“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” ~Buddha
We all want to be liked. It’s programmed into our DNA and throughout our lives the message is drummed into us loud and clear: put other people first, don’t blow your own horn, and above all, never be selfish.
Our society conditions us to tend to everybody else’s needs while ignoring our own, as if this is somehow a virtuous and noble vocation.
But what if I told you that you could take care of your own needs as well as the needs of others and be happy at the same time?
“Me” Is Not a Dirty Word
Most people confuse self-care with selfishness. The fact of the matter is that you are no use to anybody else if you don’t take care of your own needs first.
If you have spent your whole life saying yes when you want to say no, never asking for what you want, or constantly avoiding conflict, what I’m about to say may come as a shock to you:
The sky doesn’t fall in when you set boundaries.
You don’t always have to be the easy-going, laid back one. You can express your preferences, disagree with another person’s point of view, or decline a social invitation without getting anybody’s nose out of joint; and you can do this in an easy, open respectful manner.
Instead of saying nothing or flying into a rage when something doesn’t sit right with you, you can choose the middle way—being assertive. Assertive communication sends the message: “I respect you and I respect myself.”
It’s also a healthy way to communicate because if you ignore your own needs and stuff down your negative emotions, they will only come back to bite you later on.
I’m not saying you should go on a rampage of self-indulgence and narcissism. Instead, ask yourself “how can we both win in this situation?” For example, let’s say you always let your friend pick the movie when you go out.
Next time you could say, “Actually, I’d really like to see this movie instead. How about next time you get to choose what we see?”
A happy life has a healthy balance of giving and receiving. Creating that balance starts with believing that you deserve to be as happy as those around you.
We Teach People How To Treat Us
When I was seven years old I was acutely aware of the pecking order in my class. There was the ever coveted popular group…and then there was me.
I wanted so much for the cool kids to like me that I would do almost anything for them. One of the popular girls lived around the corner from me, so on weekends we would play together. When we were alone she was very nice to me and we got along famously.
But as soon as we were at school she would suddenly switch, excluding me from her games, making fun of me in front of others, and being really cruel to me.
One day I had just received a beautiful set of coloured crayons for my birthday, which I was using during drawing class. This girl asked me if she could use my crayons. After some consideration, I said “Yes, but only if you will be my friend.”
She said, “Sure I’ll be your friend.” In good faith I allowed her to share my crayons, truly believing that she would keep her word. Alas, the moment drawing class finished she returned to her old bullying behaviour and I was left feeling angry, sad, and confused.
I learned a very important lesson on that day: if you’re nice to other people they’re not necessarily going to be nice to you in return.
The lesson I didn’t learn from that day (a lesson that would continually be thrown at me for many years to come) was that we teach people how to treat us. I was the one who was allowing this girl to bully me and use me; and only I could change that situation.
Unfortunately, as the years went by I continued to allow myself to be mistreated by friends, co-workers, and boyfriends, all because I just wanted them to like me.
The real problem was that I didn’t like myself. Then finally one day the penny dropped. How could I possibly expect other people to respect me if I had no respect for myself?
From that moment onward I stopped handing out crayons to just anybody. I ditched the “frenemies” and opened up space to attract the kind of people I really wanted in my life.
Nowadays those who have the privilege of my friendship have to earn it through trust, respect, integrity, and congruence between actions and words. And I don’t mind telling you I have a pretty great bunch of people in my corner.
How to Set Boundaries
If you’re used to doing anything to avoid rocking the boat, setting boundaries can be a bit scary at first. But trust me, once you start it will become easier with time and practice.
It’s not about stepping on anybody’s toes or being aggressive. You are simply creating the habit of respecting your own needs as well as those of other people so that everybody wins sometimes.
Start with baby steps. Pick your battles and listen to your gut along the way. For example, if you’re used to saying yes all the time, try saying yes only 50 percent of the time.
Other ways you can be assertive are:
- Say no when a friend asks you for a favor without feeling obliged to constantly apologize
- Don’t volunteer to do something just because you think you “should”
- Voice your preferences when choosing dinner, movies or other activities in a group
- Express your opinion respectfully in an even tone without raising your voice
Happy people make other people happy. When you are getting your needs met, your loved ones will also benefit from this.
As a visitor on this planet you have as much right to happiness as anybody else. So if you want to be happy, choose the middle way. Respect yourself as well as those around you, and when you spread the love around make sure you have some left over for yourself.