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I believe one of my biggest flaws is empathy. Especially when it’s people that I’m close to, friends, family, and occasionally people who’s stories I’ve followed in the media.
If a family member is hurting or in need, then I find ways to alleviate that pain or help them in their time or need. But when you’re constantly giving it drains you. I remember when I used to be in therapy and my therapist asked me why I helped people, including family members, and I replied, like it was a no-brainer that because if I didn’t, who was going to? I was in a position to help so shouldn’t I? His response was no, I didn’t have to, not if it ultimately hurt me more.
At first I couldn’t understand this. We should help, if we can, with no expectations of anything in return, that was the right thing to do. But after awhile I realised that what he meant was sometimes you have to put yourself first and ask if you can afford – emotionally and/or financially – to give of yourself. Actually the more I think about this, it’s not sometimes, but always. You have to for the sake of your soul.
After awhile I began to resent my family. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them, and knew that deep down, but I felt very alone from them. I was the first one people called when they needed help because I always came through, but when I needed help, I didn’t know who to turn to. I have been blessed to rarely need financial help, but emotionally, when I’ve been at cross-roads, and I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve suffered from mild depression (people told me to never admit it, saying it was career-suicide, but there I said it). I have been lucky to not have had severe depression, but even mild ones are hard to deal with, you really have to fight to stay happy and positive, which is draining, and difficult to do, especially alone.
But I overcame it, I got to a place where I was happy with who I was and happy with the decisions that I was making, really listening to what my heart and soul was saying, to keep me happy. As I’ve gotten older, gotten ‘successful’, I’ve realised that nothing can replace happiness.
I continued to give of myself, because I thought I could afford to. After awhile, I started to feel unappreciated – probably one of the things that furthered my depression – and felt that everyone took from me, but no one gave. I know that my friends and family love me and I would never question that, but I did wish that someone would stop and say, ‘I wonder how Cathy is feeling? And what does she need that I can give her?’
It never happened. It finally dawned on me that the victim mentality I was plaguing on myself was also not contributing to my mental health. Why should other people care about you? And why should you care if they don’t? Do we not have the capacities to be responsible for ourselves? We came into this world alone and we’ll leave it alone, so what is this need to have people focus on you?
It’s not me being cold or indifferent by any means, I simply mean it as a survival mechanism. If you are always giving, sooner or later there will be nothing to give. You will be tired, bitter and miserable, and then what good are you to anyone?
You have to put yourself first to keep your soul intact. If people around you can’t appreciate that, then that’s their loss. Because when you feel you are sacrificing for someone else, or being considerate of other people’s needs, while giving a piece of yourself, then you are only hurting yourself. Life, and indeed, relationships are about give and take. For everyone to be happy the scales have to be balanced.
It’s not a selfish attitude to take care of yourself first, it’s a healthy attitude. And it’s one I’m trying to do more and more, I might lose some people along the way, but then, that’s just a consequence I need to deal with to get myself to a better, healthier, happier place, and that’s my priority right now.