What makes taking care of yourself and others hard? Well, one contributor has to do with why we choose to do things for others.
Most of us see an opportunity to help or serve – and we think about what will happen if we don’t do it.
Will they not like me? Will they think I’m a bad friend? Will they think I’m selfish? Will I BE selfish? Will they be screwed? Hurt? Mad?
Considering the consequences of our choices is SO important. If we all went around not wondering or caring about what would happen if we ran a red light or didn’t pack our kid’s lunch or how our parents would feel if we never called them, havoc would rain down upon us all.
What also is not awesome, though, is doing things PRIMARILY based on shame, threat, coercion, guilt, duty, obligation – and this is what we are doing when we are trying to avoid being bad or selfish (as opposed to trying to be loving or generous). That fear-based decision making creates a world where we are engulfed by the Fight Flight Freeze Fawn response.
This is great when we need to react to the bobcat that is stalking us (have you SEEN this video?!).
When we perceive threat, we SHOULD make our choices based upon what will keep us safe and not think about anything outside of this problem. Wondering, What if I need to hurt the bobcat to keep myself safe-are they endangered? Is there some sort of fine? What are the moral considerations of self-defense? How do I tell my niece that I hurt a cat, she is going to hate me forever? If I survive this, will I get to meet Carol Baskin? What am I doing later today, do I have time for this in my schedule? Have I already worked out today-do I have the energy to run away? is not helpful in those moments.
Those questions will only distract us from focusing on how to physically protect ourselves, and we need all the primal energy we can muster in this situation. Check out these components of the fear response and see if any feel familiar to what comes up for you when you are thinking of how to care for others:
- Fists clenched
- Tight jaw
- Having TONE
- Desire to stomp
- Feelings of anger, irritability
- Desire to hurt someone or see them hurt
- Knotted stomach
- A part of your body feeling stuck
- Feeling frozen, numb
- Pale skin
- Sense of stiffness, heaviness
- Holding your breath
- Sense of impending doom
- Sense of dread
- Pounding heart
- Increased OR decreased heart rate
- Intense focus on the question at hand/rumination
- Restless legs or feet
- Shallow breathing
- Big, darting eyes
- Sense of running from one thing to the next
I know, right? These sometimes subtle – sometimes big responses signify that your body is reading the situation as “AHH!!” in some way.
Our bodies are built to sustain this type of response for short, not extended, periods of time. When we are making choices based upon fear (of being bad/selfish/rejected), we are LIVING IN this fear response, and our body is strained from experiencing this over, and over, and over, and over, and over, again. When we are in this fear response, it is harder for our other body systems to function. This looks like difficulty focusing, making decisions, remembering things, moving optimally, even problems with digestion!
Unfortunately, most of us are trained to make choices in a way that triggers this fear response, which leads us to ignore our needs and only focus on what will lead us away from the threat.
- I will bring you a meal so that I will not feel guilty (avoidance of the punishment).
- I will loan you my truck so that I will further cement your friendship to me (prevent you from leaving me if I don’t do something you want).
We then ignore whether we have the groceries we need for the meal, time to get to the grocery store, gas in the truck, emotional energy to see our friend. We just push forward to get the job done.
And the result is your friend gets fed, they feel loved and cared for, they get their new desk delivered to their office. AND YOU are exhausted and aren’t able to make your own meals for your family, leading you to scrape something together quickly that may or may not be appetizing or congruent with your values of health. And you don’t have the energy to focus on your spouse as they are telling you about their day, leading them to feel disconnected and unimportant. And you lack the patience to lovingly guide your child to brush their teeth, and you end up yelling and they end up crying.
The fear energy swooped in and stole all your good juju.
So…how am I supposed to take care of others and myself if I am not doing it out of fear? Tune in next month to find out 😉
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!