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"You make the world a better place by making yourself a better person"- Scott Sorrel
What powerful words of wisdom! We often think that by taking care of others first we are always doing the right thing. And while this is such a beautiful thing to do there is a problem with that plan. If you always leave yourself for last this starts to take a toll on you- whether it be through resentment, decline in health, etc. One of the greatest lessons I have learned in life is the importance of taking care of myself first. Initially this seemed so foreign and selfish, but there has been a few times in my life that God/ The Universe really screamed at me to learn this lesson.
My life has always been about helping others and I often had a very difficult time saying "No"- even when I was exhausted and had nothing left to give! Eventually this finally took a toll on my body and I injured by my back in such a bad way that I was in bed for over two weeks and I could not walk, sit or stand. The muscle relaxers and prescription pain killers didn't even come close to diminishing my pain. Here I was in such a state of pain and now depression because of the pain and worry about what it all meant for my future- I really feared my life would be like this forever. I was fortunate enough to find a chiropractor who did very different work and helped me so much with the pain!
This life lesson taught me a lot- but the learning wasn't done there! Several years later, right after I graduated from grad school- and was ready to save the world- I once again had to learn the lesson of the importance of self-care. This time I was working in very unsafe areas in Long Beach- going into people's homes to work with them and their children who were totally defiant and out of control. My heart sunk deeper and deeper with every client I met with and I became more and more saddened by the fact that the work that I was doing wasn't "fixing" everything. I bent over backwards and answered calls in the middle of the night. I spent hours driving to and from Long Beach from Orange County. The supervision I received was much less than what was needed for such intense cases, but I pushed through regardless because I knew these kids needed me. When I look back I know that I was the only positive and loving person in a lot of these kids lives- what a gift I was able to offer- but the weight of that was so heavy.
I took on all this pain and responsibility but was not taking the time to take of myself in the ways I needed to. I eventually decided to quit that job and for a time was very reluctant to work with kids again because I felt that perhaps I was just too sensitive to handle it all. After some time in my own therapy I realized how much I was lacking in the self-care department. I started to take time to exercise and eat healthy, to journal about my feelings and share them with my therapist or other support system. I even learned to ask for help when I needed it. I stopped trying to do everything on my own. I learned how to set boundaries with those around me- even those that I love- and I learned the word "no". The fact of the matter was that I hadn't only been trying to save these kids and their families, but also everyone around me. Another deep truth and nugget of wisdom I learned was this "Give a man a fish you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
By me learning to care for myself I was better able to teach others how to do the same. Instead of trying to fix all their problems I realized that my life's purpose was to teach people and to give them the tools they needed to fix their own problems. While much healing comes from sharing your woes and worries with another person, true healing starts to come from that plus the changes we begin to implement in our life. And the truth is nobody can force anyone to change- this is something they have to want to do.
I have found time and time again- whether I am working with a parent, individual adult, teen, or a couple- the best advice or tool I can give is to teach them how to take care of themselves first. For a parent it may prevent them from taking out their anger and frustration on their child. In couples I see that they start to find joy in life again and in their partner because they are no longer exploding on the other person and they are setting healthy boundaries that increase their respect for themselves and their partner. For teens (and everyone else really) taking care of themselves may mean really exploring their feelings and finding healthy ways to cope instead of drugs, alcohol, sex, oppositional behaviors, self-harm, and or any other type of addictions.
Fortunately I didn't let that early experience drive me away from working with kids. In fact, I spent many years after that primarily working with kids and found that with this new wisdom I was able to create long lasting change. Most importantly I took care of myself (and continue to do so) so that I was and am able to help many more children, teens, families, couples and adults.
If people really took the time to take care of themselves there would be a lot less resentment, anger and hurt in the world. Remember this- you can truly give way more to others if you are starting with a full cup versus an empty cup.
So fill your cup up daily- love yourself in every way possible and you will see that through this love you will not only see more beauty and give more love to others but you will truly make lasting change on this planet!
Sending you lots of love and positive thoughts,
Elizabeth Cappelletti, MA, LMFT