I Have a Work Problem: When You Can’t Stop Pushing Yourself

Work in a “Busy kitchen” by VV Nincic is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Work has been a problem. For me and my family. We have no idea when to stop pushing ourselves past what’s healthy. Or how to set boundaries around who owns what feelings. What has been true for us is, that we feel responsible for the emotional states of others and this pushes us to work ourselves past the point of what we’re capable of handling in order to rectify or cover over our feelings of guilt and shame. In short, no bueno.

The Root

This became clear to me not too long ago when a few things happened that coincided with a perspective shift. I have been working in the restaurant industry for most of my working career, the same as my family has been doing for decades. In the restaurant industry, we work long days, through rushes and under difficult conditions. It was tough, but we had a lot of fun too.

Recently, I’ve switched to a new position that is office based work. I went into the job expecting the same type of environment. High stress and high energy. After all, the people I worked with seemed to be constantly busy and stressed in the same ways we were in the restaurant biz. So I jumped in with both feet, ready to wade through the human services industry. Things did not go as planned.

Change of Perspective

As I said, I started the position with the same tenacity that I was used to from the restaurants I’ve worked in. I was reaching out to people, making plans to meet with them, to find new resources. I was going hard and expecting that everybody else was on board. This however was not the case.

It seemed that the more I was doing, the more I was making others uncomfortable. I hadn’t realized it at first, but I was definitely stepping on some toes. When the situation finally came to a head, my supervisor and my boss’s supervisor called me into a meeting. We spoke for a few minutes when I realized that we were talking about how my attitude had become a problem.

At first this made no sense to me. I was doing my job and doing it well. My instinct was to think, “everybody else needs to step up their game.” But reflecting on this situation now, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in this situation.

Difficult to Manage

One of my old jobs was as a bread baker in a popular, local bakery. I was good at the job, worked hard and not afraid to jump in where they needed a hand. Unfortunately, I was arrogant, mean and not afraid to let my opinions be known. And I had a lot of opinions.

It was in this bakery that I had experienced some major life changes. One being ending my marriage with my then wife. I was in a bad place and hostile. More so than was the norm for that environment, which was pretty hostile to begin with. I was baking with the owner one holiday when I made a big mistake. We got into an argument and he ended up letting me go.

What was so memorable about the experience was, he told me I was a good baker, as he told me to leave in frustration. But difficult manage. And this was essentially what I was being told again. Good at my job, difficult to relate to. Only this time, by the grace of God, I didn’t get fired. So I decided somethings needed to shift.

Impossibly High Standards

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why was I putting myself in these strange and confusing situations. I was good at my job. It was my personality that was the problem. I do this because I feel as though my self worth and value hinges on how hard I work. As a family member of mine would say, “how serious I take myself”. That was confusing too, translating “serious” to “works hard”.

But what happens if you take yourself too seriously? What happens when you take your responsibilities to the extreme, work too hard? Placing your productivity over the relationships you have with those you work with? As I’ve found, you put yourself in situations where you get talked to. Not for your job performance, but for your interpersonal skills. Something I need to work on.

Relaxing Your Standards

Upon further reflection, this too was a learned behavior. I was taught to have a good work ethic. I was also consistently being told I was lazy by my parents in my youth. Their standards were what I would call unreasonably high for a child to add up to. But I tried. And in so doing, I inherited their impossibly high standards. Something I’m now in the process of unlearning.

And it’s no easy. I find myself picking apart every job I see done. Whether it’s by myself or another. Nothing is ever up to my standard of how I would like it to be. My motto was, “if it’s not done perfectly, it’s not done right”. This is also an unhealthy stance to take. The perfectionist in me is something that took a long time to come to terms with. Something I’m still coming to terms with.

What has helped me is, to sit in the uncomfortable feelings, the dis-ease of my standard not being met. Reminding myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be done well, or that good enough is sometimes good enough. Also, reminding myself that I’m not perfect. Which is something I definitely thought I was when I was younger. And another reminder, that even if I feel as though I’m coming up short, I still care for and love myself.

You Are Loved Regardless

And ultimately, this is the message that we send ourselves when we tear ourselves down for not being perfect. Or are being criticized for not adding up to an impossible standard: that we are not loved unless we are perfect. Anything short of an impossibly high standard and you are forced to sit outside of the feelings of love and acceptance. This is a cold place to be.

It’s also a place that needs a lot of inwardly turned attention and affection. Because when the affection of those who were supposed to love me, was withheld, I learned to withhold it from myself. Not knowing why I “wasn’t loveable”. But if others didn’t love me, there must be something wrong with me. This was how I saw myself until somewhat recently.

