Switching from caretaking others to taking care of ourselves

February 4, 2016

On January 1st, I created a private group on Facebook for anyone wanting information and support on self-care of their minds, bodies, and spirits.  In it, I post tips, questions and musings on a variety of aspects of taking care of ourselves, because to really be effective at self-care we must make it a daily habit or practice, and that’s really hard for a lot of us.  I’m so honored to have over 50 members and counting - you are welcome to join us by sending me a note on Facebook or via email so I can add you.  It’s a wonderful and delightful community.


Recently, I’ve heard Captain Jean Luc Picard’s voice in my head (I love Patrick Stewart!) with a slight modification:  Dis-engage!


I have done my share of caretaking others and things in my life, and I’ve come to realize that I did this at the expense of my own self-care. I’ve had to grieve and forgive myself about this.   How many of us put partners/spouses, kids, colleagues, work, neighbors, obligations, chores, anything, ahead of our own self-care to the slow or immediate detriment of our health and wellbeing, time and resources, dreams and needs?  


I know there’s arguments for our responsibility as parents, especially of underage kids, to take care of them first, and I’m not about to argue with a parent over their beautiful offspring’s care...  But in the airplane, c’mon, you know the words:  “Put your own mask on first before assisting others.”  


While I am much, much better about not caretaking family and friends to the degree I used to, I spotted a place where I still was doing this:  The workplace.  (To my work colleagues who may be reading this, please chat with me if you have questions or this is uncomfortable in any way.  I’m being truthful and vulnerable and my intention is to be respectful, too.)


An aside:  I still am very much a caring person and do many things to care for my family, colleagues, and friends and that will never stop:  I’m a helper, a healer, a soother, a listener, an inspirer, a nudger, a champion for those I love, a fierce protector, and much more.  I’m talking about the healthy balance of being a lovely friend, colleague, and relative while not sacrificing or compromising my own needs, health, wellbeing, time, resources, dreams, and needs.


At work, when I see some things that need to be done, I do them, even if it’s “not my job.”  I’ve done this believing it makes me a good work citizen, that colleagues will appreciate the small things that create conveniences for them or make things easier or flow better, and that I’m going a bit beyond to live our mission statement, which usually boils down to the word “service”.  I’ve done this even when no one knows I’m doing this, and do not expect recognition for it; I just do what needs to be done to help the greater good.  I’ve done this sort of thing my whole life, perhaps thanks to my father expecting that things were always taken care of at home, especially the little things.  I do pride myself on this service ethic and creating great spaces to live and work.  


I came to see, however, that this was a use of my energy that wasn’t serving my larger objectives, at work and personally.  I began questioning this need of mine to take care of things out of my scope.  What am I getting out of this habit?  How is my ego involved?  Why is taking care of others or the space or objects more important than taking care of myself, my tasks, even if the actions are relatively small and don’t take a ton of time?  


And then, the question:  What would happen if I stop?


So, I sat with this for a few days.  And experimented with disengaging from the habit.  It felt a little odd at first. I noticed I had given myself a sense of self-importance about it.  (Egos are funny things and should not be in charge; challenge your thoughts and motives, constantly.)  

Then I noticed this space in my mind and a sense of relaxation and ease.  And things got done without me, just fine, just as they had before I started the habit.  I felt more grounded in my priorities, my objectives, I had more space to plan and problem-solve, to dream, and simply be without this need to spot something undone and take care of it.  It felt and still feels very freeing.


We have a tool in the form of a very simple question in the Martha Beck coaching world called “Shackles On or Shackles Off?”  I didn’t realize this little habit created a shackles on feeling even though I generally felt good about what I was doing for others and the good of the cause.   


I’ve also recently learned to be diligent in remaining disengaged from a relationship that had the potential to drain me greatly.  I’m proud of myself that I spotted this early on and didn’t begin caretaking at all.  Boundaries are a good thing.  


I’ve also had the experience of slowly disengaging from relationships that I had been caretaking in, giving the person time to adjust as well as giving me time to process, grieve, witness my strong habit and wish to care for people, and continually remind myself of the bigger need to take care of me first, and that it’s that’s person’s job to take care of themselves first, too.  I learned to let them struggle during the change, again remembering what’s my responsibility and what’s theirs, and to be okay with the discomfort I experienced that such a change inevitably brings.  Again, as I adjusted, it felt more and more like freedom, like shackles off.  

I’m enjoying self-care more and more, and do see it as helping me show up better, healthier, be of better service, be more attentive, more energized for family, friends, and colleagues, and hope you will experiment with finding your own balance and freedom.  




I'd be honored to provide coaching for your big and small life changes.  Contact me at your convenience to learn more.


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