By Joyce Alexander, RNP, (retired)
There have been some discussions on Lovefraud lately about people not taking care of themselves, “until X happens, then I’m going to go to the doctor.” This got me to thinking about how important it is for us to put ourselves first.
The very person who has always “put others first” (me) because that is what a “good person does” would feel very guilty if I spent money on myself, even for things I needed. I would send money to my son Patrick in prison for commissary money when I had to do without things I needed or wanted, because I felt guilty if I didn’t send him money.
Eating to feed his children
You may have heard me tell this story before and I’m sorry if it is a repeat for you, but it is the best example I have ever heard of taking care of yourself in order to be able to take care of others.
A lady I used to know grew up in wartime Italy during WWII and her father was a slave laborer at a Nazi factory. The factory gave him food so he could work. He would come home and give all the food to his children, doing without any food himself. After a time of this he began to weaken and his Nazi bosses knew what he was doing, so they called him in and told him that if he got too weak to work because he gave away all the food to his children, they would kill him, and his kids would have nothing.
So the man went home and started eating some of the food himself, though he knew his kids were still hungry, and my friend told me how he would weep as he ate because he knew his children were hungry.
This man would have sacrificed his life by starving himself to death for his children, but in order to take care of them, to provide them with some food, he had to remain strong. Better that they had something to eat rather than nothing.
There are times we willingly put ourselves last, when our children are sick, we stay up all night with them, though we are “dying” for sleep. When we need a new suit for work, but our daughter wants a prom dress, she gets the dress and we wear the same old suit. Those things are within reason and realistic in scope. However, when those in our family or acquaintance demand that we put their wants before our own needs, and we enable them by doing without so that they may have surplus, then we are not behaving in a reasonable way, whatever our excuses are.
When we do not take care of our health, either physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, because someone is demanding that we give all our energy and resources to maintaining them, while they are doing nothing to meet their own responsibilities, then we need to take a serious look at our priorities.
Spending on myself
A while back I saw an advertisement for hearing aids. I have been aware for years that I am profoundly deaf in the tonal ranges of human voice, but I kept putting off getting hearing aids because they are quite expensive (in the thousands of dollars). But then I got to thinking, “You know if this was something my son needed, I wouldn’t hesitate to get it. So why am I so loath to spend money on something I need?” So I went and got the test and sure enough I was found to be “profoundly deaf” in those tonal ranges, though I am quiet adept as a lip reader. The hearing aids make a big difference in how well I hear.
Even though I know I needed these instruments, I still ask myself sometimes, “Did I really need to spend that much money on them?” Well, yes, I did!
In Eric Berne’s book, Games People Play, he discusses the parental “tapes” that play in the background of our minds. The “You should always_______ (fill in the blanks)” and some of these are good things. Like our parents saying “You should always brush your teeth before you go to bed.” You don’t have to “think” about the decision to brush your teeth or not before you go to bed each night, you just automatically do it. If you don’t brush your teeth before you go to bed, you feel like you are “lacking something” or that you have done something wrong or you feel guilty for not doing it.
However, the “tapes” that run things like, “You should always put other people’s desires before your own” may need some examination to see if they are correct, much less always correct. Sometimes, like the Italian man who was a slave to the Nazis, we must put our own needs first, even before our children, because if we don’t, then we can’t even have the strength to take care of them. We must examine these parental injunctions consciously and then be able to hit the “mute” button on them when we realize that they are not correct, much less always correct.
When you fly on the airlines and the flight attendant is giving instructions for how to use the oxygen mask, s/he will tell you that if you are flying with a small child and the masks come down, put yours on first. By taking care of ourselves first, we can fulfill any obligations we have to others.