This changed for me around the time I started practicing self-care Sundays. I realized that I had been living under the harsh and brutal régime of my family for far too long. Beating myself up in ways such as skipping meals, while also upping my workouts. This resulted in me passing out after a shower one night. This is a dangerous mindset to occupy.

Loving Another Starts With Loving Yourself

I was so used to the critical side of me, that that’s all I listened to. I realized, after practicing self-care Sundays, that I didn’t really know what self-acceptance and love felt like. It had been so long since I’ve been able to accept where I am, or even who I am, that I had completely forgot what those states felt like.

This was quite the discovery. And further more, I had no healthy role models to show me how it worked! So I started practicing self-care on faith, really, hoping something would change.

Wading Through Old Emotions

And slowly but surely, new ways of being began to raise to the surface. Patience was one of the more important ones for me. Because without patience, I wasn’t able to sit with the uncomfortable emotions that I was feeling and had run from in the past. The emotions of feeling inadequate and unlovable were two big ones. With the patience to sit with them, I was able to recognize them for what they were. Old messages that had nothing to do with who I actually am.

Patience for me came in treating my self-care dinners as the opposite of working in the food industry. I chose a recipe I knew I would like. Then I would go out and gather the ingredients at my local grocery store. When it came time to prepare the meal, I would slowly and mindfully, gather and prepare all the ingredients. Usually while a candle was burning with a favorite scent of mine in low, ambient light and with soft, gentle music playing and a cup of herbal tea. I took my time and enjoyed the process instead of rushing through it.

I also realized, during these dinners that these were ways my family had felt neglected as well. They were also withholding love and acceptance from themselves by rushing through their emotions. But if we can learn to withhold love and acceptance, we can learn to reengage with them as well.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The key to why my self-care dinners worked so well for me was, because I kept doing them. It was something I dedicated my time to and did regularly and consistently. Showing myself that, “I’m here, I care”, is important.

And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. If it was the consistent disapproval from my family members that brought me to a place where I wouldn’t approve of myself, no matter how much work I did, then it would be the consistent, positive reinforcement of caring for myself that would show me that I was worth the while. I am lovable. I am worth the time and caring affection I was seldom shown in the past.

But again, this is no easy. For this to take hold, you have to make it a part of your routine. I scheduled mine on Sundays, because that was the first day of my weekend. I knew I would have this day to myself, and seeing how I’m still paying down student loan debt, I don’t take many days off. So scheduling is important.

Find a Routine That Works for You & Stick to It

For me, my routine is my self-care Sunday meal. But I do this this because I enjoy cooking for myself, as long as I can take my time doing it. Because if I’m rushed, it feels like work to me. I enjoy slowly bringing the meal together while burning a candle and listening to some of my favorite tunes. The low-lighting and the aromas from what I’m cooking and my tea are soothing to me. Plus, the meals I make are pretty good. Thanks in large part to Minimalist Baker. But this is my routine and not everybody finds peace in the kitchen.

For your routine, find what brings you joy. This isn’t always an easy task. Before I was more attuned to myself, I would find relaxation at the bottom of 4-5 beers or mixed drinks while vegging out in-front of a screen. Either playing videogames or watching T.V.. None of those are inherently bad, but I was using them as an escape from my emotions. I enjoy having a beer or two while I’m out, or with my self-care dinners. But I no longer drink to excess. I’ve stopped playing videogames only because I haven’t found something I like and I still enjoy T.V., just a few episodes here and there.

When finding what brings you peace, ask yourself, “what are the things I do that I enjoy, that I’m good at.” Having a sense of mastery in a hobby brings with it a feeling of satisfaction. Knowing that you are good at something, like my cooking ability, can bring more overall joy to the experience. Or maybe start a new hobby or pick up a new interest. You never know where it could lead to.

Schedule Time For Yourself

And finally, if you’re busy as most of us are, find some time to carve out for yourself. I know what’s true for me is that responsibilities tend to multiply, not decrees. So finding a dedicated time for you to come back to again and again is important for consistency. Because it’s that consistency, that practice that shows us that we love ourselves by giving ourselves our time.

And it’s not selfish to take time to take care of yourself. This is something a younger me would scoff at. My opinion used to be that self-sacrifice was a given, and if you took the time to treat yourself then you were the worst kind of selfish. Self centered and arrogant were adjectives I would have used in my youth to describe who I’ve become today.

