I feel guilty if I do anything nice for myself. I can't sleep in, sit down to watch a movie or even take a vacation without feeling irresponsible. I feel selfish if I do anything that makes me happy, especially if it means putting someone else out or taking time away from my family. So, instead I stay home and focus on making everyone else happy, but in the end no one appreciates it and I feel terrible. Any advice for me?
You are not alone on this one.
A lot of people are conflicted about self-sacrifice versus taking care of themselves. Many of us have a faulty subconscious rule in our head that says, “You have to put other people’s needs before your own or you are a selfish person.” You may also have a subconscious rule that says, “Unless you are constantly working and productive, you’re lazy.”
The problem is, like many other subconscious rules, these rules aren’t accurate and can cause real problems in your life. If you always put other people’s needs before your own, you will soon have nothing left to give. Unless you take some time to relax and take care of yourself, you will soon burn out.
You may want to adopt some new, more accurate rules or beliefs about self-sacrifice and leisure time. You have the power to decide what your rules and values will be. I encourage my clients to write out their old fear-based rules on paper so they can take a good look at them. Then, consider what the old rule has given them and what it has cost them. Then, I encourage them to write a new rule, based on principles of truth.
Let’s explore some principles of truth regarding self-sacrifice, which might make better rules.
1.) If you are too self-sacrificing, no one will appreciate it. Most of the time, when you sacrifice and give too much you are doing it to earn love, validation or approval from other people. The problem is, the more you sacrifice, the more these people expect you to sacrifice. They may even start to feel entitled to it and they may become abusive toward you. This happens because if you don’t value yourself, you are actually teaching the people in your life, not to value you, either. You are literally training them to take you for granted. This also makes them lose respect for you.
2.) Out-of-balance "give and take" hurts your relationships. Giving too much will cause the other person to lose respect for you and take you for granted, but it will also make you resent them. When you give too much, you will eventually resent the other person for letting you do it.
For example: If you agree to watch your neighbor’s kids when you really don’t want to but say yes because you feel too guilty to say no, you will end up resenting your neighbor for asking you, even though you were the one who said yes. You must start taking care of yourself so you won’t resent other people.
3.) Self-sacrifice does not always serve the other person. If you continually do everything for other people, you deny them the experience of caring for themselves. This often disrupts lessons the universe is trying to teach them. Instead, you are teaching this person that it’s OK to treat people badly and take advantage of others. They need to learn this is not true. You are in the perfect position to teach this, by refusing to do things for them anymore.
4.) The principle of self-defense trumps self-sacrifice. You most likely believe it is wrong to kill another human being. This is probably a strongly-held belief that you would never consider breaking — unless, of course, someone breaks into your home and threatens to kill your family. Then, you would feel justified killing the person because your life is just as valuable as his, and because his intentions were selfish, which gives you permission to be selfish, too.
Think about what this means in the rest of your life. There are times that taking care of yourself must trump the principle of self-sacrifice.
5.) We all have the same value. You are as important as everyone else. Remember the golden rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you? This rule works both ways. You must also do unto yourself, as you would do unto others.
Don't you want your children, friends and family members to value themselves, relax, nurture and even pamper themselves on occasion? You would surely encourage them to be responsible and work hard, but you would absolutely encourage them to take care of themselves and have some fun. It’s time to do unto yourself what you would want for them.
6.) You aren’t capable of real love until your own needs are met. If you are not getting enough of what you need (love, appreciation, validation, happiness, relaxation, etc.) then you are always coming from a needy position with an empty bucket. If you try to give from this place, you are giving with strings attached, because you are hoping that if you give to others, they will give back to you and fill your empty bucket. This doesn’t work, though, because you are giving non-existing water from your empty bucket, hoping to get real water back. This kind of giving leaves you depleted and empty, and the other person unappreciative of the gift, because it was really about you.
When you take care of yourself, making sure your needs are met first, you have a full bucket. You now have something to give, and people will appreciate the gift because it is given with no strings attached. Remember, self-sacrifice is a noble thing, if the gift is given because one wants to give it. But if a gift if given from a place of obligation, guilt, neediness or a desire to win approval, it is not really a gift at all.
If you have problems with these issues, you may want to seek some professional help to re-write your rules and change the way you show up in your relationships. It will benefit everyone if you do.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of ldslifecoaching.com and claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.