In first grade, I’d frequently sidle up to my teacher and quietly inform her that one classmate or another was crying. I did this all year long. And it surprised my teacher because each time she hadn’t noticed anyone crying.
To this day, I can smell a cry from a mile away! No joke. I always notice people crying or feeling upset or anxious long before the rest of the crowd does.
This is a gift. It certainly serves me as a naturopathic doctor and a clinical social worker.
But gifts are funny sometimes. We can put them to use in ways that serve us and others. Or we can apply them in ways that begin to move us out of balance.
As I navigated life while being so sensitive, I became quite sponge-like! I bet some of you know what I’m talking about. I’d so easily absorb the discomfort, pain, anxiety or sadness that anyone around me was experiencing. In fact, I often went so far as to almost feel their pain FOR them!
Growing up in a family impacted by alcoholism, it’s not surprising that my focus went to the well-being of others. It’s a smart, creative way to try to keep the people around you happy in an attempt to feel more in control and keep things more predictable.
The reality is that a lot of different experiences can cause you to place your focus so wholeheartedly on others and can lead to this creative way of trying to cope. And these experiences often foster a sensitivity in you that can go on to be such a gift in your life.
Unless that gift of sensitivity swings too far out of balance. That’s when others’ needs become way more important than your own. In fact, you often stop counting altogether.
You might not even know you’re no longer making yourself count. Instead, it just feels like other people aren’t making you count or that you don’t matter to them. I bet this is a very real feeling for some of you.
And then that old familiar feeling creeps back in, just under the surface, and you once again begin to doubt whether you are enough as a person or even lovable enough to your friends, partner, child, boss, etc.
So you throw yourself into people-pleasing, taking care of others’ needs even more, hoping it will prove to them that you ARE lovable and so that you can feel convinced you’re enough.
And then the resentment kicks in. You start feeling pissed that you’re giving so much to these people around you and that they’re taking advantage of your kindness. You might even feel terribly unappreciated.
But there’s this small little factor that often goes unseen, but drives this whole experience. It allows your gift of sensitivity and caring to stop feeling like a gift.
When YOU don’t matter to you, your gift of caring for others can no longer be used in a balanced way. It’s impossible. Sure, you may be able to pull it off for a stint, but the positive feelings you gain from helping someone else can’t last when you don’t treat yourself like you matter to you.
It starts with the little ways we disregard ourselves, right? You offer to go help a friend despite the fact that you are running on fumes that day. You skip eating because there’s no time to eat and accomplish all the stuff you need to do. You agree to meet up with someone socially despite the fact that you don’t want to go for any number of reasons. You let go of your self-care routines.
But I’ve discovered there’s a more monumental way that we disregard ourselves that packs the most punch. When we pay so much attention to another person’s feelings that we can no longer connect with our own. This is what ends up driving ALL the other, bigger choices we make when we disregard ourselves.
You see, when the balance is off-kilter, you can become so busy taking care of everyone else around you with your gifts and big heart that you don’t even realize what YOU are actually feeling on the inside. You lose touch with your inner compass.
When a feeling becomes present in you and you clamp down around it or try to ignore it or get rid of it, guess what happens? It feels MORE uncomfortable for you and the feeling becomes louder or starts coming out sideways because the flow of energy is being restricted.
I know it’s so easy to beat yourself up for not exercising enough or for eating too much or for pushing yourself to your limit or beyond or for not doing self-care in one way or another.
I’ve been there, too.
But the truth is, ALL that stuff happens more naturally and more easily when we begin to reacquaint ourselves with how we are actually feeling on the inside in a given moment. It invites flow to return inside us. It’s one of the most powerful acts of self-care that you will ever do.
So the next time you find yourself in the throes of using your gifts to tend to the needs of those around you, take a quiet moment to keep it in balance. Turn your attention inward and tend to the feelings that sit within you, too. Simply notice them. Tune in to where you feel them in your body. Say hi to them if that feels comfortable.
See what you find. You may just discover that your gifts expand as you practice this. And you will certainly find that you can offer your gifts to the world in ways that lift BOTH you and others up at the same time.
Best of all? You will be left feeling appreciated, loved and taken care of because the most profound way we can feel this from others is if we give it to ourselves first.
So tell me. Are you a people-pleaser? Are you a sponge for other peoples’ feelings and issues? Do you often feel unappreciated? Do you question whether you are good enough? Do you run on fumes yet continue to tend to the needs of those around you?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone! So many of my clients first come in to see me with a cloak of heaviness around their shoulders that accompanies these feelings.
But guess what happens when they learn to take the most radical step in self-care and come back home to their inner compass and tune into their OWN feelings even while taking care of others? They begin to feel lighter. Their energy increases. They laugh more! They’re able to step back into the flow. They discover how to allow themselves to count, too. And they see all the ways that the hard in life becomes easier.
So? Are you ready to let go of working so hard to try to succeed at self-care and instead have your self-care happen with more ease? I mean, let’s face it, life isn’t meant to be merely survived. It’s meant to be lived, right? So, what are you waiting for? ❤️