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I Used To Put Everyone Else First

When I was little, I used to hate it when my parents would argue or when my friends didn’t get along. I would take it upon myself to make them feel better, or find a way to try and “fix” the situation. My teachers said I was a “sensitive soul” who often took on other people’s feelings as my own. I kept on doing this throughout my life, and in the beginning it seemed to work for me, but over time I realised something wasn’t working anymore. I love helping people, but back then I would forget to help myself too.

I used to think that I was being caring, kind and considerate of others, and in many ways I was, but over time I started to feel like I was sacrificing my own happiness so that other people could be happy. I would make their needs and emotions more important than mine. Have you ever felt like this? Maybe you’re a parent and putting all your energy into taking care of your kids, your partner, your home, the bills, your health and everything else that goes into managing a family. Or maybe you’ve been focusing so much on your career, going over and above, giving it your all but you’re starting to feel as if it’s no longer working for you, and in fact it’s starting to feel overwhelming.

I would take on responsibility for other people’s problems and sympathise so much with how they felt that I started to feel the same. I did it with my friends, my family, in my relationship and my job! It was almost as if I couldn’t help but feel their pain, or their joy as if it was coming from me. Whatever they were expressing, I could embody that also. I was the person that all my friends would come to and ask for advice and I relished those times. I often knew just what to say or how to help them fix their problems. I would anticipate what others wanted and make sure I gave it to them.

I just wanted everyone to be happy and I took it upon myself to ensure that they were. I felt special and that I was connecting with people on a deeper level, but the reality was slightly different. The problem was, that if the people around me weren’t happy, I felt as if that reflected on me negatively in some way. As if I was the cause of their emotions and responsible for making them feel better. It also meant that when others were not happy, or if I perceived them to be anything less than content with a situation, I thought it was my fault and that I should “fix” it.

My happiness depended on others

Does this ever show up in your life? Are you constantly worried about how your co-workers feel or whether or not your friends are having a good time? If your partner or your kids get upset, do you find yourself reacting and getting upset too? Some people want to help by solving the other person’s problem but if you’ve ever tried that, you might have noticed that the other person doesn’t always want you to “fix” the situation for them. I dedicated so much of my time, energy and thinking, towards helping others and taking on their problems, that I began to neglect myself.

My energy became less and less and my patience grew shorter and shorter. I started to feel as if this was no longer a gift I could use to help people, instead it was a burden. I did not welcome people telling me their stories and I imagined that they must have had an expectation of me to sort out their lives. I started to dole out advice to people who didn’t ask for it, and I let other people’s emotions get to me. I thought I was being caring and giving so much of myself to help others, that I couldn’t understand why they didn’t always see it that way too, or why they were not happy. It got to a point where I began to feel as if I wasn’t really holding it together anymore. More like I was hanging by a thread and feeling depleted.

Do you do all that you can to make sure that other people are taken care of and everything in their life is comfortable and sorted out? Have you ever felt guilty or angry with yourself when you weren’t able to make someone else feel good? Sometimes people can take on more responsibility than what is in their control. Sometimes this can result in a person feeling as if they’ve failed, when the situation was not in their control in the first place.

Do you want help with Sadness, Procrastination, Self-Sabotage, Confidence or Motivation?

I know that for me, I held an impossible standard where I would tell myself that if I did my “happiness job” properly, then everyone around me would be happy as a result. But if other people weren’t happy, I took that to mean that I’d failed. I had not done my job and it was my fault that they were feeling any negative emotion at all. I used to avoid conflict and cater to what everyone else wanted because I thought that was part of what would keep everyone happy. Have you ever done that too?

I didn’t feel important enough to put myself first

I had given so much of myself that I was exhausted and I couldn’t figure out why. I began to resent the people around me and blame them for expecting too much from me. I started to ask questions that were not helpful like “Why should I give so much of myself when I’m not getting anything in return?” or “What’s the point, nobody cares, why should I?”. The problem with that outlook is that I began to create all kinds of consequences in my imagination about what might happen if everyone wasn’t happy or if a conflict arose. I started to fear any kind of interaction where a disagreement could happen, even to the point where I didn’t want to make decisions about what to order off a menu, what movie to see or even what to wear to work. I just brushed every decision off with a smile and said “I don’t mind. Anything is fine. You choose.”

I started to complain about every little thing and found myself experiencing negative emotions more and more often. Until I didn’t really want to get up in the morning. I stopped looking forward to spending time with my friends and they stopped calling me. My partner didn’t want to talk to me much anymore and neither of us wanted to endure a date. But, one October I answered a call from a friend who had moved overseas and I hadn’t seen in years. She seemed so full of energy and excited that she was coming back to Australia to visit. We decided to go out to lunch. A part of me was curious to hear about what she’d been up to and I remembered how much we had always got along so well. We were so similar afterall.

