How To Take Care Of Yourself
Your #1 Priority
I can’t love you if I don’t love me!
By Melissa Smith Baker
You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel all of the following emotions from time to time. But, if there is any one characteristic that continues to plague your life, you may not be aware that you are NOT taking care of yourself:
- expressing passive-aggressive behavior or anger
- feeling sorry and guilty
- being responsible for the world
- trying to please
- being a martyr or a stoic
- having obsessive thoughts, actions, or addictions
- feeling rage, hatred, fear, depression, longing, despair, resentment, or helplessness
- being busy and overwhelmed by life by doing too much
- not expressing your needs, wants, or desires
- feeling that you’re unappreciated
- convincing your partner to see things your way
- doing “stuff” for your partner and everyone else except for you
- saying yes when you mean no and vice versa
- giving but not receiving
- feeling distrust
- needing other people around you to make you feel okay
- getting involved with your partner’s problems
- telling yourself that things will get better but not reaching out for help
- playing the victim or rescuer
- feeling trapped, confused, or dependent
- having weak boundaries
- looking strong but feeling helpless
- asking the question: Why does this always happen to me?
- living a life of shoulds or have-tos
- finding decision-making impossible
- suffering from perfectionism
If any of the above has become ubiquitous in your life, then you may have fooled yourself into thinking that you can control your environment and your partner, when in reality, the only thing you can control is YOU. How do you stop the unhappiness that even one of these addictive qualities brings to your life? By taking care of yourself.
Taking care of yourself is important business. Everyone is worthy and capable of it, and it’s the only way you can be in a healthy, loving relationship. As you take control of yourself and find your balance, at first it might feel uncomfortable, because you’re not used to it. You’re not being selfish, you’re learning how to fill yourself up. How do you accomplish that?
If you keep focusing on everyone else, especially your partner, you can’t live your own life. When you become so emotionally attached to someone else, you end up becoming detached from yourself. Blaming your partner for your unhappiness is an obsession that allows you to focus on someone else, not on how you think or feel.
Knowing the difference between the things that you can change in your life and the things that you can’t is empowering. You cannot change your partner’s behaviors, only he/she can. Every adult is responsible for him/herself. Your partner’s problems aren’t yours. This is not indifference or negligence. You still can care deeply for your partner while practicing emotional detachment.
Attachment is a habit — a habit that can be changed to detachment once you realize that detachment is the only way to change your life. By practicing detachment, your partner will no longer have the power to determine whether you are happy or sad — you will. Realize that nobody makes you feel one way or another. Your feelings are about you, not about your partner.
Often overreacting is part of a long-term relationship, but there are always other options. Being melodramatic is a waste of time and energy, and makes you more a victim of yourself and your own behaviors than of anyone else’s. The question remains, whether you’re single or in a committed relationship: What do you want to do with your precious life?
You can’t change others. Control is an illusion. The only one you can continually transform is yourself. Yet how much time do you devote to trying to change everyone else, especially your partner, and not yourself? How often have you felt that if only your partner could change, then your life would be happy? Your partner can take care of him/herself, and if he/she can’t, that is not your problem. Your highest responsibility is taking care of and not abandoning yourself.
Cultivating yourself, your own life, is the only way to be happy. This doesn’t mean that you take care of yourself by being abusive and venting your anger on your partner. Taking care of yourself at the expense of others is never acceptable. Another negative example might be going shopping in the name of taking care of yourself, and charging more than you can afford on your credit card (taking care of yourself is about being responsible, and this would be an irresponsible act). Why do you have to take care of yourself? Because if you don’t, you’ll automatically impose your will on others in a negative way, especially those you are close to, such as your partner.
As an adult, whether you like it or not, you are responsible for your well-being in all realms — physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial. You have to meet your own needs and solve your own issues. Nobody else can live your life for you, even if you want them to. Taking care of yourself doesn’t entail being selfish or selfless, it’s about knowing what you need and want, and setting goals you’ve defined as important in your life. You won’t accomplish your goals if you don’t know that what you need and want are worthy of thinking about and pursuing.
Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.” Honoring yourself is the key. It’s where the juice of your life resides — no denial, no repression of your fluid feelings and thoughts that move in and out of you. Through honoring who you are, you learn how to be in love with and loyal to your own life — a life that is in constant flux, a life that has good and bad days. Sometimes you can feel great, sometimes not. Sometimes for reasons you understand and other times not. It doesn’t matter. You just have to accept that ebb-and-flow reality which is part of every human life.
The paradox is that you can only change and become more of who you are when you accept who you are. If you dislike yourself chances are you won’t change because you won’t feel that you’re worth it. When my husband gets mad at me and wants me to change, I often feel miserable or devastated. There has to be inner strength to change, and that comes through a self-acceptance which tells me that I’m worthy of growth and development. Telling your partner that he/she is no good never allows room for an ever-expanding self.
How do you kick these addictions of rejecting yourself and trying to “fix” your partner? The only way to do so is to deal with your own feelings and thoughts. Melody Beattie, in her classic bestseller Codependent No More, says if you don’t master your feelings, you can’t get close to anyone. You can’t enjoy life or love. No one else is responsible for your feelings and thoughts except for you, even though others may have been part of an indelible experience that keeps haunting you. Modulate them. Only you have the power over what you feel and think.
How do you get in touch with your feelings and thoughts to create a uniquely happy life? There are many ways: Physical exercise, cooking and eating healthy foods, getting or giving yourself a massage, writing in your journal, taking a bath, expressing yourself by talking with a loved one, dancing, playing music, singing, having sex with yourself, sitting quietly and meditating, reading, pursuing hobbies, painting, playing games, having fun, laughing, taking classes or taking a nap are a few examples. You have to decide what resonates with you. Even though getting in touch with yourself isn’t part of our fast-paced culture, let it become a habit. You have to slow down to enjoy yourself. This will strengthen your heart and mind. Obsessions and worry only weaken them.
It’s a natural tendency to hide from oneself and one’s partner. Everyone deals with varying levels of low self-worth. You can only tell your partner who you are if you feel it’s okay to be who you are. Being excessively ashamed of your problems serve no purpose. Try asking your partner one simple question: What would you like me to give to you? If he/she says love, companionship, etc., you can reply in your own special way. If your partner says, “I need YOU to be …” there’s nothing you can do. You have to come to the realization that what you do will not “save” anyone. You can always give your unique opinions and gifts to your partner, but his/her life is his/hers — and yours is yours.
Going over the list at the beginning of this essay will help you make an honest assessment of yourself. I can personally identify with many of the characteristics there. Can you? If you allow no time in your life for relaxation and reflection because you’re constantly blaming, working, or worrying, you can’t become fully aware of your own life. And, if you can’t get a grasp of your own life, then how can you become who you are? A healthy relationship with your partner flourishes because of YOU. Put your attention on yourself, not on anyone else. Take care of yourself in loving ways that only you can define and discover. This is not narcissism; this is blossoming from the inside out, the only way a living thing can grow. Take control of your life. It is the only life you can save.
Codependent No More, How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself , by Melody Beattie. Hazelden Foundation, 1992.
Buy the book on www.amazon.com
Resource: CODA, Codependents Anonymous, is an organization dedicated to helping you realize the importance of taking care of yourself – now and forever. Their mission is promoting healthy and loving relationships. You will find information about locations of free weekly meetings in your area at CODA.ORG.