As a child, I remember being baffled when during the safety review at the beginning of an airline flight, the flight attendant (stewardess back then, and almost always a stewardess, which is pretty relevant to this topic), would announce that the adult should put the oxygen mask over their nose and mouth first before placing it over their child’s. This wounded me on a deep level; I couldn’t believe that they’d ask my mother to take care of herself before she took care of me, as I perceived that it was the mother’s job to take care of others before herself, always and period.
As I grew and became a young woman, I matured into this role of caretaker, an expression of my bewilderment with the dynamics of the oxygen mask. I believed that it was my job to make sure that everyone around me was okay at all times, regardless of how I was feeling. I needed to be strong, independent, and completely confident, and I needed to be the rock that everyone else could depend on.
This belief extended even to strangers. If someone in line behind me at the grocery store was upset, I was sure it was my fault somehow. I should have offered for him to go before me, or I assumed she was mad because I had so many items. As you can imagine, this trend was even more evident in my personal relationships, as I felt compelled to ensure that everyone and everything around me was perfect and happy and in place.
When I became a wife and then a mother and then a healer, this tactic – this way of life – backfired on me. It was only a question of time before the complete burnout came and when it did, it was crippling. I was angry, bitter, resentful, and exhausted. My body was breaking down and taking my immune system with it. I was suffering from food sensitivities and intestinal candida as a result. No matter how much I tried to make sure that everyone around me was okay, I felt my life spinning completely out of control. I’d like to say that I had an epiphany early on, but the truth of the matter is that it took years. What I didn’t realize for a long time was that my preoccupation with how everyone else was feeling was just a cover-up that I used to mask how I was feeling because, quite frankly, I did not want to deal with my emotions. Expending my energy trying to assuage the emotions of everyone else kept me nice and distanced from mine.
Unfortunately, I see this in many of my clients too, mostly the women. We are brought up to take care of everyone around us. We are trained to put our needs on the back burner while we feed, clothe, and administer first aid to our families, and we are expected to do so with a smile on our faces. Sure, it’s changing some, but it’s so ingrained in our family dynamics and society as a whole that even though we may find a man that helps us out, we may still feel like it’s our duty to give, give, give beyond what we are capable of sharing.
When this happens, there is a breakdown in our energy system. Our energetic boundaries begin to sort of “bleed” and there is no clear sense of self. The idea of a bleeding heart is reflected in the energetic heart and there is a complete loss of personal power in the solar plexus area. The energy around the throat will be blocked as the person chokes back their emotions and their expression of their authentic self.
Any path to healing has to recognize that reclaiming one’s power and establishing healthy boundaries with respect to self-care is necessary in order to heal and move forward. I have a client that just the other day established a boundary with a loved one for the first time ever. It is an amazing step in her growth, and yet she still struggled with it, wondering if she had done the right thing and worrying that she had hurt someone’s feelings. What we have to recognize is that when we are well-cared for we have more strength, more love, and more power to share with others. When we make sure that our needs are met, we are more able to stand up strongly in order to support ourselves and others. When we are in touch with our emotions and able to clearly express them we are empowered. Being depleted serves no one, least of all ourselves.
Keep this in mind the next time you are wondering if you should just say yes even though you are exhausted and just want some time alone. When it does happen, stop. Take a breath. Remember the fatigue, the anger, and the resentment that sit on the other side of that yes. And then smile and lovingly say, “No.” It may be hard at first; the other person may not understand this new, empowered you, but ultimately they will benefit from your inner strength. You will be doing yourself, and everyone else, a huge favor.