But we change. And healthy change can be a good thing. So long as we don’t over indulge. And finding the balance is key. Not going to extremes in either work, or relaxing too much. Take it from someone who’s seen both sides of the equation. Find your balance and you’ll find peace. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Busy kitchen” by VV Nincic is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Rebuilding What’s Been Broken: Why I’m Repairing The Broken Bonds From My Past

With any amount of luck, your past will not resemble mine. I’ve left more than a few broken relationships in my wake through the years I’ve been on this planet. But in my defense, I was never taught how to foster and nurture, caring and loving bonds. It just wasn’t in my upbringing.

But regardless of how I got here, they are still my broken relationships and therefore, my responsibility to do what I can to make right what I neglected and abandoned so long ago. In the following, I’ll go over what some of my past experiences were, how I realized I needed a change and what I’m learning about repairing the relationships I’ve neglected. Let’s jump in.

Where To Even Start

I began the work of setting my relationships right a few years ago. I can’t really explain how I got to the place where they had been neglected so badly except, it was how I was taught to treat them. I was left alone in a house, raised by television, until I was old enough to realize that I didn’t have to stay inside anymore. It was then, in my early teens, that I began roaming around the city I grew up in, looking for ways to drink or have a good time, avoiding going home to the neglected and abandonment, in a house that used to feel like a home.

So instead of building lasting friendships and tight bonds with others, I was looking for someone to buy me alcohol so I could avoid the pervasive loneliness I was living with for so long. I think the worst part about it was, I didn’t even realize that that’s what I was doing. It just felt good in the moment, drinking to avoid feeling. But I’m sure most people feel that way when they’re in the middle of making a bad choice. Like eating that extra pastry or skipping this workout just this once. For me it was drinking that extra 4-5 beers or popping a pill.

But what I was really avoiding was, the hard work I needed to put in, in order to get the return I desired, lasting friendships. I was an expert at this. I was drinking to avoid coming home to my emotional world and racked up enough debt to keep me busy paying it off for years. And along the way, I think I neglected all of my relationships almost to the point where I had nobody to rely on. This was a frightening place to be.

Arrogance: The Relationship Destroyer

When I saw the mess I had made of my relationships, that’s when I realized something needed to change. Not to mention how lonely I was feeling. I was lonely because I had been pushing everybody away to protect myself from getting hurt. By them leaving me or tearing me apart as most people had done to me in my past. And one of the ways I isolated was by acting arrogant, better than those around me.

I went into this a little in last weeks post about impossible standards. My caregivers had held me to such a high standard, that there was no way that I would ever meet it. So instead of admitting that I wasn’t “good enough” for my caregivers by failing to meet their standards, I chose to adopt the same method of keeping people at a distance as was being done to me. By acting as though nothing were good enough to meet my standards.

I hadn’t realized that my caregivers were acting from the same hurt place of feeling insecure as I was, or that I had learned how to disconnect from others through them. I only knew that I felt like I wasn’t enough to be loved. So I was scared of other people “realizing” the same thing I had felt and endured, not realizing it wasn’t my fault. We were all too arrogant to let our guard down for long enough to realize that, we all wanted the same thing. To be loved and accepted by one another.

And this is how I neglected just about every relationship I had. Too afraid to connect, too scared to be alone. These were confusing times filled with anxiety and a pervasive loneliness. But things changed for me when I thought I fell in love with a woman. Something changed in me that woke me and suddenly made me realized that the ways in which I was living were truly unsustainable.

What Really Matters

It was in this life changing relationship that I truly felt heard and seen for the first time since I was abandoned in my childhood. This is when I came to understand that what really matters isn’t how somebody else sees you, or what they think about you, but instead it is about the quality of the connections you have with these people.

Most of my connections with others were based on how I wanted them to see me. Which was really whatever they wanted me to be, so I could feel liked, accepted and approved of by them. It was all a game on the most superficial of levels. I thought that if I looked or acted a certain way, the way that I saw those I was seeking attention from act, that I would then be loved and accepted those I was acting like.

But what I didn’t realize was, that they were just acting the part also. Not really knowing what to do to feel belonging. So they did what they saw others do that gained them acceptance. It seems so silly thinking about it now, because it’s something a simple, direct and honest conversation would have resolved. But we were so insecure in our belonging that we were scared to death to even broach the topic.

Instead we just did the dance of trying to follow whatever trend was popular in hopes that someone would accept us for our rendition of it. When I thought I was in love, I thought I was feeling the recognition of being seen for who I was, not the person who was hustling for others approval that I was putting on, and feeling accepted for the authentic person I thought they saw in me. But they really fell in love with the version of me that I was acting as, not who I was.

