We all talk a lot about taking care of ourselves. There are so many suggestions – hot baths, time to read a book, a camping trip and a fishing pole, a night out with friends.
These methods are bandaids, treating the symptoms and ignoring the root causes of exhaustion and overwhelm. They don’t address the core issue of an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.
Age helps – when many of our obligations grow up and move on. One of the things that I notice among my peers is movement toward a sense of self. My friends are much more at ease with themselves and those around them nowadays.
But in early adulthood when we had jobs, families and other responsibilities. We thought there seems no time for self-reflection and it’s resultant move toward inner peace.
I remember taking an Assertiveness Training in my early 30’s which was a turning point for me. Slow turning, but nevertheless….. When I realized that somewhere between passive and aggressive there was a place that represented my true position it was life-changing. That process started preparing me.
When I passed my late 30s, hit that mid-life period and began to question the worth of different areas of my life, I came face-to-face with my own values. There were some responsibilities that I had taken on that I couldn’t choose to set aside. The choices made early in life precluded taking paths that now looked appealing. I began to see my “burdens” as good parts of my life that represented the life I had chosen.
It was a long time before I started recognizing that I had also set myself up. I had taken on things that were not my responsibility and in some cases not even my business. The difficulty was the pattern I had set in motion. Expectations were created. My loved ones were used to the system the way it was.
A gentle and loving disengagement was necessary and I’m still not always successful at that. It is difficult to change habits of a lifetime. And when I gain bits of clarity it is sometimes hard not to make radical shifts – shaking the foundations of my established relationships.
I know that you are miles ahead in maturity and emotional strength than I was at your age. I don’t know what your steps are or what your turning points have been or will be, but I hope that you can keep sorting out what is important and what is truly YOUR responsibility in life and start spending time on the little islands of self that appear on your horizons.
Your Dad and I still talk a lot about how hard it is to figure out what we really want or like. We have spent so many years with the good of people we love in mind that we lose track of what gives us joy. But by now I am confident that more closely I keep in touch with my own self, the more I experience moments of sheer joy and pleasure. (It’s a bit sad that it was so uncommon that I really noticed it when it came.)
I don’t mean that I haven’t had great pleasures in my family and my journey. I have had a happy life, but at times I have been so bogged down in duty and worry about what’s going on with everyone else, that I failed to stop and be and feel.
Ultimately, it is all about boundaries, I suppose. It is knowing when to offer ourselves to others and when to replenish ourselves. It is understanding that subjugating our own hopes and desires can deplete us, leaving exhaustion and resentment. It is understanding that we can’t really be anything for anyone if we are there for ourselves.
During the hubbub of the holiday season it is hard to contemplate all of this. But what better time to step aside and sit with the joy inside of us? What better gift can we give ourselves, our family, and our friends that the love that can spill out of a whole heart?
Good luck on your path.