Just like me she had been a quiet, empathetic person, for as long as I’d known her and she just seemed to “get” me. I also heard how well she was doing by her voice on the phone and the other part of me was embarrassed and scared to let her see how I had let myself go. I had gained weight and found it challenging to see the good in each day, whereas she seemed to only notice the great things. Her energy was through the roof, whereas mine felt like I’d buried it under the floor. Thankfully, I plucked up some courage that day, turned my attention to feeling good about myself, and set off to catch up with her.

As we sat across from each other, we chatted like friends who had never been apart. Just like old times. It felt amazing! She filled me in on everything she’d been up to, which was surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) similar to me. She’d gone over and above consistently in her career and recently got a promotion. She enjoyed regular nights out with her friends and kept a good relationship with her family. She had happily not been in a relationship for a while and now was enjoying a new romance with someone just as caring as her. She seemed so happy, and she was doing everything that I thought I had been doing also. So how did she have so much energy when I was feeling flat? How was she able to give so much of herself and genuinely say that she wanted to give even more? There was not an ounce of resentment in her voice. I wanted to feel that way but I wasn’t sure how. So I asked her what she was doing that was so different to me?

Tuning in to thoughts and actions

She said that the first thing she had started to do, was to pay more attention to her actions and what she was thinking. You can do this simply by noticing whenever you might be ignoring your own wants and needs in order to please someone else. In the beginning, simply take a mental note whenever you recognise yourself doing this.

When you want to go even deeper, you can turn your attention towards exactly what you’re thinking. For example, if you’ve started to feel concerned or worried about how someone else is feeling, or whether or not you’re affecting other people, just take a step back and observe those thoughts. All it takes is to notice your thoughts and recognise what you’re saying to yourself in those moments.

Asking positive questions

Now that you’re more aware in each moment, you can start to challenge some of those thoughts or even change them from negative to positive. You might ask yourself whether or not this situation is truly within your control? What’s the best case scenario that could happen here? Will worrying about the situation actually change anything? Are you people-pleasing or people-supporting? What emotion do you want to feel instead? What does that look like? This might sound really simple (and it is!), but it really works by helping your mind to focus more on thoughts that can empower you, and explore different choices that could work better for you.

Taking care of you

Self care is a massive part of this equation. It’s really important to remember this. Some people might think that taking care of yourself before others is selfish, but the truth is that if you want to help others, taking care of yourself first is a prerequisite. The more energy you put into looking after yourself and replenishing your loving, kind and caring energy, the more able you are to help others. If you neglect yourself or give from an empty cup, you might not be in a place to help anyone, and could even end up taking more than you’re giving back. So give yourself permission right now to take care of yourself! Whenever you feel like you need it. Because you’re someone who loves to give, taking care of yourself comes first. Remember that you are important too.

What’s in your control?

The thing about happiness, is that it’s not something that happens outside of you. It starts from within. You know this yourself right? No matter how happy someone else is, they can’t give you their happiness like a wrapped gift with a bow on top. So why would you have an impossible standard of expecting that you can give your happiness to others? Someone else’s happiness is not your choice, it’s theirs. You can, however, lead yourself to be a living example for them. That doesn’t mean that you solve their problems for them or try to make them happy. Sometimes it simply means sitting quietly beside them, not taking on their emotions, just allowing them to be where they are.

The more that you try to solve people’s problems for them, or make them feel a certain way, they might come to rely on you for that instead of learning to provide that for themselves. Of course you can lead by example and be a positive influence in their lives. You can help by providing a great environment in which they can feel free to express themselves and where you don’t make excuses for them. Sometimes people just need the space to figure out how to create their own happiness from within. It’s not up to you to make them happy, but you can be there for them along the journey as long as you’ve taken care of yourself first.

Growing happiness is like teaching a little kid to plant seeds. You show them. You lead by example, carefully placing each seed in fertile soil, making sure there is enough sun to nourish each one. By diligently and consistently taking care of those seeds each day, watering them and making sure that they have all the basics that they need in order to flourish. By doing this for yourself, you’re demonstrating self-care and focusing on fulfilling your own needs first, which can help lead the way for others. Plus, like my friend, you might just have left over energy to share with those you love when they need it most.

At least, that’s what happened for me. When I left lunch that day, my head was full of possibilities. Finally I could see where I was, and where I wanted to be. I had a map and I followed each step of it as closely as possible, consistently every day. I still do, and these days there is not an ounce of resentment in anything I do for others, because I know I’m giving from a cup that’s overflowing, and when it isn’t, I take a little time to myself to fill it up again. I now have so much loving energy overflowing, that I wake up everyday excited to give more and more.