Take Care

I recently posted about making a major life decision and how difficult it can be when perfectionism or the fear of making a mistake is a dominant, controlling factor. Another element that hinders my own healthy decision-making is the desire to protect other people from their hurt feelings.

The decision I made to return to Canada directly impacted a number of people, and one person in particular, whom I shall call Maura, was especially affected. She and I had been living together in community for 8 months and I knew that if I left she would be alone, hurt and even betrayed by my choosing to go. The thought of inflicting these feelings upon Maura was enough to make me stay. The voices of dissent were pretty loud: How could I do this to her? Leaving her was totally unconscionable; an unforgivable, selfish act.

These negative thoughts plagued me and I wavered, thinking it would be better to sacrifice my own well-being to save Maura from her pain.

Red-flag moment. Save Maura? When I get into saving someone else I know I am in big trouble. I have moved out of the relative safety of taking care of someone and into the dangerous territory of care-taking. There is a big difference between the two.

“Taking care” involves looking after someone’s needs, being of service, helping out. Care-taking is about looking after someone else’s needs at the cost of my own and serving the ego’s desire for approval and esteem. It is not helpful. To anyone.

If I had stayed to protect Maura from her grief not only would I have been compromising my own needs, making me emotionally sick (and possibly even physically), I would also have been depriving Maura of her own life process. Not my job.

Care-taking is controlling behaviour at its most subtle. I tell myself I am protecting Maura therefore I am doing a good thing. I am noble. I am a saint! In fact, I am simply trying to orchestrate an outcome over which I am entirely powerless. I cannot save Maura from herself.

The consequences of care-taking can be dire because in trying to protect the other person I eventually become angry and resentful. If I had stayed in community with Maura I would have begun to see her as the one now keeping me from living my fullest and best life. And even though she didn’t ask me to protect her, even though I took it upon myself to save her, she would have been the one to blame for my faulty thinking. See the insanity? I sacrifice myself and it’s her fault.

Leaving Maura was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I wrestled with the question of what was right and agonized over whether I was wrong. In the end, I chose to put my own well-being first. (Even writing that sentence feels uncomfortable.) Doing so required an enormous amount of trust that my own liberation would somehow mean Maura’s liberation, too. Even if it caused her pain.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Am I able to embrace the concept of self-care? Do I attend to what is life-giving for me? If I am putting myself last on the list and it is costing me too much I will begin to trust that my own deepest needs can come first.


The Art of Self-Care

Dearest Readers,

A recent conversation with a friend about boundaries plus an article in Psychology Today called The Good Guy Contract by Alex Lickerman, MD, (given to me by another friend) have both reminded me how far I’ve come in the relationships department. Learning to put my needs first, letting go of wanting you to like me and trusting that it’s not my job to run your life have all been challenging but rewarding transformations. Not to mention small miracles!

The Old BS (belief system) tells me that I’m not important enough and that your approval will make me okay. It tells me that I know what’s best for you. Scary but true. What I had to do in order to change this kind of thinking was look at the underlying fear.

What am I really afraid of? What is truly driving this kind of self-seeking behaviour?

Here’s where it gets tricky. How is people-pleasing self-seeking? Aren’t I thinking of the other person more than I am of myself? Not really. There is a difference between selfless service, which is performed with no thought of reward or recognition and action taken from a place of need or control. That’s where the fear comes in.

I’m afraid I’ll never be recognized. I’m afraid of being disliked. I’m afraid you’re going to get hurt or sick or die so I’ve got to worry about you or take care of you or tell you what to do. I’m afraid of being alone. I’m afraid of dying.

All of these fears are valid. We’re human, period. But which one of these fears is driving my bus? Which one of them is making my life unmanageable? If I can answer this question honestly I can begin to change and to be changed, and I can start to practice a new behaviour.

A few days ago I was asked by a woman to “go for coffee.” About a week before that she had asked me if I would help her with a personal issue. I said I would and I gave her some “spiritual homework” do to. Her desire to go for coffee was really just procrastinating the homework. So I said no.

I could have said yes. After all, it’s just coffee. What’s an hour or two of listening to this woman talk about her problems? I can do that. I’m generous. I’m kind. She needs someone to talk to. I’m a good person!

No. I’m not. If I’m putting her needs before my own I am a sick person. I am a co-dependent. I am unable to accept that I am important enough to come first. My insecurity is driving the bus. I am afraid that she will be disappointed. My caretaker is driving the bus. I am afraid of feeling the discomfort of saying “no”. My fear is driving the bus, period.

“I’ve given you your next steps. When you’ve completed them call me. We’ll get together and you can share your progress with me. That is what I can give you. That is what I have time for. That was our agreement.”

Ouch. Hopefully I did it with a little more compassion. As Alex Lickerman wrote in the aforementioned article, “My best friend came to me asking me why I had become such a jerk to all my friends.”

Yup, we have to be willing to lose some of our popularity if we are going to practice putting our needs first. But like an old friend of mine always says, “We can’t save our face and our arse at the same time.”

Inspiring Message of the Day: Am I putting my needs first? If not, why not? What is the underlying fear? I am now willing to answer this question so that I may begin to learn to practice the Art of Self-Care.