I’ve been talking with a number of clients this week about the importance of self-care.  The interesting thing is that there seems to be a strong correlation between those who are great at taking care of others and rubbish at taking care of themselves.  They refuse to give themselves any priority and wonder why they feel so bad.

We all need to feel cared for: nurtured, in order to feel our lives are meaningful and to feel worthwhile.  Without this recognition from ourselves and others human beings struggle to thrive.

This is an issue that I mostly see with women (often Mothers), but I’ve also come across men who do this (generally fathers).

We can go from being cared for by parents to be the person that does all the caring for others, children, partners etc., and when we look behind us there is no-one to do the caring of us.  So when we have stopped caring for ourselves too, and indeed are telling ourselves its wrong or selfish to take care of ourselves that is a road that is, and feels very rocky.

When I challenge my clients to do one or two things for themselves: to put themselves first; to see themselves as a priority from time to time, the common response: Wouldn’t that be selfish?

So if selfish and selfless are two different ends of the spectrum how does doing something for yourself occasionally automatically catapult you from being selfish to selfless.  Classic ‘all or nothing’, ‘black and white’ thinking: crooked thinking. Where is the balance?

Other examples of ‘all or nothing thinking’ include saying things like:

  • I can never make a mistake;
  • I can’t do it, I can’t cope;
  • I’m must always put others first,
  • I am totally in control or I am out of control,
  • I must be perfect and if I have made a mistake I’m a failure.
  • If am not good I am bad.
  • If I am not beautiful then I’m ugly.
  • If things are not perfect then they are a disaster.

Get it? Recognise it?

The thing is, as I said in my last blog.  Our thoughts impact our feelings, and our feelings impact what we do.

If you tell yourself you must always put others first, how are you likely to feel? How are you likely to behave?  What are your thoughts going to be when you continually put others first and never do anything for yourself…..and then how will you feel?

If you tell yourself you must be perfect, how are you going to feel when you make a mistake?

How will you feel when you continually tell yourself, you can’t cope or you have to be in control of everything all the time?

It might not be a surprise to find that that if you are telling yourself these stories that you are feeling pretty low, sad, stressed and scared even.

For some this might result in indulging in excessive or regular drinking, over eating smoking etc. or some other unhelpful activity to block things out to ‘ feel  better’  to make up for those feelings.

This ‘avoidance’ mechanism becomes the one thing left that you can do for yourself that doesn’t take time.  And it’s avoiding the real issue:  getting your needs met properly.

This avoidance behaviour eventually conflicts with the very thing you were aiming to achieve:  it will inhibit your ability to take care of others, it stops you being in control; it leads to you making mistakes etc.  Over time, overeating, over-drinking, smoking, over-thinking makes you physically or psychologically unwell: it limits your ability to do things.

Put simply in one way or another ‘avoidance’ which is designed to make you feel better – will ultimately make you feel worse.

So what’s the answer? Balanced thinking.

Balanced thinking, leads to more balanced feelings and makes it easy to respond and behave in a more balanced and helpful way.

A starting point would be to listen out for and question the stories you have been telling yourself.

For example is it true that you have to be perfect?  Can anyone be perfect?  Is it true that you can’t cope?  What could you do to make it easier to cope?  Perhaps the truth is you are struggling and could do with some help.  Is it true that it’s selfish to take care of yourself or perhaps it’s irresponsible not to?

Come up with a statement that looks at the issue from all sides; in a rational logical way.

Perhaps telling yourself for example:

  • You can strive for excellence without needing to be perfect,
  • You can cope you just need a bit of help from others
  • You don’t have to do everything yourself: its ok to ask for help;
  • You need to put your own oxygen mask on first sometimes so that you can to take care of others.

It’s about looking at things in a rational logical way.  Notice how you feel when you do that; and notice what it allows you to do that is constructive and helpful. There is always a different way of looking at things.  Sometimes we might need a bit of help to do that.

I often get lots of yes but’s at this stage when I ask people to challenge their ‘all or nothing thinking’.  “Yes but this doesn’t apply to me”   “Yes I get it but I can’t do that because”……”Yes but I could never imagine myself doing that”.   More crooked thinking……