Putting yourself first is an important act of self-love yet so many people feel guilty for doing it.
You would think that showing ourselves love would be the most normal thing in the world.
After all, most of us have no difficulty acting lovingly towards others.
Granted, the way in which we express our love towards others is different for all of us, however, the bottom line is that most of us find it far easier and more natural to share our love with others.
Why is that?
Why is it so difficult to show ourselves love?
Many of us are not even consciously aware that we do not act lovingly towards ourselves.
In fact, prior to what I call the ‘self care movement’, it is not something that most of us even thought about.
How often do you ask yourself how am I feeling?
I’m guessing not very often.
Yet, how often will you think of a friend or family member and say to yourself, “I must check in with so and so to see how they’re doing”?
Too often we give more thought to the well-being of others than we do to ourselves.
For much of my life, I was on “on-call”. I lived as though I was the fourth emergency service for family and friends.
I never turned my phone off and I’d never missed a phone call.
If I saw or heard the phone ringing I would answer, if not I would call back immediately after seeing the missed call.
I would respond to the wants and needs of friends, family and even colleagues in a very similar way to Batman.
They’d send out the “bat signal”, i.e. they’d call, text, email or pop round and I’d drop everything (no matter how important what I was doing was to me), attach my cape and be on hand for whatever it was they needed from me.
I never put myself or my needs first, but it was so normal to me that I wasn’t even consciously aware of my behaviour.
It wasn’t until I started on my journey of self-exploration that I started to see my “default” response to the people in my life.
Prioritising the needs of others prevents you from prioritising your own needs
It became clear that I had no boundaries in my life and that I was at the bottom of my priority list.
In fact, the majority of the time, I wasn’t even on the list!
And the times I did make it to the list, I was easily knocked off by the addition of someone else’s need or “crisis”.
I also became aware of the effect this was having on my health and well-being, both emotional and physical.
However, no matter how hard I tried to put myself first and prioritise my own needs more, it just didn’t happen.
My thoughts and beliefs haunted me and I couldn’t help but feel guilty and selfish.
I mean these people needed me.
What would happen if I wasn’t there for them?
What if I turned my phone off and something awful happened?
These were the types of questions that would constantly circle my mind if I even considered making any changes and retiring my superhero cape.
Everyone has a breaking point
There came a point when it all became too much and it was clear that if I didn’t prioritise myself and my own well-being I would fall apart.
Then I’d be no good to anyone.
I started to put boundaries in place and little by little I started to prioritise my own needs.
It took a huge amount of emotional and mental strength.
I had to learn to show myself love and put myself first.
It wasn’t easy and in all honesty, I still struggle with it some days.
However, following the 5 steps outlined below means that more often than not, I make myself a priority.
1. Get Clear
First of all, I needed clarity.
I had to get clear about what I wanted for my life and why I found it so difficult to put myself first.
What did I believe about myself?
I journaled, attended personal development training and workshops, read personal development books, wrote my goals down and created a vision board.
The only views I had about what it meant to be a good daughter, sister, friend and colleague came from society and the people I grew up with.
Delving into personal development challenged the views I’d inherited and helped me to develop a view that felt authentic to me.
- What do you believe to be true about yourself?
- How worthy are you of love?
- Do you deserve to be taken care of?
In order to get clear, you must also get connected.
You must connect with yourself.
You have to dig deep and be honest with yourself.
Often the reason many of us are so willing to be on hand to help others is that it takes the focus of our own life.
It gives us an excuse for why we haven’t yet achieved all the things we’re dreaming of doing.
It allows us to not even try to achieve our dreams.
It enables us to stay safe and out of the limelight.
It prevents people from asking us “who do you think you are to do/say/try/achieve that?!”
When you are feeling emotionally and mentally drained from your role as a “superhero”, it’s hard to believe that there is some benefit to you.
However, there is always a benefit.
For example, helping others reinforces the belief that we’re a “good person”.
It also provides a number of excuses and distractions that allow us to avoid being accountable for our own lives.
- What is the benefit you get from always being available to others?
- What area(s) of your life does it allow you to avoid?
- How can you connect more deeply with your inner self?
Once you have connected to a deeper part of yourself, identify what benefits you get from putting others first and exactly what it is you want for your life, it is time to commit.
When you put yourself first, it can be one of the most challenging things in the world to do.
You will be confronted every single day.
Just because you choose to start putting your needs first, it doesn’t mean others will respond positively.
You have people who are used to knowing that when anything goes wrong, you will be there to help “fix” things.
They may find it extremely difficult to adjust to the changing dynamics of your relationship.
Each person will react differently.
From my experience, some will be angry, some will be hurt, some will take it personally and in some circumstances, some relationships will come to an end.
The flip side is that some people will become more independent and take responsibility for their own life.
Becoming more committed to your own life can result in others doing the same.
- On a scale of 1-10, how committed are you to putting yourself first (with 10 being totally committed)?
- If your score is less than 10, what is in the way?
- What needs to happen to make your commitment a 10?
As I’ve mentioned above, when you start to commit to putting yourself first, the people in your life who rely on you will react in a number of ways.
In order to minimise the negative thoughts you will have about yourself and the possible negative reaction of others, it is helpful to communicate your intentions to the people in your life.
Explain that you will answer your phone less, or that it will be switched off at night.
Let them know that you may say no to some requests and that it’s nothing personal.
Share your plans with them. It doesn’t have to be in detail, it could just be general such as to focus on improving your health, or to plan for a career change or start some training.
Only say as much as you are comfortable with because unfortunately despite being honest in your communication, not everyone will be happy for you.
- Who will you need to communicate with – friends, family, colleagues?
- What will you say to them?
- How much are you comfortable sharing with them?
5. Be Compassionate
Without compassion, you will be unable to commit to putting yourself first.
The mind is extremely powerful and you will tell yourself how selfish you are, how much people dislike you now, how many people feel let down by you and anything else that makes you feel guilty about putting yourself first.
When you start saying no to people, it can feel very uncomfortable; you may even change your mind and say yes.
Or you might spend the next hour, evening, day, week reinforcing what a “bad” person you are.
But, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Sometimes, things can become worse before they get better.
Initially, when I began to commit to self-love, various people in my life reacted negatively to the changes in my behaviour.
This was extremely difficult and upsetting at times.
However, as I started to feel and see the positive difference putting myself first made to my life, it made it easier to stay committed to my needs and show myself compassion.
- Who in your life will it be hardest to say no to?
- When will it be hardest to say no?
- How will you regularly express love and compassion towards yourself?
To maintain your mental health and wellbeing, you must put yourself first
Too many people are making themselves ill trying to be all things to everyone.
How often do you hear people say “there are just not enough hours in the day”?
The truth is there aren’t.
At least not to do everything for everyone and yourself.
You have to prioritise and you must be at the top of that priority list.
You must put yourself first.
Even if you have children or elderly/sick parents who you are responsible for, if you do not maintain your physical, mental and emotional health, you will break and when that happens, who will look after them?
To put yourself first is a necessary act of self-love and care.
- What personal needs are you sacrificing to meet the needs of others?
- What is your main concern about putting yourself first?
- How will putting yourself first positively impact your life?
Affirmation: Putting myself and my needs first is an important act of self-love
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