This week during a discussion with my best friend it became clear that one of the reasons she was really struggling was that she believed that looking after herself and putting her needs first was selfish. I don’t think my friend is alone in that belief. We are taught that to be a good person we must be kind and caring and looks after others. It’s also a particularly natural instinct for a parent to want to put the needs of their children first. But having that belief can hinder progress when you have a chronic illness that demands that you take care of yourself or face the consequences.
Many people with chronic illness still put the needs of others above their own wellbeing even when it means additional suffering. Some very poorly people have no choice but to put their own needs first, but then they torment themselves with guilt about not being able to put others first. But the thing is, if we look after ourselves well, we are much more likely to be able to look after others a lot better! Our own wellbeing must come first!
If you want to be a good, kind, caring person you need to have something to give. If you don’t look after yourself you’ll have less energy and be in more pain. In fact, you’re more likely to need to be looked after yourself. And if looking after yourself means allowing others to help you, then accepting it graciously without feeling guilty will make it a more pleasant experience for your helper. A consequence of putting others first when you’re really not well enough, is that it can make you feel grumpy and resentful. And a grumpy resentful person isn’t very pleasant to be around. In fact, it can cause a bit of a vicious circle. If your company becomes less enjoyable, you’re more likely to be neglected. This can lead to you feeling needy and perhaps a little resentful but also guilty about those feelings, so you respond by putting others needs above your own…..and round and around it goes.
I am unashamed about the fact that I prioritise taking care of myself. I know that when I look after myself really well, I’m less likely to put pressure on others to look after me. I know that the better I feel, the less likely I’ll be grumpy. The less tired and grumpy I am, the more kind and caring I can be. The better I look after myself, the more energy I have to offer others. Other people benefit from me looking after myself! The people I spend time with get more out of me and I have more energy to put into trying to help other people cope with their chronic illness better.
In fact it goes beyond just looking after myself physically. To be able to give to others in the best way possible, I also have to give weight to my wishes and desires. I believe that what we have to give to the world is what drives our wishes and desires. If we give our deep felt wishes and desires less importance than everybody else’s, in the end the world will miss out on what we have to offer. We will be less happy, less pleasant to be around and less willing to give freely and joyfully of ourselves.
To be the best person you could be, to be the kindest and most caring you could be, to have the most to give to others, you have to put your own wellbeing first and allow your wishes and desires the importance that they deserve.
About the Author: Julie Holliday is a holistic life coach and writer committed to helping people overcome their challenges and live a great life despite chronic illness. Writing as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. To find out if Julie’s coaching could help you live a great life despite chronic illness, book your FREE introductory consultation here. (10 available each month).