On Self-Care + Putting Yourself First
By Laura Harvey
Women are taught to prioritize their relationships.
I have often felt that I would be nothing without my friends and family. These are the interactions that sustain, fulfill, and guide me.
I would never be unkind to my friends. I would never put them down. I would, in fact, go to great lengths to protect them. And I have.
But have I forgotten someone in the process?
I have certainly been unkind to myself by pushing myself to the limit of health. I have put myself down—hello, internal thought processes. And I have definitely failed to defend myself.
Here’s the thing, though: the most important relationship in your life is with yourself.
You cannot be a good girlfriend, daughter, or friend without first taking care of yourself.
This is where I will whip out the much-loved oxygen mask analogy. You know what I’m talking about.
So often, we drain ourselves trying to be what someone else needs or wants us to be. We thrive on these roles and measure ourselves against impossibly high standards.
There is a constant refrain of “I’m such a bad ______.”
And yet it is hard to think about our relationships with ourselves. We are the last on our own to-do lists. Some of us would say we simply don’t have time, that other things are too important. We often fail at self-care.
But I say “No.”
People-pleasing is an addiction. It is a distraction. And it is ultimately a disservice.
When we define ourselves through those around us, we strip away at the integrity of relationships. Something about the core of the exchange becomes inauthentic. It is no longer that we want to do things for the people we love; instead, we must do this or that.
The internal state manifests into our external circumstances. Every event is neutral; it is only our thinking about it that gives it positivity or negativity.
Think of going to the grocery store when you are tired, run-down, and cranky. Isn’t the line interminably long and the person in front of you at the check out seems to be moving at a glacial pace? It’s enough to make you want to scream.
Now, think of going to the grocery store when you’ve woken up on the right side of the bed. They have great looking avocados in stock finally! Maybe you’ll pick up a bottle of wine and catch up with a friend. You don’t mind waiting in line. You flow.
This is how life works. Our brains are strong tools that we can use to argue both sides of a situation. We can see the good in the bad, or manage to highlight the bad in the good.
And ultimately, we interact with the world in a way that reflects on how we view ourselves. We can create self-fulfilling prophecies of doom that limit our ability to live in joy.
It is our responsibility to those we love to be our best selves so that we can nurture healthy relationships with them.
When I was at my worst place in my eating disorder, I was emotionally unavailable. I was filled with anger and could not be a positive part of anyone’s life. I lashed out at people and had no strength to offer them support.
And the really ironic part was that I had gotten myself into that mess by trying to please everyone: to be perfect. The perfect daughter. The perfect student. The perfect friend. I wanted to be everything for everyone because I loved them. But I didn’t love myself. I didn’t practice self-care.
I used to roll my eyes at the concept of self-care. If one more self-help guru told me to look at myself in the mirror and speak aloud the words “I love you,” I would’ve screamed.
I still think that exercise is silly. But I finally know what it means to love yourself. It means to trust your gut, understand your value, and live authentically. A loving existence is a real existence. You have to give yourself permission to not be pleasing.
The next time that life becomes difficult, that everything seems terrible, I challenge you to ask yourself what you need. Not what you need to do. Block out a corner of time, and simply take care of yourself. I am a realist, not an optimist, and I would tell you that you can’t count on anyone else to intuit and fulfill your needs. This is something that every single one of use must learn on our own.
It’s paradoxical. The best way to be a loving force—a loyal friend, a caring wife—is to care a little bit less others and to put more of a focus on your own self-care. Shave off 10% of the effort you go to and funnel it toward self-care. This is the part where you put on your own oxygen mask, whether that means reading a book, getting a manicure, or vacationing alone. Find what works for you to nurture yourself.