I am an Empath. I found out I was an Empath only after I hit burnout. You may wonder what an Empath is. Dr. Judith Orloff, a renowned Psychiatrist, and Empath herself has spent decades in scientific research and helping Highly Sensitive People navigate life with empowerment. Empaths have no sponge and absorb all of the outside energies, including emotions and feelings from other people. You can only imagine how exhausting this is if you don’t learn how to manage your sensitive superpower. Yes, superpower!
Only if you invest in caring for yourself first, will you be able to transform your Empath abilities into healing powers in service of others. Before I share how I developed my self-care strategy, I will share what it feels like to give without limits and receive nothing in return.
Caring without boundaries
All my life, I felt that my purpose in life was to help others. To please people and to prove my self-worth so that I can feel accepted by society. I am a victim of sexual child abuse, which was the main culprit for my low levels of self-esteem. I grew up without any identity, which led to living a life in constant reacting mode. I reacted to people’s moods. I would transform like a chameleon, absorbing their emotional state, and caring for them to the detriment of my own well-being.
My levels of emotional expression are low. Basically, I can experience emotional turmoil inside, and you would never tell on the outside. This complicated things even further as I just did not know how to ask for help, nor did people realize I was dying inside, little by little.
Shifting gears into personal care
I needed to have a tower moment so that my transformation could begin. My burnout was precisely that. I am not ashamed of it, it was a blessing in disguise. It helped me realize that many things in my life were out of balance, and my body was no longer aligned with my energy source. I had no choice but to stop everything I was doing. To stop, rest, and reflect.
After the tower moment, I promised myself to implement the following top five self-care strategies, which help me excel in life with peace of mind!
1. Keep my cup in overflow
The famous statement by Oprah Winfrey on why she keeps her cup in overflow should be an inspiration to all of us. If you are not investing energy in yourself first, you are caring for others from a depleted space. Frustration, resentment, anger, and sadness are all consequential emotions as a result of your empty cup. So, I started to fill my cup first. I began to give myself care before I allowed anyone else in. Was it selfish? Yes! And I am glad I was selfish, as the alternative would have been depletion to the point of no return.
2. Rediscovering myself
I had no idea who I was, and I was only doing things because I felt that I HAD to. I HAD to go to work I no longer enjoyed. I HAD to stay with my ex-husband because it was the right thing to do. I HAD to keep energy vampires in my life because I don’t want to end up alone. I HAD to say YES, all the time because people may not like me otherwise. As I stopped to rest and reflect, I started to discover who Nadja really was at her core. What does SHE want to do? What does SHE like? What does SHE need right now? It was the beginning of a transformational journey into my real and authentic potential.
3. I learned to say NO
Saying NO was the hardest thing I had to do during my intensive self-care period. I remember a good friend entering my house with his shoes on my new carpets.
Saying NO to people I don’t know, or I don’t like, comes easy. Saying NO to people I care about was a whole different story.
I gathered up all my courage and asked him if he could please leave his shoes in the hallway. To my big surprise, his answer: Of course, no problem! You should have told me!! Wait, what? Was it that easy? From that moment on, I practiced saying no from small to bigger things. It was hard at first, but I got better at it. I felt the positive effect it had on me. I felt liberated and energized. And I finally realized that my YES does not have any value if I could not say NO.
4. Being compassionate with myself
Studies show that being compassionate with yourself helps you cope with adversity and build resilience in life. Being compassionate with myself has helped my burnout recovery be one of serenity, love, and patience. Implementing my self-care strategy so that I could feel alive again and motivated to start my new life was far from easy. It involved many setbacks and challenges. Being compassionate and non-judgmental with myself and others helped me rise so much faster every time I had a relapse. Life is no straight linear line. You know you are alive when your path goes up and down, but always in a forward movement. So, compassion is your best friend as you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and hit your reset button to try again.
5. Turned my well into a fountain of love
Loving yourself is perhaps the number one advice you read and hear about all over the internet. Great advice, yet many people struggle to translate what it means for them. How do we love ourselves?
How do we love ourselves when we are depleted in every cell of our body?
How do we love ourselves when we look like a hermit in gym clothes with a face worse than a ghost?
What I learned during my self-care journey is that there will always be good and bad days. When there are good days, it is easy to tap into the love we already feel inside. It is not an external source. When there are bad days, we crave the same love we have inside of us from SOMEONE or SOMETHING else. So we act and behave in unhealthy ways to feel the love that in our mind is triggered by external factors. In reality, all we have to learn is to transform our well of love into a fountain of love. We need to learn to always feel the love within us and seek it from within, both on good and bad days before we can receive external love from others.
When we learn to access our fountain of self-love, we learn to love and care for others from our soul instead of our ego.
We learn to let go of judgment and resentment, and just be kind and loving because we WANT TO and WE CAN, not because we HAVE TO.
As soon as you feel you HAVE TO, revert to self-care and make sure your fountain is flowing with self-love first. Close it off to the outside world until you feel it is full enough for you to share and receive love.
I hope my piece will help you redefine self-care from “selfishness” to “a fountain of love.” Love for yourself first so that you can love and care for others as a result.