The scene was all too familiar – I found myself in the kitchen, preparing my dinner, while everyone else had already begun eating. Clicking through my mind was the recurring question, “Why am I always the last one to eat in this family?” This moment led me to pause and ponder on why I consistently place the needs of others above my own. It wasn’t an isolated incident; there were numerous occasions when I neglected my own requirements, convincing myself that it was simply a part of being a mother. However, this particular moment in the kitchen prompted a realization that I needed to alter my tendency of overlooking my own well-being.
What instills in us the belief that our own wishes, necessities, and aspirations must always come after everyone else’s in order for us to be regarded as good mothers and wives? Who decreed that a content and thriving child, along with a fulfilled spouse, are the sole benchmarks of stability and joy? Why do we receive praise for making sacrifices that frequently leave us overwhelmed and drained?
Truth be told, I have perpetually been someone who aims to please others for as long as I can remember. As a Pisces, an empath, and an Enneagram Type 4, I am deeply attentive to the needs of others, absorb their emotions and energies, and struggle to request assistance. This pattern has been evident in my relationships with my siblings, romantic partners, and even in the professional sphere. I am perpetually preoccupied with meeting the needs of others and seldom consider my own. While this may appear altruistic, compassionate, and appealing to some, I no longer desire to be responsible for everyone else at the cost of losing myself.
Over the past six months, I have come to the realization that I am utterly exhausted. My mind seldom finds tranquility and clarity, writing feels coerced rather than spontaneous, and I always find myself rushing from one task to the next. Amidst the chaos and tension, I acknowledged that I have been neglecting my own requirements.
I began questioning myself:
- When did I last indulge in a leisurely shower?
- When was the last instance I requested my husband to take charge of the morning routine so I could have a little more sleep?
- When did I last prioritize my own gratification and instigated intimacy?
- When was the last time I allowed myself to set aside my to-do list and engage in playtime with my son?
I am worthy of tending to my own needs. As India Arie once conveyed, “I’m worthy, I’m significant, and I matter, but I exist. Period.”
With this cognizance of my value, I resolved to introduce minor changes to consistently place myself at the forefront. Here’s what I’m doing:
1. Establishing my non-negotiables
When I speak of prioritizing myself, I am not referring to indulging in spa treatments, getting my nails done, or embarking on vacations. There is nothing wrong with those activities, and I do savor them occasionally, but I aimed to commence with my fundamental, indispensable needs before delving into extravagant indulgences. I enquired within myself, “What are the absolute essential non-negotiables that I need every day to kickstart my day on the right note?”
For me, these non-negotiables encompass:
- Taking a leisurely shower every single day.
- Making my bed before commencing work.
- Participating in either the morning or bedtime routine, but not both.
- Devoting uninterrupted, phone-free time with my son upon his return from daycare.
These are pivotal junctures in my day that I frequently overlooked due to attending to someone or something else. Each item on this list brings me joy, and not being able to fulfill them gradually sapped my energy. Now that I am aware of a few fundamental things that will bring me contentment, I have a starting point.
2. Communicating my struggles and needs to my husband
I have realized that when I articulate my sentiments and requirements to my husband, he genuinely desires to provide support. At times, it may not always be feasible for him to fulfill my requests, or it may necessitate him stepping out of his comfort zone. Nonetheless, upon explaining to him how frequently I place myself last in the family and the toll it takes on me physically, mentally, and emotionally, he was open and willing to make adjustments.
For instance, for me to have a relaxed shower each day, my husband may need to rise slightly earlier to tend to our son’s breakfast. Or, if I am not overseeing both the morning and bedtime routines, we need to devise a plan regarding who will handle each task. Asking for assistance is not a simple task for me, but it is an indispensable step towards prioritizing myself.
3. Recognizing and embracing the guilt
Indeed, taking better care of myself more frequently (and still grappling with it) does elicit guilt at times. When I prioritize my own needs, it frequently means shifting some of my work or responsibilities onto others. I often experience guilt for adding to someone else’s burden or declining their needs.
Even now, the guilt hasn’t entirely dissipated, but I am learning to discern when I experience guilt and consider whether it is justified. I comprehend that I cannot always be at the forefront, and that’s not my objective to begin with. There are instances when the needs of others must take precedence – that’s just a part of being human. However, if focusing on my own needs accompanies a degree of guilt, there are occasions when that price is worthwhile for the long-term investment in my well-being.