ICYMI, I recently read Untamed and since then, have had near constant reminders of the importance of honoring yourself and your needs.
I don’t want to speak on behalf of all women in saying this, but I was raised to believe that the “right way” to be a woman is to put others’ needs in front of my own. That through sacrifice and suffering, I am doing my part to make the world a better place. A “good girl” doesn’t complain or speak up or cause conflict. I spent years of my life succumbing to this school of thought, but now, I couldn’t disagree more. I’m no longer interested in competing for a “she-who-suffers-most” award or pleasing everyone around me at the expense of myself.
Why It’s Important to Put Yourself First
I now believe that the best thing I can do is bring my best self into the world. No one can be me but me. By putting my thoughts and needs to the side in order to please others, I’m not only sacrificing myself, but I’m sacrificing the gifts that I could potentially be giving to the world. People pleasing is draining–it takes away my energy, emotionally and physically. You can’t pour from an empty cup. By giving away your energy to “people please” you end up not bringing your best self to the relationships that matter most to you, so who is actually benefiting?
If the idea of pursuing your desires sounds foreign or selfish to you, you may be thinking: but what about all of the things I want to do that I actually shouldn’t? What about my desire to have a bottle of wine at home by myself instead of attending a family event? To which I ask: is that really putting yourself first? In those situations, you may need to dig a little deeper to uncover where that desire comes from and have a different course of action in mind. Putting yourself first does not mean to self-sabotoge.
It’s also worth noting that if you choose to take this path, it is not the easy path. It requires work to get to know yourself. Standing up for yourself, especially at first, can also take energy you don’t want to spend (even though this is energy you’re spending for yourself–it leads to a payoff). Putting yourself first also causes conflict. You may lose relationships (in favor of strengthening the ones that matter). It takes work to change like this, but I have decided it’s worth it.
So, who’s with me on this journey? Here are some examples and action items I’m using.
Recognizing When You’re Abandoning Yourself
Do you notice when you are putting your own wants and needs aside to please others? Here are some of the signs that clue me in.
- General agitation. Do you feel like your energy is drained and you’re quick to snap? Something may not be in alignment. Instead of trying to distract yourself from those feelings, examine them.
- Rumination. When I ruminate on a situation after it passes, it is a sure sign that I did not act in alignment with how I felt. I will keep replaying the situation in my head and trying to rewrite the outcome. Why put myself through that mental torture? I did this recently when the doctor suggested an induction date earlier than I was comfortable with. I agreed in the moment because who am I to tell a Doctor what should be done? Then when I left the office, I cried. I knew I hadn’t honored myself and I wouldn’t feel better until I spoke my piece. So I called the office and asked to push the date back–they agreed and I can breathe easy again.
- Defensiveness. If you find yourself explaining and defending your actions, you’re giving your power to the person you are trying to convince. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for doing what’s best for you. You do not need external approval. I find myself doing this often–I’ve asked my husband to call me out when it happens, and I know I need to examine the situation a little further.
Getting Back to Yourself and Your Needs
Once I’ve identified that I’m abandoning myself or people-pleasing, I find the following to be helpful.
- Meditation. Sometimes quiet and stillness gives my brain room to let ideas come forward. You can go into meditation with a question in mind, or nothing in mind, or even look for a guided meditation to help you visualize what you’re seeking. I find use in each of these approaches depending on where my head’s at.
- Journaling. This can have similar effects to meditation, though sometimes my thoughts flow more freely when I am putting pen to paper. You can approach journaling similarly to meditation by coming in with a question, or nothing at all in mind, or look up prompts to give you a place to start.
- Movement. While stillness has its perks, I find that some of my clearest thoughts come when I am out for a walk or run. When my body is occupied by putting one foot in front of the other, my brain has a little space to wander and my truths float to the surface.
- Embrace conflict. When you start putting yourself first, you may surprise and upset people who have gotten used to you putting their needs first. But why are others’ wants more valuable than yours? Are these really the kind of relationships you want to fight to keep? This is a huge challenge for me, but conflict over something that’s important to me is conflict worth having.
- Set boundaries. Once you have an idea of yourself and your needs, set boundaries around them. Know the ways you won’t accept being treated and make them clear as people approach or try to break those boundaries.
How do you put yourself first?