The relationship ended in a way fitting to how it began. But it made me think about how I had built my relationships in the past and how I wanted to build them going forward into the future. I’ve come to the understanding that, our connections to one another, in authentic and intimate ways, are really what matters most.

But I also understood that, you don’t write people off. I recognized the changes I went through, how difficult they (the changes) were to initiate and endure as they were happening and the resiliency I cultivated in the process. And if I could do it, than others could do it too. This is what made me reach out to the people that had once populated my past self’s life and ask for a fresh start.

Authenticity

What I’ve come to understand about what being authentic means to me is, that I never really wanted to be mean or arrogant in the first place. All the ways I was acting to find approval from those I sought to feel belonging with, wasn’t really who I was. I wasn’t mean, nor did I want to be mean. I wasn’t better than others and acting that way was exhausting and lead to me feeling isolated and judged by others.

These were the barriers I needed break down in order to be in authentic relationships with people, hoping that the bridges I burned along the way weren’t so damaged that I couldn’t repair them.

I started by reaching out to those who I used to be good friends with in the past. This was surprisingly fruitful, as I heard from some people I hadn’t talked to for at least a decade or two. This is where being friends with most of the people I knew from my past on Facebook came in handy. All I had to do was send a message and see if they would reply.

And I began talking to quite a few people this way. But this time, instead of complaining about somebody or something, finding comradery in misery the ways I used to do, I asked them questions about what was happening in their lives and explored common interests we shared. Which, not surprisingly, we had quite a few. This is when I realized that we were friends for a reason. Our shared interests were the foundation of our relationship and why we were able to stand the test of time. This realization felt good : )

We were now exploring who we were in ways that made us feel more connected and a better representation of who we were as people. Sure, we would still commiserate from time to time, about the difficult things in life. But we were no longer basing all of our interactions in this mind frame. Life was more than the difficult experiences we had to endure. It helped that we were also grown adults now, instead of self absorbed teenagers too : ) And this level of authenticity lead to another dimension of feeling belonging. And that i of building intimacy.

Intimacy

When I talk about intimacy, I’m talking about the feeling of being close with another, and not only in a sexual way. Sure, there is that facet of knowing somebody, but it isn’t the ONLY expression of feeling soothed by another’s presence.

This was however, not the message I was sent as a child growing up. The physical act of making love was what was most valued in my environment. Especially when it was connected to how somebody looked physically. This left us all feeling like we didn’t quite belong because it all hinged on the condition of us being attractive. As Melba would say, no bueno.

So when I started rebuilding the relationships from my past over again, I was now focused on our shared interests and how we could turn those into shared experiences. For instance, my stepsister loves to hike. I love to hike. So I’ve recently connected with her and made plans to hit the trails together.

This not only gives us the chance to experience something we both love together, but it will also give me the opportunity to apologize for not being the bigger brother I could have been, had known then what I know now. And hopefully, we’ll start something new. This reminds me of a line from a Peter, Bjorn and John song, “Object of My Affection” that goes, “just because something starts differently, doesn’t mean it’s worth less.”

And that’s just it, the chance to start something new. It doesn’t mean that it’ll be perfect, or that the pain from the past will magically go away, but we have the chance to make something stronger. And hopefully in the process, be happier for it.

Why We Should Even Bother

And this is really what it comes down to. We change and build healthy relationships so we can have a better quality of life. o we can be in a more positive disposition more often. We’ll create better memories that we can revisit down the road together. In short, fuller, happier lives.

So if you’ve been neglecting the relationships from your past, or just feel as though you want a fresh start, a chance to rebuild your relationships for the better, there’s no time like the present. Get out there and reconnect. Be honest with yourself and those you want to connect with and you’ll build intimacy from authenticity. And these are the relationships worth building. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “True Lies” by Jack Parrott is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Healthy Responsibility: How to Tell What it Looks Like & How Our Past Shapes Our Idea of What it Means

When I was a child in the eighties, responsibility was a word that was used liberally. It was also gender specific. This usually meant that the man in whatever situation, work or family, was responsible for the well-being of, well, just about everything. They were the breadwinners, kept those in his charge safe, and provided for them and their needs as well. The women were prizes to be won and looked after what the man provided and who he provided for. This was/is a large amount of responsibility and was solely on the shoulders of the man.

