How to Balance Being There for Yourself and Others (Part I)

Would you like to be there for your partner, kids, parents, coworkers, employees, students AND yourself?

Yes, Chelsi. Yes, I would. What are your thoughts about this?

Thank you for asking. So many people that I talk to (clients and otherwise) are ambitious and intelligent; they can rock a presentation, run a board meeting, and mediate a fight between three toddlers while also throwing a dinner party. 

These are not people who lack strategies or coping skills. What they do lack is balance-taking care of the needs of everyone they care about in their world and their OWN needs. 

Part of what makes it difficult to care for ourselves and others is that…this is just a hard thing. We have needs, they have needs, there is only so much time in the day. 

Life is approximately 45% pleasant, 45% unpleasant, and 10% meh (not a research backed statement, but many professionals and researchers throw out similar percentages, some say 50/50 pleasant/unpleasant-whatever. Doesn’t matter. The point is-life is part yum, part yuck.) 

There will be boredom, frustration, ambivalence, pain, joy, excitement-all of it. Embracing this fact alone can actually be super helpful. Accepting that part of what is hard is just because life is, by nature, hard gives us freedom from the belief that there is a scenario where this wouldn’t be difficult and freedom from the possibility that things would be less hard if only we were good enough, smart enough, strong enough, whatever enough to find out how to make it not that way. (The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig is a good novel that touches on this concept!)

Why It’s Hard to Find Balance

Another part of what makes balancing difficult is that much of what our culture has taught us about relationships makes it seem normal and right to do things because:

  1. we are afraid if we don’t do them we will be punished (like given the silent treatment), or 
  2. the relationship itself feels threatened, or 
  3. we fear the other person will reject us, or
  4. we think we are doing something wrong if we don’t help (we feel guilt at not helping), or
  5. we think there is something wrong with us if we don’t help (we feel shame at not helping), or
  6. the helping falls under our role (parent, teacher, child, friend, etc.) so we *have* to, or
  7. the helping falls under what we believe is our duty, or
  8. we think we owe it to the person because of what they have done for us (sense of obligation), or 
  9. we want to earn their love. 

For example, when you are thinking of whether you would like to volunteer for that meal train or loan your truck to yet another friend who is asking for both it and your muscles to move something: do you consider what you have on your plate, how much energy you have, what your needs are? Do you consider what they need, what will happen to them if you don’t help, what will happen to you if you don’t help, what that means about you if you don’t help, what that means about your relationship if you don’t help? Do you consider what you need to do in order to be a good, unselfish person? Do you consider what you need to do in order for the other person to be happy with you? 

To be super clear: None of these questions are bad. 

And, wanting to be a good person, unselfish, giving and being aware of the equality of the relationship (not wanting the other person to be doing more of the helping in the relationship than you are) are not bad.

The point is, doing things to avoid REJECTION, GUILT, SHAME creates super unpleasant feelings within us and within the relationship. (More on that in Part II.)

When we do things out of any of the 9 reasons listed above, we end up resenting that person and becoming bitter and rude, using that tone that we hate with them. We talk about them (cough-complain) about them with other people. 

This damages our relationships, for real, y’all. Is the relationship with the person on the receiving end of our help really better off when we help from any of these 9 places?

I’m going to go ahead and answer this one for us: nope. It’s not better off, it’s worse. 

Doing things out of the Negative 9 (catchy? Should that be a thing?) creates distance in our relationships, barriers to authentic connection.

These things will get us through survival mode in a relationship, and if that is where you choose to be-that gets to be ok, too. Sometimes, surviving is all that we have capacity for.

What You Can Do

BUT, if you are ready to go beyond survival, and you want relationships that are thriving, deep, meaningful, authentic-you will want to steer clear of doing things for the person out of the Nasty 9 (better?).

All this to say, we get closer to creating balance in our lives when we consider the reason why we are serving others. More on what to do next another time. No one likes a too-long blog post.

Action item: think of someone in your life and consider why you do things for them. How does this feel? Use specific emotion words as much as you can (Brené  Brown has a great download, among others, of core emotions),

If you want to step up your game and get serious about doing more of what you want and less of what you don’t-you may want to be in Self-Care Class. We talk about all this stuff in greater depth, answer questions about how to apply it, and help you work through all the barriers life and your mind are throwing at you!

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