From selfless to self 'ish'; finding balance between our own and others' needs.
From an early age, especially as women, we are taught to be selfless. Putting others first, not making a fuss, being good, pleasing and nurturing others, being productive and forgoing our needs seems to be encouraged and rewarded. Coupled with the rise of perfectionism, trying to achieve an unrealistic ideal and comparing ourselves to others, it’s no wonder we are struggling.
In my work, I’m seeing more and more women feeling depleted, running on empty and putting themselves and their needs at the bottom of the pecking order. The misbalance between serving the needs of others and our own is ever real and often results in a negative effect on our mental and physical wellbeing, relationships and performance.
Whilst we find putting the needs of others first easy, turning compassion inwards is something we struggle with. Self-compassion means giving ourselves the same kindness and care we would give to others. In fact, demonstrating self-compassion can reduce feelings of anxiousness and depression and improve our life satisfaction (Neff, 2007).
If this resonates and you need to improve the balance in your life, here are some things to try:
Start to notice patterns you tend to fall into when putting others before yourself; is it saying yes too readily, offering to do things you don’t have time for, doing things you don’t want to do? And how does this tend to make you feel? Tuning into these is the first step in working towards shifting them.
Get clear on what your boundaries are. Where do they need to be stronger? What might this look like? Setting boundaries isn’t rude, it’s respectful to yourself and others. Practice how to say no to others and yes to yourself with little steps such as ‘I’m going to say no for now but if anything changes I’ll let you know’, ‘I’ll need some time to think about that, I’ll get back to you’ or ‘I’d love to help but I’m afraid I just don’t have the time right now’.
Have your own back. Your inner critic will show up when you try and put your own needs first and you may experience feelings of guilt. Getting into the habit of cutting your behavioural patterns and narratives in their tracks and choosing self-compassion will help. Speak to yourself as you would a friend; reinforce why your needs matter, support and encourage yourself to put your needs first.
As with any personal growth, finding a better balance between serving the needs of others and yourself will be an ongoing process. But altering this engrained behaviour little by little, and being a bit more self-ish is necessary for our continued wellbeing.