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July 16, 2019


Many studies show that selflessness has proven benefits.[1] It’s associated with greater well-being, health, and longevity. Whether you are motivated by a sense of altruism or just by your own personal gratification, showing your support of others is a helpful and humane way to move through life. But like everything else, kindness and consideration require balance in how they are distributed. You must be as kind and considerate to yourself, as you are to others. So often, people forget that a life filled with powerful moments of selflessness does not demand a lifetime of self-neglect!

I spoke to a good friend a few months ago. Her husband didn’t, “want to talk” about how she was feeling that day, so she called me. She was so upset. The whole time that we were on the phone, she was in and out of a crying spell. Meanwhile, her child was in and out of her bedroom asking for snacks. The interesting part is that the child never once, asked why she was sad. And she didn’t expect him to… or expect her husband to listen. She was much more focused on trying to get her emotions under control quickly so that she could get back to being there for everyone else. Besides running the household, she also had to pull herself together for work the next day, and that meant full power-executive, boss mode.

Familiar? How many of us do just that? How many of us suppress our needs, deny our desires, put others first, fight to keep it together and feel like we failed if we fall apart? How many of us have unintentionally taught the people we care about, not to care too much about our feelings?

We disregard ourselves and over-respond to others. We shrink to aggrandize their needs. And yes we are good people who care about other people.  But when we’re working this hard on others, there’s usually some other stuff going on. We’re also looking for:

  • A Sense of Control – We don’t trust other people to oversee their own lives. We think we can “do it” better. We don’t want to have to confront the disappointment we think we’ll feel if we leave them to their own devices.  So, we do things for them instead of for ourselves.
  • A Distraction – We don’t want to focus on ourselves and do our own work. It’s too scary or feels like too much. So, we focus on others.
  • A Way to Sooth Our Guilt – We feel guilty for caring about ourselves. Deep down, we don’t believe that we deserve our own time and attention. We soothe that guilt by being unquestionably available to everyone else.
  • A Way to Keep What’s Comfortable – We’ve grown accustomed to the routines and don’t want to challenge the status quo. We don’t want to risk upsetting the norm or losing the person.

But the reality is that no matter why we do it, the outcome is often the same. Spend all of your time taking care of others and you will likely find yourself experiencing what some have come to call caregiver burnout.

I know this well. Recently, my father fell ill and found himself intubated and sedated for weeks. During his two-month hospitalization, a very close uncle of mine was also admitted to the hospital and both have struggled to breathe, to recover, to regain their sense of independence… to live. My uncle recently transitioned, and my father is on the mend, but ill nonetheless. I have spent many days in hospital rooms and waiting rooms and on the phone with insurances and doctors. I’ve worked to manage a great deal of fear and anxiety and hope and faith and sadness and laughter and helplessness and well… the list goes on and on. And even with biweekly massages and an acupuncturist, surrounded by therapists and coaches, and me meditating, painting, journaling, crying and praying, I still sometimes feel worn out. And I see it take an even greater toll on others who suffer and give with no care for self.

“Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able — either physically or financially… Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression.”[2] We are left feeling:

  • Fatigued – We’re exhausted by the superhuman work that it takes to be everything to everybody. We burn out, crash and drag through much of life.
  • Resentful – We’re angry that we are not getting what we need; forgetting that we never bothered to ask for it.
  • Unfulfilled – We’re so busy taking care of others that we can’t seem to get around to tending for our own needs. And since we’ve essentially given everyone the impression that we have no needs of our own, they haven’t learned to care about them, either.

Let’s face it, engaging in perpetual self-neglect is draining. A life in which you are rarely, if ever, your own priority, will often create exhaustion, resentment and a lack of fulfillment. That is why it is imperative that we keep a balanced practice of loving ourselves while loving others, and being good to ourselves while being good to others. I have had to learn to make that a priority. Will you join me?

Start by trying the following:

  1. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF – You truly deserve the best of who you are and what you bring. Let go of this idea that others are worthier of your love than you are. Your breath alone is all the proof you need of your right to be here. So, be here.. for yourself!
  2. BALANCE YOUR ENERGY – Getting back to yourself does not have to mean that you abandon everyone else. We are all connected. We share a world, a community, an atmosphere. Being kind and considerate of one another is important. It simply doesn’t cancel out the importance of caring for yourself. You cannot be fully present for others if you are not full within yourself.
  3. BE HONEST – Let people know that you have needs and wants that you would like taken into consideration. Be clear about what they are. You don’t have to make others responsible for your needs and wants, but you might want to make them aware of what those wants and needs are. In your quest to be independent, be careful not to breed others’ insensitivity.
  4. BUILD BOUNDARIES – It’s important to be clear with others about where you begin and where they end/ where they begin and where you end. You can be there for someone when they need you, without taking their needs on as yours. Support does not require enmeshment. Respect other people’s right and ability to care for themselves while you do the same.
  5. BE THE EXAMPLE – People learn how to love you by watching how you love you. They are following your lead; taking their cues from you. If you put yourself last, why wouldn’t they? Make it clear that you and your feelings matter and let them make an informed decision to either get on board or get off the bus.



[1] Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: It’s good to be good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine,12(2), 66-77. doi:10.1207/s15327558ijbm1202_4

[2] The Cleveland Clinic. (2012, December 31). Caregiving: Recognizing Burnout. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from

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