“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
Theologians the world over may dispute what I am about to say – but that just makes it all the more interesting, doesn’t it?
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the first commandment is, “Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
The second commandment is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s this second commandment that I want to spend a little time talking about with you.
If the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, then I would submit to you that if you ain’t doin’ a good job lovin’ on yourself there ain’t no way you’re doin’ a good job lovin’ on others. Let me explain.
Are you loving yourself?
I’m a big fan of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. But a story I read from one of the earliest books almost ruined me. As I recall, it was about an athlete whose life motto was, “I Am Third.” He went on to explain that God came first in his life, then others, and finally himself. Being young and naïve I decided that this was a motto I, too, should adopt.
Now that I’m older and wiser I can assure you that this is ABSOLUTELY NOT the way for Women of AWE to live. It is in fact the quickest way to ensure you end up burnt out, angry, and resentful.
You see I was raised to be a good girl. Do what you’re told. Clean up your messes. Don’t color outside the lines. And by all means, take care of those in need!
I developed a “Savior of the World Complex.”
So like any good little girl I developed what I call a “Savior of the World Complex”. I grew up believing that if I didn’t take care of it, who would? If I didn’t “fix” people they might continue to live their lives in utter hell. If I didn’t discover the cure for cancer, end world hunger, and lead the world to peace once and for all – then surely no one else could possibly play a part in this and do it as well as I could.
As I look back now, I visualize myself carrying a backpack. Anytime I came across someone in need I would ask if I could carry a bit of their burden. Most were happy to hand it over, so I put it in my backpack and carried on.
As you can imagine, the backpack became heavier and heavier over time. I began to experience chronic neck and shoulder pain. This lasted for years until I finally got sick and tired of the pain and was determined to find a way to relieve it.
This led me on a journey to discover the link between our emotions and our physical well-being. I began seeing a physician specializing in integrative medicine who suggested I work through a book by Dr. Howard Schubiner called, Unlearn Your Pain.
Unsent letters set me free!
One of the most healing practices was the encouragement to write “unsent” letters to people in your life – whether alive or dead. The theory was that our physical pain can be caused by unexpressed rage and that by writing about it we can release it.
I was skeptical because I didn’t feel any rage. Maybe a little anger here and there, but good girls don’t feel rage!
So I began writing. And lo and behold the rage just spilled onto the page as if I was vomiting up years of emotion held captive. I was amazed! Who knew??
Good girls don’t feel rage!
And there wasn’t just rage. There was grief, and guilt, and fear in there as well. All just stuck inside waiting to be released so that I could be set free.
Once the emotional and physical turmoil began to subside I could begin to see things from a newer, healthier perspective. I realized that by putting everyone and everything before myself I was worn out, angry, and lost. I couldn’t even remember who I was. Who was I before I gave it all away?
In Gift of the Redbird Paula D’Arcy says this, “…I see how prone I am to run headlong into people’s needs. But by living in this way, I give away pieces of my life. Important pieces. Pieces of my energy, my time, my strength. On the basis of assumptions (This must be right) as opposed to intentions (I choose to go this way), I have given over ownership of me. Willingness to help is healthy, but a need to help is not.”
You can’t give if you’re empty inside.
It’s not that you stop helping others or sharing yourself with the world. It’s the realization that to do this most effectively we must care for ourselves first. You can’t give from an empty well.
Not only was I hurting myself by putting everyone’s needs before my own, but by playing “Savior” I actually dis-empowered people by teaching them to rely on me rather than themselves and God.
You must find the healthy balance between giving and receiving and recognize that sometimes the best gift is to show someone just how powerful they are.
Here’s what self-care looks like to me…
- Taking time for my spiritual practices
- Working through difficult emotions
- Sleeping well
- Eating healthy
- Exercising in ways that I love
- Taking baths
- Learning how to say “no” without feeling guilty
- Staying away from toxic people and situations
- Laughing more
- Pursuing my calling
- Having fun!
If you’re like I was, always putting others first, I urge you to consider a new way of living.
Women of AWE need to be healthy and whole in order to empower women and children around the world.
What does self-care look like to you? Share with me on Facebook.
Giving you permission to take care of you,