How to be a Man

As a child taking this role in, using black and white thinking to navigate my world, this was overwhelming. It was most definitely the case for me growing up and what I was taught about what it means to be a man. And I’m certain that I’m not alone. So my question is, if we’re taught what the role of a man is, while we’re using black and white thinking to make sense of our world, how do we broaden our perspective to take in other ideas of what it means to be a man? I.e., what does a healthy amount of responsibility look like?

This is no easy task. But necessary if we want to become whole and healthy individuals. I’ll be sharing some of my experiences and the lessons I was taught growing up. What I was told and how I made sense of the role I was given to fit into. And also, how I’ve changed the definition of what it means to be a man for myself.

Man Up… or Don’t?

The phrase, “man up” was used a lot when I was a child. It essentially means to be tough. Whatever is happening in the moment, if you were a “real” man, you’d be able to handle it. No matter what. This was definitely the unspoken rule in my family and in society at large at the time.

So this is how I lived my life. To the measure of a “real” man. This meant drinking way to much, to prove I could “handle it”. I was also mean and condescending to others that I viewed as ineffectual or “weak”. Which I later realized was me preying on vulnerabilities I saw in others as they (the vulnerabilities) had been abused in me. In short, I was angry, abusive and uncertain of myself and supported in this iteration of my personality by those closest to me. Largely because it was how those who supported me were as well. And all of it monumentally unhealthy.

When I realized how unhealthy my definition of a man was, it was terrifying for me to realize what I had been striving to become. I had turned into my own abuser in a way. By punishing myself for not being invulnerable in the ways I was taught I needed to be as a man, as defined by my family. And to top it all off, I was supposed to be responsible not only for myself, but being a man meant, I was also responsible for the women and children in my family.

You’re the Man of the House Now…

I think this advice was dispensed to every boy whose parents divorced and whose mother had custody of the would be new man of the house. I was told this by every male family member when my parents split. As well meaning as their sentiment may have been, it felt like the world had just been laid on my eight-year old shoulders. Overwhelming.

And the worst part of the entire experience was, no one told me what that meant! I was eight, my family was falling apart, and according to all the adults in my life, I was in charge. It’s so absurd to think about now, that it’s funny. But it sure didn’t feel that way then. But I took on that responsibility none-the-less.

I studied my caregivers like science projects. To find out what it was that I was supposed to be doing. As I’ve said before on this blog, that didn’t turn out so well. I ended up living as they did, which happened to be how Jim Morrison lived. As my friend Melba would say, this was no bueno.

And even after watching “The Doors” movie on repeat through my high school years, I still had no idea what was expected of me. I drank a lot, found myself in some pretty dangerous situations, but never had any direction on what I should have been doing. While my peers were studying to get good marks, so they could attend a respectable college, I was drinking to numb the pain of the neglect I had experienced while fumbling around and looking for some center. Some stability.

And I never did learn what it meant to be the man of the house. Because all the men who were supposed to show me how, left. Also, the female caregivers in my family were consistently saying how they didn’t know how to raise a man. So I was abandoned and alone. And as a result, I made some pretty poor decisions. Later in life, I had left my then beautiful wife, for a woman two thirds my age and who had been racing towards the bottom in the same ways I had been. The Marla Singer to my Taylor Durden. But Luckily, this is where I turned it around and started making healthier choices.

Choosing to Be a Better Man

Exercise

It took me until I was in my thirties to recognize that I needed to make a change. But when I did I hit the ground running. Literally. I started my journey with exercise. First running, then yoga. I had been so sedentary for such a long time, that I had become unhealthy and out of shape. I was playing enough videogames to satisfy the hour requirements for a part-time job, and drinking maybe half my caloric requirements for the day in alcohol.

Running and yoga were ways for me to reconnect physically with my body. and the world around me. I had spent so much time staring at a screen that it was almost like I was living in a two dimensional world. Taking care of my body’s needs, helped bring me back into the third dimension. I remember asking a co-worker what the third dimension was once. He did a comical rendition by bouncing up, down, left, right and back and forth. I had spent so much time in front of a screen that I literally didn’t understand practically how dimensions worked. And I went to architecture school for a semester!

And the more I got up and out the door, or on my mat, especially when I didn’t want to, I became more uncomfortable with the feeling of wanting to avoid my responsibilities. I began to enjoy the work I had previously avoided. By playing video games and drinking. And I now work harder because of it.

Learning to Cook for Myself

This was a big portion of my life that I had been neglecting for a very long time. And what’s strange is, that I worked in the restaurant industry cooking and baking for a majority of my career. It should have been second nature. But drinking was still my main priority when it came to my caloric intake.

