Lend yourself to others but give yourself to yourself.
Michel de Montaigne
Since the title of this piece was long enough already, I resisted adding how helpful this tactic is for people with TMS (tension myositis syndrome), neuroplastic pain, or mind-body issues.
The Me or Thee practice is, as the Chinese might say: Simple, not easy.
Whenever making a decision, no matter how small it is, ask yourself if it it serves you or someone else. By all means, help other people, but make sure that, at least, half the time you feather your own emotional, psychological, physical, fiscal, environmental, and social nests.
If you have spent your life being overly responsible, perfectionistic, and bending over backwards to help other people, it’s time for you. The Me or Thee practice is a perfect way to remind yourself you matter just as much as anyone else. Yes, there will always be someone in need of your help, but a dry well doesn’t slake anyone’s thirst. Even the Buddha said: There is no one more deserving of compassion than you. Heed that wonderful advice and take the very best care of yourself you possibly can by asking yourself: Is it me or thee who will be served by this behavior?
Many years ago, I read a shocking truth in the New Yorker magazine about a man who was giving away all his organs. Naturally, his family was extremely upset as the only result would be his inevitable death. It is possible to be overly generous if it depletes you on any level. Sadly, if you are an over-giver, the only time you might recognize how much it’s depleting you is if you feel physically ill, overwhelmed, or exhausted.
Perfectionistic, overly responsible, do-gooders, have had these warning signs for years. Given their habit of putting other people first, they power through their own emotional and physical fatigue to help someone else instead of tending to themselves. It’s easy to see how a steady diet of this can lead to burn-out, illness, and even death.
Thankfully, you can change. It won’t be quick, but with loads of kindness, self-compassion, and patience you can incrementally learn that you are just as worthy as anyone else.
To change requires an unflinching awareness of how deeply ingrained these patterns are and how diligent you have to be to shift your behaviors. It requires a gradual re-wiring of your brain to feel, think, and behave differently, not an easy gig when society reinforces all that giving with accolades.
Immerse yourself in this practice by repeating the mantra: Is it me of thee? In time, you will reap immeasurable benefits. Just remember, if you spent your life finding value, purpose and meaning by putting others first this recalibration will take a Herculean effort.
Many of you reading this might think: That’s so selfish!
No, healthy self-care and balance in life is not selfish, it’s the adult, responsible thing to do. The best way to care for others is to take the very best care of yourself. The pendulum has to swing all the way to the other extreme before it can end up happily balanced in the middle. Over-giving has always been unbalanced. Learning to conserve some of your energy for yourself, to rest and be “unproductive,“ might actually save your life.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang