I found myself in the kitchen, preparing my dinner while everyone else had already started eating, and it made me wonder, “Why am I always the last one to eat in this family?” This moment triggered a series of questions about why I consistently prioritize others before myself. It wasn’t just this dinner incident; there were numerous times when I brushed off my own needs and convinced myself that it was just part of being a mother. However, this moment in the kitchen was the final straw, and I realized that I needed to change my habit of neglecting myself.
Why do we believe that our own wants, needs, and desires must come after everyone else’s for us to be considered good mothers and wives? Who decided that a happy and healthy child, as well as a fulfilled spouse, are the only markers of stability and happiness? Why are we praised for making sacrifices that often leave us stressed and burnt out?
If I’m being honest, I have always been a people pleaser for as long as I can remember. As a Pisces, an empath, and an Enneagram Type 4, I deeply care about others, absorb their emotions and energies, and struggle to ask for help. I’ve observed this pattern in my relationships with my siblings, romantic partners, and even in the workplace. I am constantly concerned about meeting the needs of others and rarely consider my own. While this may seem selfless, caring, and endearing to some, I no longer want to take care of everyone else at the expense of losing myself.
In the past six months, I have come to realize that I am completely burnt out. My mind is rarely calm and clear, writing feels forced rather than flowing, and I always feel rushed from one task to another. Amidst all the chaos and stress, I recognized that I have been neglecting my own needs.
I started questioning myself:
When was the last time I took a relaxed shower?
When did I last ask my husband to take over the morning routine so I could sleep in?
When was the last time I prioritized my own pleasure and initiated intimacy?
When did I last allow myself to set aside my to-do list and engage in playtime with my son?
I am deserving of taking care of myself. As India Arie once said, “I’m worthy, I’m significant, and I matter, but I exist. Period.”
With this realization of my worthiness, I decided to make small changes to consistently prioritize myself. Here’s what I’m doing:
1. Establishing my non-negotiables
When I talk about prioritizing myself, I don’t mean indulging in spa treatments, getting my nails done, or going on vacations. There is nothing wrong with those things, and I do enjoy them occasionally, but I wanted to start with my basic, essential needs before moving on to extravagant luxuries. I asked myself, “What are the bare minimum non-negotiables that I need every day to start my day right?”
For me, these non-negotiables include:
- Taking a leisurely shower every single day.
- Making my bed before starting work.
- Participating in either the morning or bedtime routine, not both.
- Spending uninterrupted, phone-free time with my son when he returns from daycare.
These are important moments in my day that I often neglected because I was taking care of someone or something else. Each item on this list brings me joy, and not being able to do them gradually wore me down. But now that I know a few basic things that will bring me happiness, I have a starting point.
2. Communicating my struggles and needs to my husband
I have come to realize that when I communicate my feelings and needs to my husband, he genuinely wants to support me. Sometimes, it may not always be feasible for him to meet my requests, or it may require him to step out of his comfort zone. However, when I explained to him how often I prioritize myself last in the family and the toll it takes on me physically, mentally, and emotionally, he was receptive and willing to make changes.
For example, for me to have an unhurried shower every day, my husband may need to wake up slightly earlier to handle our son’s breakfast. Or, if I am not doing both the morning and bedtime routines, we need to determine who will do what. Asking for help is not easy for me, but it is a necessary step towards prioritizing myself.
3. Acknowledging and accepting the guilt
Yes, taking care of myself more often (and still struggling with it) does trigger guilt at times. When I prioritize my own needs, it often means shifting some of my work or tasks onto others. I frequently feel guilty for adding to someone else’s load or saying no to their needs.
Even now, the guilt hasn’t completely vanished, but I am learning to recognize when I feel guilty and question whether it’s worth it. I understand that I can’t always come first, and that’s not my objective anyway. There are instances when the needs of others must take priority—that’s just part of being human. On the other hand, if focusing on my needs comes with a bit of guilt, there are moments when that price is worth paying for the long-term investment in my well-being.