Why is it so hard to put ourselves first?
Ever wonder why, in the grand scheme of things, we always find ourselves coming dead last? We make time for others, say yes to endless commitments, or agree to things we don’t want to do in our quest to be ‘a good person.’
We want others to think we are ‘good,’ so we can begin to value ourselves as ‘good’ too. Why don’t we value ourselves from the get-go? Why do we never cross the finish line first?
‘A good person.’ What does that even mean? We often take a back seat out of the shame and fear of being perceived as selfish. We stop saying “no” to things we dislike, we don’t speak up for ourselves and stay mired in resentment, allowing others to speak over us, or for us. We are guilted into doing things we can’t afford to do, or don’t want to do for myriad reasons, just to keep up appearances.
The problem is, in this quest for ‘good,’ we are doing unkind things to ourselves.
This article will explore some persuasive reasons why you should put yourself first, but let’s start from the beginning…
How Did This Happen?
We’re conditioned from a young age to put others first. Now this isn’t a bad thing; it’s part of life’s give and take. We need to know early on that there are other people navigating life along with us, and that treating them with the same respect we want to be treated with will make our journey more enjoyable.
Somewhere along the line this gets skewed, and for many of us, we end up coming last in nearly everything, all in the name of ‘being good.’
Think back to when you were a child, how often were you told to “be nice,” “kiss your uncle,” or “hug the neighbor”? How often were you forced to tolerate a lot of intolerable people and behaviors all in the name of being a good person? God forbid you didn’t want to socialize because you weren’t feeling up to it, or didn’t want to be forced into kissing and hugging every distant family relation or random adult so that you wouldn’t be labeled a bad child and your parents could save face.
At some point, these conciliatory behaviors became ingrained. So much so, that now, asking for our needs to be met or establishing boundaries is all but impossible for some adults. As you got older, you became accustomed to these expectations trumping your needs and desires until you resign yourself to the fact that ‘it’s just how it is.’
It’s time to be ok with saying no. It’s time to be ok with having space to yourself, uninterrupted, to regenerate and be free of the other people’s demands. It’s important to be free from guilt for wanting to have your needs met.
Fast forward to adulthood. We spend countless hours, and dollars, on a counselor’s couch wondering why we have low self-esteem, why we’re overworked, and why our relationships keep failing.
Putting yourself first is a good step in taking back some of the control you were taught to give away all those years ago. We have confused selfishness with self-care. We have conditioned ourselves to believe that saying no will have socially devastating consequences, but the stark reality is: the ‘devastating consequences’ are internal, not external.
So what are the benefits of putting yourself first? What will happen when you unlearn those enforced childhood lessons and think about your needs and desires for once?
Your Body And Mind Will Thank You For It
When you start putting your needs first, you will see a vast improvement in your mental and physical wellbeing. When you acknowledge your needs, even the most basic ones, such as, “No, sorry, I can’t go out tonight, I’m tired and need to rest.”, or emotional ones, “No, I don’t want to go out, I need some time to myself.”, it’s empowering, and healthy.
Remember: you haven’t hurt anyone by declining an invitation; while they may be initially disappointed, they will survive.
What you have done, however, is take back control… and that feeling is incredibly liberating. You will feel better for standing up for yourself. Physically, you have created space to regenerate and take care of your body by getting that much needed downtime, and mentally, by letting the other person know that there doesn’t have to be a made-up reason, a simple, “No, I just don’t want to go out.” is enough.
It’s ok to say no for no other reason than it’s something you don’t want to do. When you don’t live under the yoke of social obligation, your mind and body will thank you.
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Respite From Resentment
There is nothing worse than saying yes, when you mean no. We fear the consequences of social censure much more than we fear taxing our bodies physically, or overwhelming ourselves mentally to make others feel better and to keep our ‘good guy’ badge.
When you agree to do something you don’t want to do, you end up doing it with resentment. You don’t show up fully because you are too busy thinking about the things you could’ve been enjoying, or that need to get done, but have been put on the back burner in order to place someone else’s needs first.
You also, inadvertently, become a doormat. You open the “take advantage of me” door because you send the message you that “yes” is your default and that you are always accommodating.
Remember: You don’t need to make up elaborate excuses for why you don’t want to do something. No is sufficient for…
When your sister imposes on you for free babysitting for the hundredth time, and you respond with, “No, I don’t want to watch Suzie tonight, I need time to myself.”
When people at work push you to donate to the latest wedding gift, farewell present, baby shower, or “my kid is selling chocolate for charity” fund, just say, “No, I have charities I already donate to.” or “I’m sorry, I’m sure Sally is lovely, but I don’t know her so I won’t be attending/donating.”
When you’ve volunteered at your child’s school bake-sale and this year, you’re tired and just don’t want to anymore, but you’re being pressured by other parents or expected to because of past attendance, a simple “I know I helped out the past three years, but this year I won’t be baking/ attending/helping. I have other plans.” will suffice.
None of these situations are life threatening emergencies and they can all be managed without imposing on you. Your ‘other plans’ don’t require further explanation. That’s part of establishing boundaries. The fact that you have indicated you can’t or don’t want to, is signal enough. People who disrespect your boundaries, or feel they’re owed an explanation are people you don’t need in your life.
Be prepared: when you constantly say yes, and then you start to say no and put your needs and wants first, people will balk. They will be annoyed, even angry, because they are used to hearing an unequivocal “yes” from you. If, after you’ve declined, they still don’t respect your decision, you may need to re-evaluate that relationship.
Your Relationships Will Thrive
You can’t love someone fully if you don’t love yourself or take care of yourself. How could you anticipate someone else’s needs and wants when you don’t have a clear idea of your own?
Everything starts with you: in order to have the capacity to share in a healthy relationship with someone, you need to be able to assert your needs, and allow them the space to safely assert theirs. This is true give and take; when two people can acknowledge what they need without fear of reprisal, or that the other person will abandon them for speaking up.
This isn’t just about romantic relationships; this applies to every person you meet. That elusive ‘good person’ you’ve been chasing all your life? That person is in there, and always has been. The funny thing is, taking care of yourself first makes you a better person because only then can you be fully present, where you want to be, with people you want to be around, and as a result, truly engaged with what’s important in life.
As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”