When I was a beginning therapist, professors and colleagues consistently warned me to put myself first–even before my work and my clients. I could not imagine that. I went into this field because I wanted to help others. Didn’t that mean that if someone needed me, I would help them, even if I hadn’t had time to care for me that day? So I put others first. My clients, my friends, and my family. Over the course of a year, I was burnt out. I had chronic headaches, I was overeating as an attempt to alleviate my exhaustion, and my own emotions were all over the place.
Then I was taught DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I thought I was learning this therapy only to treat my clients with disordered eating, but it really saved my life. As I studied and taught the self care skills of DBT, I practiced them in my own life, and started to understand what putting myself first means, in action rather than just theory.
What Does Putting Yourself First Mean?
Putting yourself first is a way of behaving that requires a deep love and appreciation for oneself. It requires a willingness to listen to your own feelings, validate your longings, and to trust your past experiences as well as your gut instincts. It can be as simple as going to bed early when you are tired. It can mean taking a vacation when you need it, even if there are a hundred reasons not to. Part of self care means that you make time for the things you love, and the other part is making time for things that you may not love, but that help you stay healthy, in mind, body and spirit.
So be honest – are you someone who always puts yourself last in the happiness department? I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take care of your friends, your partner or your children, but what about you? Aren’t you just as important? (Maybe even more so!)
Think about it this way: if your health goes down the drain, are you even going to be around or available to help anyone else?
And what if your happiness level gets lower and lower? Are you going to be someone that others want to spend time with? And even more tragically, when you’re unhappy and don’t put yourself first, you may emotionally check out and in turn, miss out on all the good stuff in your life.
Take a deep look at your self care practices today. Do you care about your own happiness and putting yourself first? Do you schedule the babysitter to come over for a few hours a week so you can go to the gym or have a date night? Do you make healthy food choices, or eat whatever is left after your partner or the kids eat? Or even just choose something from the vending machine at work because your clients are always first priority?
Do you take the time to do things that have absolutely nothing to do with money or achievement, but merely pleasure (like the beach)? Do you remind yourself that those things truly matter? Or are you waiting to be happy?
What about your goals, hopes and aspirations? Are you putting them off to the side until everyone else is taken care of? If you are not taking the time you need to make yourself a priority, it is time to make a goal to do so now.
In What Ways Do You Need to Put Yourself First?
Putting yourself first is like building a house. A house needs four key elements to feel like a home: a foundation, a frame, a roof, and some personal touches. A person who puts themselves first takes care in four main categories: physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
Putting yourself first requires that you take care of your physical needs. Getting enough rest, drinking enough water, and eating foods that make your body run most efficiently create the foundation from which we are built. If you are lacking in these areas, every aspect of your life will suffer. If you are tired, you will be unable to give your work, friends and family your full effort. If your body is not fed well, it will not function at its highest capacity. If you are not exercising, your self esteem and physical health will suffer. Making your “foundation” a priority may not always be easy or fun, but the payback is huge.
After we have the foundation built, meeting your emotional needs is like building the frame of your house. Your emotional needs must be met in order to keep yourself standing upright. Take some time to figure out what your individual emotional needs are. Do you need to vent? Be understood? Have alone time, or be with friends? What kind of environment do you need to create to be fulfilled emotionally? If you do not make your emotional needs a priority, you will end up turning to unhealthy means of taking care of yourself: drinking, eating, or other problem behaviors that will hurt you in the long run.
Social needs are extremely important. Consider your family, friends, coworkers, even acquaintances as the “shingles on your roof.” Cutting out toxins in your environment is just as important as who you surround yourself with. If you have a friend that constantly complains or gossips, it may be time to set some boundaries or reevaluate that relationship. Engage with people who give you energy and end relationships that take it from you. Make the people you spend your time with be people who give you energy, push you to expand your beliefs, and bring out the best in you. People that will make you feel your best.
Spiritually–The Personality of the Home
Last, but certainly not least are spiritual needs. I like to think of these as the paint, art, and personal touches that one adds to their home. Spirituality is as individual and personal as it comes. Whether you find your spirituality in church, religion, nature, or some other place is unimportant. What matters, is that you spend time there and enjoy that part of being human, seeing the bigger picture, and acknowledging your place in it. When life is busy, this is one of the first things people forget. We may cut out attending a religious service, praying, hiking, or meditating, but it is important to find or create time for these things in order to have a healthy perspective, and in order to be our best selves. Allow yourself to make time for spirituality. You will be in a better state to cope with your life and you will be better able to support others that need you.
Is Your House Missing Pieces?
Let’s try an activity that will show you how well you do at putting yourself first.
Think about five activities that fulfill you and write them down. The list may look something like this:
- Meeting friends after work for dinner
- Thrift shopping
- Going out to the movies
Now write down the last time you did those activities:
- Meeting friends after work for dinner (I can’t even remember!)
- Traveling (last Thanksgiving)
- Meditation (last Wednesday)
- Thrift shopping (last month)
- Going out to the movies (six months ago)
Once you have your second list, check to see if there’s anything you either can’t remember doing or haven’t done for a few months.
You should never make yourself feel guilty over what makes you happy. That’s something we all do far too often. It’s much better to just be honest. Admit it, eating chocolate makes you feel great!
I challenge you this week to sit down and figure out where you can begin to put yourself first by doing activities that you love. Even the little things like getting a manicure, taking a walk with your husband or boyfriend or having a glass of wine with your girlfriends really matter and contribute to your overall happiness. If you are not taking the time to put your needs first, your house may just be a little lopsided!
And if this is something you’d really love some support with, that’s what I’m here for so call 970-773-4691 to schedule an appointment today.