Note: This is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years. There are links to all lessons that I’ve written about so far, on that post.
Nothing could be kinder, more altruistic, than putting others before yourself, right? We praise “selfless” acts, and self-sacrifice.
But, in practice, this kind of thinking leads to martyrdom.
- We burn ourselves out, because we say “yes” to everyone who asks something of us.
- We neglect our own needs, for rest, for nourishment, and for fun, because we’re so busy taking care of our families.
- We ignore our own suffering and deny ourselves the opportunity to heal, because we think it would be “selfish.”
Because we’re so busy putting others first, we miss out on the joy that comes with serving. We start to view giving back as an obligation, a chore. We begin to seek approval and validation for our efforts, because we haven’t taken the time to know ourselves and find that approval and validation within.
It’s not a matter of harming others for our own gain, or ignoring the people who are suffering around us. It is not a matter of using “retail therapy” or spending lots of money getting every thing we want. A lot of things mascarade as love. If we truly understand ourselves, we will understand our need to give back.
We will understand that we are not in a category of one.
Because martyrdom and self-indulgence are caused by the same faulty assumption: that there are two groups of people in the world, “me” and “everyone else.” There isn’t. We aren’t each in our own lonely category. It’s just “us.”
And we each need to tilt in the direction that the attention is needed. If you need to work on your own growth and healing, that is where your attention should go. If you are ready to help someone else, or if you see someone with a need, that is where you should focus. And it’s not all or nothing–it’s not a balance, but everyone gets some part of the pie. And it changes.
Last winter, I needed to give myself my full attention. Actually, my own attention wasn’t even enough at that time. And that wasn’t selfish. My struggles and my understanding of myself have equipped me to better understand anyone.
And, as time went on, I was able to do more for others, so that is where my attention went. It changes each day. If I’m sick, I rest, rather than plowing through my day. If I feel sad or in need of support, I seek it out.
And as I experience the growing joy within, I am eager to share it. As I see, more clearly than ever, the struggles faced by those around me, I don’t hesitate to be there.