Two hands surrounding a butterfly

I was raised in an amazing family, where we were always taught to put others first. I’m grateful for having been raised this way. I learned to share, to give, to care for and consider others.

My challenge

The challenge I’ve faced in my journey is understanding my own needs. I struggled to identify who I was and what I needed because my thoughts, actions and considerations always led me to others. And whilst, I see my thoughtfulness and consideration for others as one of my strengths, I found myself battling for balance in my life for the things I needed to do for myself, my goals, my health and wellbeing versus being there and being of service to others.

Let’s take a simple example… my parents were very sociable growing up, so guests and family would rock up at ours unannounced and there was always an expectation that we would help our parents host. If I had planned to study or be out with friends, I was expected to change my plans. I was constantly re-arranging my life around others. I would panic and become anxious and mentally re-plan my time to get everything done. It was a lot of pressure – putting the needs of others first all the time. Not to mentioned that it also led to many explosive arguments in our house.

Breaking it down

As I started to understand my Self better, I realised that I had to change my thinking and essentially a whole part of my ego identity so that I could start putting my Self first. It was a massive transformation for me to essentially break down the structure of who I was and re-build it by putting my Self at the centre. It went against everything I grew up believing.

The guilt

For years, as I was re-building this structure, I would feel guilty – like I was doing something wrong or being selfish if I said, “I won’t be able to help.” For a while, we compromised on, “I’ll come down, say hi and then go up to study.” The problem with that was I would feel guilty for wanting to do what I needed to in order to achieve my goals, or to make my evening or weekend more manageable and less stressful and I would end up helping out. It was an ongoing cycle that was on repeat for years.

The conditioning structure

What I was teaching myself is that I must drop everything for others. I was re-enforcing the lack of Self-value. My time, effort and energy should be directed at the things I have been conditioned to believe – putting others before my Self. My structure centred around putting my Self first as being selfish. It impacted all of me – my head, my heart, my emotions – and I carried that stress for a long time.

I became resentful and it would always lead to arguments. I needed balance and something had to change. I had to be the one to make the change. I needed to identify my needs, make promises to my Self and re-build my Self-trust.

Testing my Self

I can laugh about it now – about how I played games with my Self to implement boundaries with my family, but at the time it was a mammoth task. I had to be consistent and my action had to follow through what I had said. I had to compartmentalise the feeling of guilt when I was standing up for my Self.

So, I started small. At the next opportunity, I would say, “I have stuff to do. I’ll come say hi and then I’m gone.” I knew I had to follow through. And I did. I had mixed emotions. I felt guilty and liberated at the same time. I knew I could do what I had to without the pressure of re-planning my day around others. Taking that one small action was a relief and I began building trust in my Self to defend my needs.

It’s taken years and it’s become a practice. Unlearning a foundational structure like this can take time, especially when you’re trying to be considerate of the impact on your family.

My learning

I can be there for others – without resentment or anger and in a way that is true to me, but only when I have been able to put my own needs first. When I do that for my Self first, I can then come to others selflessly. I can offer my time, energy and presence consciously, without thinking about the things I need to do, without putting on a false mask. Isn’t that what being present and of service to others is all about?

Image by John Hain from Pixabay