Life is a delicate balancing act between giving and receiving. With all the demands on our time and attention, we’re forced to make tough choices every day—sometimes many times a day: Should I sacrifice for others or take a moment for myself? Be generous or draw boundaries? Stay in a relationship or say goodbye? How do I balance what I need with what others need from me?
One reason why these decision points become a tricky tightrope walk for so many of us is because we tend to feel guilty when we’re not giving to others or meeting their demands. We’ve been told that “it’s better to give than to receive”. But we forget that to keep on giving our best to others, we must also give to ourselves—and see ourselves as worthy of receiving.
Admittedly, when we ignore our own needs, it’s not a pretty picture. Not only do we become grouchy and unhappy but the people around us become miserable too. Instead of nagging, complaining, and blaming others when you feel off-kilter, try these 10 strategies for honouring yourself so you can free up your energy and focus on what’s really important.
1. Be honest
We cannot honour ourselves unless we are first honest with ourselves. Quite often, we do not take the time to care for ourselves because we don’t even realise we are hurting ourselves.
The busyness of the day can drown out our inner voice. Check in with yourself regularly, even if it’s once a day, and ask yourself: What am I feeling now? What are those feelings trying to tell me? If they could talk, what would they say? If you have a hard time identifying your true feelings and needs, buy a journal, take some quiet time, and start writing down the answers to those questions. Writing can be an effective way to bring hidden feelings to the surface.
2. Plug back in
During the natural ebb and flow of our days, we all need relief. When your energy is dipping, it’s time to shift gears from an active to a receptive mode. If you don’t take time to satisfy your own needs, you’ll find that you actually sabotage yourself because you can’t concentrate on the task at hand. The trick is to recognise when you need to recharge before you become physically or emotionally wiped out. Then make time to plug back into your energy source and do what reenergises you—whether you take a walk in nature, meditate, listen to a favourite piece of music, get a massage, go away for the weekend, play a game, or simply close your eyes, do nothing, and take a few long, deep breaths.
3. Draw healthy boundaries
Learning to draw boundaries is a skill. If you are not used to doing that, it can feel uncomfortable at first. Start by practising on small issues. Turn off your phone when you need to concentrate, rather than being at everyone’s beck and call, ask a family member to make dinner, or tell friends you’re not available when you want to spend an evening alone. As you learn to set boundaries in situations like these, you will find it easier to deal with larger issues that surface.
4. Ask for support but make your own decisions
When you’re unclear about how to deal with a situation, don’t be shy about asking for support. Seeking help shows that you deeply care about yourself and for those who will be impacted by your choices and that you are willing to do what it takes to make the best decision. Reach out to someone who is not emotionally invested in the issue you are dealing with or who has expertise in that field. Once you get advice and a healthy dose of perspective from someone you respect, turn within and be sure to honour yourself by making your own final decision.
5. Write a love letter to yourself
Have a problem with self-esteem? Don’t worry; many of us do. We hold ourselves to impossible standards and then criticise ourselves when we don’t meet them. Yet the world’s sages, not to mention the top management gurus, tell us that life is a continual learning process. Try this tip to cheer yourself when the going gets rough: Write a loving and encouraging note to yourself as if you were your own coach or cheerleader. Then pop it in an envelope and mail it to yourself [that’s right—by snail mail]. When you’re travelling, send a postcard with an inspiring message to your home address. Right before shutting down your email for the night, send yourself a message of appreciation so that you’ll see it first thing in the morning when you check your inbox. Develop the habit of voting for yourself no matter what is happening around you.
6. Hang out with people who celebrate you
If you are in a relationship with someone who constantly judges and belittles you, you have a duty to remove yourself from that toxic energy by saying goodbye for good. Allowing yourself to be pressured or pummelled by those who don’t appreciate your inner gifts will only eat away at your energy and enthusiasm, stunt your creativity, and make you feel depressed or even sick. It’s not your job to fit into someone else’s mould of who they think you should be. Your job is to be you.
7. Speak up
Most people aren’t mind readers. Clearly communicate your needs by letting others know what you need. When you disagree with a friend about what to do on a holiday, don’t be the one who always gives in and then wastes time stewing about it for days. Make sure both of your needs are met. If the food you order at a restaurant is cold or overcooked, flag down the waiter and respectfully point out the problem rather than complaining about it later. When someone at work spreads dangerous rumours or lies that jeopardise your job, don’t retreat and complain to friends behind closed doors or torture yourself with worry. Take action. Don’t blame or shame others by calling them names or criticising them, but calmly focus on the words they said. There may be a real misunderstanding that you now have the opportunity to clear up. Address any misconceptions with facts to support your case. Even if others don’t accept the truth, you have stood up for yourself and can feel free to move on.
8. Create spaces in your relationships
Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you need to give up being yourself. No two people have all the same interests, and it’s not healthy to expect that to be the case. In fact, you may get irritated with those you love simply because you need some regular time apart, some breathing space. Do you encourage yourself and your partner to pursue your own individual interests? Take some dedicated time for your own self-development, hobbies, or spiritual growth and allow your partner to do the same. You’ll have more to offer each other as a result.
9. Put yourself at the top of your to-do list
Don’t wait until you’ve checked off all the items on your daily to-do list before giving yourself what you need—physically, emotionally and spiritually. Be sure to schedule dedicated time on your calendar for yourself so that you aren’t the item that gets constantly bumped off the list for yet another day. Recharging your batteries is not optional. It’s a bona fide part of your schedule. It’s exactly what you need to stay healthy and in balance so you can give your best to your loved ones and the world.
10. Share your life wisdom
Each one of us has a particular wisdom we have garnered through our life experiences. Be sure to draw from your well of wisdom to help others. Don’t know where to start? Think about a challenging experience that taught you something valuable, or an insight from a book, or a talk that sparked an “aha!” moment for you. At the right time, share that insight with someone you think would benefit from the lessons you’ve learned, whether it’s a colleague, a stranger you’ve struck up a conversation with, or a member of a community group you belong to. You honour yourself when you value the gifts and lessons you have been given and then offer that precious wisdom from your heart to uplift the hearts of others.
This was first published in the December 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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