As a culture, we use busyness as a badge of honor. We use martyrdom as the sign of a good mother. We use stuff as a symbol of our worth. All the while suffering from ever increasing disconnection, loneliness, and overwhelm.
I’m here to tell you how important prioritizing yourself is for your emotional health and why it is a radical act of self-love. One that you should protect and honor.
I’m not advocating for selfishness. Research indicates that those who consistently help other people experience less depression, greater calm, better health, and may even live longer.
However, we are a society of people pleasing, boundary depleted control freaks (I know, it sounds harsh, but I say this with love because…me too) who struggle wildly with codependency in many, if not all of, our relationships (including with our children), and one of my missions as a clinician is to help us move to a more interdependent way of relating. We tend to blur the lines between caregiving and caretaking. Or confuse empathy with what I call “me-pathy.”
Codependency has many definitions, but the one that I use is: “If you’re good, I’m good. If you’re not good, I’m not good.”
Meaning, my feelings of worth, my sense of Self, my emotional state is based on someone else. And if that is true, a lot of what I will do in relationships disguised as caring and giving are actually attempts to help myself feel better, calmer, safer, and more worthy. Hence, “me-pathy,” - acts of caring that are more about us than the other person.
Codependency in our relationships can look like:
- Keeping the peace or not rocking the boat at the expense of our truth and authenticity.
- Not communicating our needs or wants. Minimizing them, brushing them under the rug, putting everyone else’s needs above ours.
- Doing and giving to the point of depletion, burn out, and resentment.
- Not feeding and nourishing our Soul because we’re “too busy” taking care of others.
- And so many others…
As a contrast, a relationship based on interdependence is one in which we recognize each person is a sovereign being, we recognize and own our responsibility in our lives, our emotional states, our needs, our Soul health, and how we want to show up in the world and we allow others to own the same. It is a power filled dynamic for both parties with neither attempting to fix or control the other in order to self-soothe or make themselves feel any sort of way.
In my opinion, the simplest and most beautiful example of interdependence was given by writer Alan Watts when he discussed the relationship between bees and flowers. Both beings are completely and totally unique. They have their own purpose, their own roles and duties in life, they are autonomous. And yet, they are inextricably linked. Just like we are as social creatures.
Prioritizing yourself goes deeper than bubble baths and manicures. Instead, it looks something like this:
- Pinpointing where you feel resentment and then using that as a doorway into what and where you should be communicating something that you aren’t.
- Discovering or rediscovering what your needs and desires are. For many of us, we lost touch with this at some point on our journey.
- Choosing yourself, even if that means someone else might be upset. This might look like boundaries, speaking up, doing something for yourself that might temporarily inconvenience someone else because it’s what you really want to do.
At the end of the day, prioritizing yourself only feels radical because we live in a society that tells us it’s selfish. But, what better gift can you give to others than to show them what it looks like to be fulfilled and authentic? To give them permission to do the same?
So, what gives you a feeling of aliveness? Turn towards it. Do it. Let others feel about that however they will. It’s not your job to keep everyone happy. It’s your job to live the fullest most alive life you can.