Sense of Self
I’ve never been very good at taking care of myself. Physically, mentally and emotionally, I often feel I lack the self-preservation gene so many others take for granted. This is not to say I’m overtly reckless, instead, I simply don’t always put my needs before my wants. Sometimes this translates to shirked responsibility (or, as I like to say, spontaneity), poor life choices (being a ski bum in Tahoe after college, followed by being a regular bum in San Diego), or a seeming lack of motivation (trying to find a job I feel passionate about, instead of following a career path I might just be good at), but more often, my wants are directly aligned with making other people happy. This realization may have been my first life lesson and it came late in the game. Like last year.
By nature, I’m someone who wants the people surrounding me to be content, joyful and carefree – that being said, I’m difficult, and I keep the circle of people I care for to a minimum. That small circle, however, are all people for whom I would walk through fire. Describing myself as a people pleaser doesn’t even begin to encompass the enormity of the responsibility I feel for the people who inhabit my world. And it’s not that I’m a pushover, far from it. I think most of my friends would agree I’m opinionated, stubborn and even kind of bitchy. Ok, maybe really bitchy. But I would also guarantee a collective agreement that I’m honest (sometimes brutally so), loyal and the kind of person you’d want by your side in an emergency. Or if you had a few bottles of wine that needed drinking.
So it came as a surprise to me that the one trait I’ve prided myself on over the years – my love for my friends – is the one that has caused me the most trouble. When you give yourself wholeheartedly to your friendships, (i.e., “Call me anytime, day or night!” or “I can be over in five minutes, even though I have a deadline!” or “Of course I can pick up your cousin from Newark airport at 5 p.m. on Friday and bring them back into the city!) your empathy can start to bleed into your sense of self. When you’re lying in bed at night worrying about your friend’s missed period, you don’t have time to worry about the fact that you haven’t gotten to the gym in a week, or that you didn’t get around to paying your student loan bill this month. Who has time to sweat the small things when a crisis is looming? But, if you’ve ever had a friend, ever, there is always a crisis looming. Someone always needs saving.
This is where the problem stops being about you, the good friend, and starts becoming about you, the person. Fifty pounds later and a credit score that people consistently mistake for an abnormally high cholesterol level, it might be a good idea to start rethinking your priorities. I’ve never really given astrology the time of day, but this article on the characteristics of Libras – October baby here – sums it up pretty succinctly, “…you can make the needs of others a higher priority than your own.” Check. “Your Potential Weakness: Forgetting to take care of your own needs.” Check check. “… don’t forget that your needs cannot go totally unfulfilled or you won’t have anything to give to others.” Are we sensing a theme here?
I used to chalk up my overcompensation in friendships as singular facet of insecurity – in college, and after, I was the girl who bought everyone drinks, even when I was skirting a single digit bank balance. As I’ve gotten older, however, I have come to realize it’s not that simple – I wasn’t buying drinks to ensure popularity, I was buying drinks to ensure everyone around me was having a good time. Yes, I certainly had self esteem issues, as did every other teenage girl. I still have them. I deal with relationship, professional and image issues just like everyone else. But as I gain life experience, the complexity of coming to understand who I am, and who I want to be, has lead me to see that taking care of yourself is a fundamental part of growing up. Sometimes you’re good at it and sometimes you suck. But either way, taking care of yourself means putting yourself first, and that may be the hardest lesson of all.
Image from http://cauldronsandcupcakes.com/2012/01/18/how-to-nurture-your-sense-of-self-love/