Again, in my thirties is when I started to take responsibility for my nutritional needs. It was also the first time I started viewing eating as fulfilling my “nutritional needs”, instead of just eating what I felt. This was a big shift from eating whatever I could find around the house and ordering takeout three to four times a week. Also better for my budget. Something I’ll be going over in more detail next week.

I began my nutritional journey by going vegan. It was a little extreme looking back on the decision now. I’m eating vegetarian currently, but still cook mostly vegan for myself. My weight is the healthiest it’s ever been and I’m also feeling much healthier. Win win. And the long term health benefits for going veg are undeniably the healthier nutritional option. Also cutting back on large amounts of processed foods helps as well. Reserving them mostly for occasional treats or snacks.

Budgeting

When I began making the switch to healthier choices and decisions about my life, I was also about 130k in debt. Health bills, student loans, credit cards… If someone was lending money, I was most likely looking to borrow it. Getting on a budget and taking responsible for my financial world, came rushing in all at once. This is when I found Dave Ramsey and started following his baby steps to getting and staying out of debt.

I began by taking stock of what I had. All my debts, all piled up in one place. So I could see just how deep a hole I had dug for myself. I then came up with a plan to pay down my debt by making and sticking to a written budget. This wasn’t easy.

There were definitely months where I looked at my grocery budget of 250$ and realized that I overshot it by 500$! These were difficult months. But the more effort I put into sticking to my budget, the more it paid off. I started to make some real progress on my debt goals. And have cut my debt to nearly half of what I originally started with.

Not to mention, that I’ve also had the time and resources to make plans for retirement. As well as setting up an emergency fund for a little financial peace of mind. I’m feeling more responsible for my life now and it’s also given me more focus and direction on my career path and goals. Taking charge of your money is a great place to start recognizing what healthy responsibility looks like. Because it touches so many different aspects of our lives.

Being a Man & What it Means to Me Now

The messages I received as a child, of what it means to be a man, the gun and porn collections of my childhood caregivers, the bravado, these were not sustainable ways to be a man. Let alone sound advice on how to live your life. I’ve come to realize that those who were showing me the way in my youth, were struggling themselves with what it means to hold healthy amounts of responsibility.

For me now, being a man means to take care of my needs first. Not in a selfish way. But in a way that allows me the security and peace of mind to know that I’m on a solid foundation. That no matter what comes up, I’m able to take care of myself while it’s happening. Then I can begin to focus on helping others on their paths.

Knowing Your Limits

But it begins with understanding where our unhealthy patterns of taking on too much responsibility lay. Are we consistently spreading ourselves too thin by feeling obligated to do as much as possible for others at our own expense. Our first obligation should be to ourselves, then we can judge how much of ourselves we’re able to give, without completely overwhelming ourselves.

So if you’re struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted at the amount of responsibility you have, maybe it’s time to check in with yourself. What are the areas of your life that are feeling too much. What can you do to ease some of the stress? Are there small changes you can make to your routine that will shave off some of the responsibilities you have, to a more manageable level?

These are all little ways where you are able to make a large impact on how you view and manage your responsibilities. And above all, know your limits. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’ve taken on too much, trust that your intuition is right. Listening to yourself is the first step in taking on a healthier amount of responsibility. As always, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “What’s a weekend?/Resource overload” by AllieKF is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 11/27/22

What Happens When We Confuse Self-Sacrifice for Caring

For as long as I can remember, it’s been common practice for my family members to act as though any favor or deed, no matter how small, was an unconscionable burden to be born and a great sacrifice. I’ve said before on this blog, we used the term “martyr” liberally and with harsh judgement. Anytime somebody did something that was akin to self-care, it was viewed as selfish. And the person committing the act was made to feel as though they were inherently bad and selfish.

Sacrificing Our Resources for Those Who Didn’t Ask for Them

From what I’m able tell, and since no one in our family ever spoke about how they were feeling was, that we felt resentment for other people doing for themselves. This was due to feeling as though we were already giving everything we had to the other, so why would they need anything else. Wasn’t that enough? It makes sense in a way, but it is also unhealthy. And also a sign of codependent relationship.

And even though we were doing for one another, there was never a sense of feeling grateful for what was being done. It was almost always viewed as an obligation. And seldom were we happy to receive what was being given. Looking back on it, the whole exchange seems so strange. Who wouldn’t be happy to have a loved one do something for them? Or the chance to make someone close to you happy?

