or effectively take care of others? If I’m sleep deprived, not eating well, or even just not taking some time for myself, time to do nothing, I will not be able to be there for someone else. Not fully. They’ll get 50% effort or less, because that’s all I have to give. Worse, I will get burnt out, beginning to resent those people I want to help, blaming them for taking up my time, and keeping me from my self-care.
I had to learn to say no. It can be surprisingly hard. Especially when my only plans are to do nothing, it becomes so tempting to prioritize their needs over mine, to decide their situation is more important. I really want to say yes, because I love that person, and would love to be a part of their success. I have to check in, remind myself that I need time too and that self-care is not selfish.
We all want to make a difference. To know our lives mean something… and often the best way to feel that we matter is by effecting change in our world.
You cannot serve from an empty vessel.
If reading this, you felt like I wrote it just for you, I promise you, you are not alone. Check out Mindful Mischief meditation this Wednesday. We'll focus our meditation and discussion on this topic, how to create greater balance, and say no once in a while.