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The difference between taking good care of yourself and being selfish

There is one question I get a lot during the coaching journeys: “How do I know when I am taking good care of myself that I am not being selfish or egocentric?”

Especially at the beginning of the coaching program, I guide women to pause and to take a step back from their daily hustle and to do’s. I prompt them to reconnect with their heart, intuition and inner wisdom.

What a lot of clients realize during this process is that they often struggle to make space for themselves. They may neglect their needs in their day-to-day life, without feeling guilty.

In this article, I will share some thoughts on where this guilt comes from. I'll tell you why it is important that you stop abandoning yourself in the giver role and invest in your self-respect and self-worth.

Why we abandon ourselves

There is one part that longs for rest, retreat and just being, without having to do something for others or to perform. But there is another part of us that feels ashamed to say “no” to social obligations. It has been deeply ingrained for centuries in us that in order to be a good member of society, we need to take care of others. That we need to abandon ourselves to meet other people’s expectations. I do struggle with that guilt sometimes, too.

If you are highly empathetic, you can go so far that you think you can only feel happy if everyone around you is, too. Maybe you also have been conditioned since early childhood years that your needs come second. To keep the family harmony, you had to be a good girl that is respectful and blends in a seamless way. I know only a few women who were taught to speak up and ask for what they want and need.

The dream role for empaths: “The helper”

You may hide behind the role of the helper and giver – a dream job for an empath who loves to support others. You are sensitive towards other people’s feelings and needs. A present listener and a source of support are great qualities. But it's important to ask yourself with what intention you are helping others. Is it about being liked? You could have blind spots you don’t want to look at. Focusing on others and their problems is a great way to distract yourself from your own issues, and can be a sign of insecurity.

The consequences of our making others' feelings and needs more important than our own

It’s our primal need to belong to a community and to take care of each other. But not to the extent that we abandon ourselves so that we don’t disappoint others. What are the consequences if you do?

1. You don't have a strong sense of who you are

If you don't make time to connect with yourself, you may become less aware of who you are. The same goes for your values and your dreams. You might feel confused about what belongs to you and what belongs to others. You can lose your individual identity in relationships with others and your autonomy. If you don't have a strong sense of who you are, you also don't have a clear idea on what to focus on in your life, business or career.

2. You make others responsible for how you feel

You may feel resentful, frustrated and act passive-aggressive. It's common when not getting the same care back from others. You expect them to take care of your feelings and needs, rather than take full responsibility for your own. If you are out of balance, exhausted, moody, stop blaming your environment. It is all happening with your agreement.

I have been struggling with that, too. Bending over backwards to support others at work, or helping people and then feeling resentful. I have invested so much time and energy into people or projects when it was not aligned with what was important to me at that time.

3. You ignore your own needs and have nothing more to give

You may not even know what your own needs are any more. You may prioritize other people's needs over your own, which can result again in losing the connection with yourself. Not taking enough care of your emotions, mental and physical health. This could mean you feel more fatigued, burnt out, or get other health issues.

You will not be able to have a positive impact on the things and people that you care about in this way. You will be driving a bicycle with low pumped wheels, which breaks down much more often.

Back to the question: how do you know you are not a selfish, egocentric bitch?

If you are asking yourself that question, you most likely aren't. It shows that you still have a lot of room for taking more space for yourself, working on your self-respect and self-worth. A psychopath, narcissist or ego-centric person would never ask that question. On the contrary, if you feel guilty for attending to your needs first, that’s where you can double up on. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of others, we can’t do our best work.

If you see yourself being challenged to set boundaries in order to take care of your own needs, I have your back. I would like to encourage you to use this NOvember list to start taking action.

Here are some tips to get started:

1. Say „NO“ to making others responsible for how you feel and instead own your own emotions.

Ask yourself „what was triggered inside me?“. Let’s say you have an annoying boss, colleague or client. How is that behavior triggering you? You may have some parts inside yourself that you are seeing in the other person. This applies to feelings like anger, frustration and many more.

Invest time into your personal growth and strengthen your identity. You can do that by working on your values, connecting to your intuition, taking time for journaling, meditation, and spending time in nature. The more you can rely on yourself, the less you need to fill that void from the outside.

2. Say NO to mindless consumption and constant distraction during your (work) day.

Stop numbing yourself out, rather than attending to your feelings. Start your day with intention, and ask these questions: Where do I want my energy to go and where not? What do I want to experience?

Notice during the day what you are feeling and ask yourself: What do I need right now?

Do a reality check on your capacity to interact with others and focus on who you want to communicate with. Avoid social situations with people who drain your energy. If you are invited to a project, lunch, or other social events, give yourself some time to consider those requests before responding. Learn to trust and honor your intuition on how high or low your battery is at the moment. You're not forced to attend to other people’s demands.

3. Say „NO“ to bending over backwards to meet others’ expectations and abandon yourself.

You decide how and into whom you invest your energy. Ask yourself what is the cost of your generosity? Get clear on what you want and what is important to you. What is your motivation behind helping someone? Are you doing someone a favor to win their approval, or does this person belong to your inner circle? Do you truly care about them? Communicate your needs and boundaries consciously.

If you are not clear where to draw the line, fill in this sentence:

If I were able to set boundaries at work (at home, with my in-laws…), I would… 

Practice doing what feels right for you even if others disapprove. I know it is uncomfortable, like every new habit. Communicate your no’s from a place of love and care for the relationship. A really good book I can recommend for this is from Elman, Michelle: The Joy of Being Selfish, 2021.

I hope this article supports you in getting to know yourself. I hope it helps you take away the historical, ingrained guilt of prioritizing yourself over other people's needs and demands. If you really want to have a big, positive impact at work, at home, in society, be very intentional about where you direct and invest your energy.

The end of the year is the perfect time to say no to bending over backwards to meet others’ expectations and abandoning yourself.

If you feel you need some clarity and support in doing this, my end-of-year "Goodbye 2021, Hello 2022" Coaching Sessions may be perfect for you. There is a limited number of spots, which is why I encourage you to book a complementary 20 min chemistry call to find out how I can best help you. Click here to do that right away.


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