Fear & Resentment in Our Relational Ties

From what I can tell, there was a fair amount of resentment tied to the experience of giving and receiving between us. And one thing is for certain, resentment will erode most all bonds in any relationship. So if we were all so unhappy with one another, on such a consistent basis, then why were we still doing for each other?

I’m not entirely sure to be honest. But I’m going to take a few guesses at what our motivations were. Duty was a big one. We felt as though we had to. Because if we didn’t, our very belonging was in question. The fear of not belonging was quite possibly the one constant in all of our connections. There was a lot of validation happening, with rancorous overtones. We were willing to say pretty much anything if we thought it would make us look better than, or to, somebody else. No matter how mean spirited it was.

Also, self-righteousness was another trait that was in abundance. Making ourselves look good at the expense of somebody else was a lesson I learned very early on. We always wanted to have something we could use to make the other person feel bad about themselves. AKA, emotional blackmail.

A good example of this is something I felt often, “all the things I do for you and this is how you treat me?!” I’m not sure that we spoke those exact words, but that was definitely the unspoken message being sent. No wonder there was so much resentment flowing so freely between us.

Why Resentment Leads to Codependent Relationships

The ways we were treating our relational connections were unhealthy. One of the hallmarks of this way of being was by abandoning our needs altogether, to take care of those of another. We then expected the same in return from the other person. The reason for this was, because we were never taught how to take care of ourselves. Or because we were told we were selfish for doing so.

It wasn’t until very recently that I even understood what self-care is. And even more recently since I’ve begun practicing it. But these were not values taught in my family. The values that were taught in their place were, the man takes care of the woman by making money and providing for her. And the woman takes care of the domestic needs, feeding, clothing, cleaning, including the man. There was a whole host of life skills that, as a man in my family, I was just never taught.

And anything outside of these constraints was considered to go against the natural order of what it means to be a family, according to our unspoken rules. But really it was just a thin covering to veil the deep-seated fear of having to take responsibility for our own lives. The fear was of not being strong enough to live this life on our own. So we needed somebody else to do it for us.

Choosing a Partner to Resent

This, sadly, was true for me in the relationships that I chose to be in. I was usually with another who would make all the decisions in our “shared” decision making. When I spoke about past relationships, I would complain about not having a voice in our relationship, and how it led to us braking up. But I was secretly grateful that I didn’t have to accept the responsibility of living my life as my own. I was a coward in that regard. Life is most definitely not for the faint of heart. And what I’ve learned from my experience is, that there will almost always be someone to pick up those reigns for you, if you let them.

So if we’re so used to neglecting ourselves for the sake of another, or because we just don’t want the responsibility of living our own lives, how do we take control of our lives again? For me, following the fear has been a helpful guide to understanding what I’ve been running from.

Self-Sacrifice: Pros & Cons

Self-sacrifice isn’t always a bad thing. If done with good intention and knowing how to recharge afterwards, it can be a rewarding experience. But done to often and without concern for your own emotional needs, it can leave you depleted, empty. The latter was what was most common in my family. And led to unhealthy ways of relating to one another. The following are some of the lessons I’ve learned from the unhealthy ways we would sacrifice ourselves in the name of taking care of each other.

Emotional Blackmail

As I’ve said above, if somebody was sacrificing themselves for somebody else in my family, there was usually a catch. This is where emotional blackmail enters the equation. We were constantly trying to feel better about ourselves by making the other person feel bad for taking our sacrifice for granted and not doing or being enough. And also, making sure they knew how we felt about it. What we didn’t realize was, that this makes both people feel worse. This leads to feelings of resentment towards one another. And trying to control each other using guilt and fear, only breeds more guilt and fear. No surprises here.

This is a difficult habit to break though. Because you have to feel through the fear of what’s keeping your need for control so strong. Finding and confronting that fear is what will set you free from the cycles of using fear and judgement to control and manipulate others. What triggered my fear was, feeling as though I wasn’t worthy of somebody else’s time, love or efforts.

Reality Check Your Fears

For me, love and acceptance was constantly being held just out of reach, over my head. So when I start to feel as though I’m not worthy of love and attention, fear sets in. This is where I need to reality check my thoughts and beliefs. Because the fear is usually coming from a very young place of feeling rejected, and I will want to act in unhealthy ways in order to feel belonging.

Now I’m able to take stock of the caring and loving relationships I’ve built and fostered with those closest to me. I remind myself that I can choose to build and keep healthy relationships. Instead of relying on a set of caregivers to provide all my relational needs for me. As was the case when I was a child.

