Thursday, August 30, 2007

Taking Responsibility for Ourselves

I used to be the kind of woman who thought that I needed to take care of everyone else. I believed I was responsible for everyone and their happiness, and I remember running around trying to make sure everyone was happy, everyone was taken care of, everyone was okay...and then I could be okay. Of course, that meant that I had very little time left to focus on my own life and take care of myself.

Some might see the title of this blog "Take Care of Yourself First" as appearing selfish. But I don't mean selfish in the way of necessarily pleasing yourself first at the expense of others. I mean selfish in the way of actually TAKING CARE of your SELF so that then you can take care of others. It's selfish in the sense that it asks you to look to yourself first.

Too many women look at a statement like that and go, "I couldn't focus on myself first, that would be too selfish." My question for them is, "Is that true?" Is it true that if you take care of yourself, make sure you are meeting all your needs (i.e., for food, shelter, water and a living) that you are being selfish? Is it true that if you decide that what is best for you right now is to take a little time to be alone, do something nice for yourself, or just rest awhile that you are being selfish?

My suggestion is the answer to these questions might be, "No." Let's take a moment to examine why I might say that.

I know loving, wonderful women who believe it is good and right to give to those less fortunate than themselves. These women would give you the coat off their back or the last dollar in their wallet. The problem is that these are the same women (and I used to be one of them!) who are in debt up to their eyeballs, have creditors calling them daily, can't sleep at night for the stress that their finances are causing them. Now you might be thinking, "But Natalie, surely it's good to give to those who need it." And I agree with you! But in this situation, the person who needs it most is the one doing the giving! Because the mistaken belief all these kind-hearted women are falling victim to is the belief that they should give, even when they have nothing TO give.

Because you CAN'T give from nothing. Having money in your pocket does not necessarily mean that you have it to give. If you are in debt to someone else, THEY are the ones who should get your money first (after you take care of your real needs). For if you give money you owe to them to someone else, then THEY, and not YOU are the ones doing the giving.

This principle works everywhere in our world. If you are overcommitted with your time or energy, and you keep breaking current commitments to "help" someone who seems to need it more, you are giving from nothing. You are giving something that has been promised to someone else, so THEY, and not YOU, are really the ones doing the giving.

Do the things you need to do and the promises that you've made to others still get done? Sometimes. But at what cost to you? To your relationships with others? To your integrity and self-confidence, your health and self-esteem?

I used to be one of the women I'm talking about. I'd break commitments of time, money and energy that I'd made to others to try to take care of everyone. I would give $5 to a homeless person, but be past due in paying back the dentist I owed $500 to who'd just pulled my wisdom teeth or be over my credit limit and behind in my payments to the credit card company who'd agreed to lend me money. I'd say yes to every request from friends to help them move, clean, shop, etc., but renege on my promises to myself to spend time exercising, doing my own chores or even making sure I was rested enough to fulfill my personal obligations.

If we want to be of service in the world, and I think that most women who have the tendency to take care of others want to be of service, then we need to start with ourselves. We need to take care of the basic needs we have as humans and the commitments we ALREADY have to ourselves, BEFORE, we help take care of others. That way, we are giving from our own abundance, and not borrowing from someone else's.

I used to be the kind of woman who thought that I needed to take care of everyone else--until I learned that the only way I could even remotely begin to take care of everyone else was by making sure that I had taken care of my own self first.

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