Using Self-Sacrifice to Feel Superior

This was another way we held love back from each other. The more we did for one another, the more we sacrificed, the more material we had to use to feel as though we were better than the other. Because we were being so “selfless” in our sacrifice by not asking for anything in return. But what we hadn’t realized was, that we were expecting something. The feeling of superiority over the other, at the expense of somebody else feeling emotionally indebted to us, because of our sacrifice. Because we never asked for reciprocation, we just made the other feel as though their emotional needs were a burden to us. A part of our sacrifice to the other.

We did this, I believe, because we didn’t understand how to feel valued in relationships any other way. We didn’t know how to feel relaxed around each other without having three or four drinks first! Feeling valued in our relationships for who we are, might as well have been a trig course while we were still trying to figure out basic addition. And again, fear was behind our motivations. If we stop sacrificing ourselves for the other, we thought we’d no longer be needed. And therefore, our self worth would cease to exist.

This is a sad and terrifying place to be. I know I felt alone, isolated and without value. It’s no wonder we used each other the ways that we did. We built our relationships on a common fear of one another not needing us anymore, all the while trying to feel loved and accepted by the same people we feared would leave us. Confusing for sure. So how do we untangle this mess? This mass of confusion?

Finding Self Worth

It starts with understanding our own self worth, absent of the judgements from others. Your value as a person, is not contingent on somebody else’s good regard. When we understand this, then we can take a look at the relationships we’ve been keeping. How do those we keep closest to us make us feel about ourselves? Are they overly critical of us and others? When you speak about other people, is it usually a negative conversation? These are some indications that our relationship may need some tighter boundaries.

But you don’t have to completely abandon your relationships either. It’s possible to take care of yourself, while connecting with someone who is acting from a place of being judgmental. You just need to know when to step away from the relationship. To give yourself time to feel strong and confident enough in yourself and in the relationship. Not giving in to the judgments we used to connect to others with.

Not Falling Back into the Cycles of Petty Judgments

Because these cycles are easy to fall back into, it’s best to keep an eye on how you are being in the relationship, while interacting with these types of people. So as not to pick up where you left off. But try not to close off completely to them either. From my experience, when I was acting from a fearful place, when I would sacrifice myself to gain acceptance, I didn’t even realize I had an effect on others. I was so concerned about how I was being seen, that I was self-absorbed to the point of being oblivious to the hurtful things I was doing and saying.

This may also be the case with others who seem to be self absorbed as well. Maybe they just don’t know what they’re doing. That doesn’t change the fact that what they do can still be hurtful. But it helps to know that it’s most likely not out of malicious intent. So if you have the patience, try to stay open enough to be connected, but without draining yourself completely. And don’t forget to set boundaries with these types of relationships too. Because the other person is most likely incapable of seeing how they are abusing yours.

And don’t forget, it’s not your job to “save” or “fix” the other person. Whether or not they change is up to them, and is in no way within our control. The best we can do is lead by example and by setting and sticking to healthy boundaries in our relationships. And always make sure that you’re taking care of yourself first. Otherwise we’re back at square one. Where we sacrifice too much of ourselves, without reciprocation.

And Don’t Forget, be Kind : )

For me, one of the traps I used to fall into was belittling others so I could feel morally superior. And those that I surrounded myself with followed suit. So if we’re looking to make the change from finding belonging by demeaning others to feeling inherent self worth, we need to be kind. To ourselves and others.

Being petty and judgmental were some of the main foundations of my former relationships. In order to make the shift to kindness, I needed to be conscious of how I was speaking to and about others. And also what I was thinking about them as well. Because being needlessly negative to fit in is a habit that gets stronger the more we practice it. And it takes a great deal of willpower to recognize this habit as it’s happening, and to change its course.

So when old patterns of negative thoughts come up, don’t try to block them. Recognize that they are there and reality check them. Are you thinking this way because it’s how you used to fit in? Or maybe it’s a stroke of bad luck that you’re in a difficult situation. Make sure you’re not just defaulting to negativity out of old habit.

Actively Seek the Good

I’ve also been making it a point to pick out the positive I see in either people or situations too. In hopes that the more I practice this habit, the stronger it will become. And this doesn’t mean I’m being nice to cover over the discomfort of the negative thoughts that do come up. This can turn into denial if left unchecked. Rather allow both negative and positive thoughts to coexist, but choose to practice the positive.

I hope this has been helpful in some way. Making positive changes in our life isn’t always easy. But if you’re looking, you can usually find help and support when you need it. I hope this has been both. And as always, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Ritual Sacrifice of the Gummulate Tribe!” by Grizdave is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 11/24/22

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