As a mother, as a father, as someone with a loved one, it perhaps comes second nature to you, to put the needs of others in front of you. So when you try and succeed and finally do something for yourself, something that makes you happy, do you, also, end up feeling guilty about this?
Having been brought up in an Indian household, I have largely been and still am being exposed to excessive selfless acts committed by people in my family, especially women.
I find this very inspiring but also quite confounding. How they seem ever ready to let their needs take the backseat in the case that there is somebody else who happens to need something.
This characteristic forms the underlying principle of the collectivistic cultures found largely in Asian countries. Throughout the span of multiple generations, we have been taught that it is important to put the interests of the group over our own individual interests. This starkly contrasts the features of individualistic cultures where individual interests are valued more than that of the group.
But despite differences that can be attributed to our culture and our upbringing, I suppose, on some level, we all feel the need to put others’ needs before us. And when we fail to do so, at least a dash of guilt comes upon us. Why does this happen?
Why do we feel guilty when we put ourselves first?
Although, it has been argued for years that humans are, in general, self-involved and selfish, there, however, has been increasing evidence to point out that there may be a ‘Compassionate instinct’ in us, which drives us to help others.
Thus, we may be intrinsically inclined to care about others and to lend a helping hand, whenever possible, naturally, causing guilt when we don’t.
It may also be that when we help others selflessly, it puts us in a positive light. Our altruistic acts portray us as someone who is there for others. As humans, we care an awful lot about what people think of us and what impression we leave on others.
Hence, even if we don’t feel guilty for the true purpose we are supposed to be feeling guilty for, we may feel so thinking of how we may have come off as.
What can you do to try to not feel guilty about putting yourself first?
Simply put, it is absolutely okay to put yourself over others. Here are 6 reminders, in further detail, to remind you why you need to put yourself first and to help you in case you can’t help but feel guilty about this, anyway:
1. Put yourself first, for if you don’t who will
Learn to put yourself first unapologetically. Remember that you are your own person, too, no matter how important to you your roles as mother, father, sister, may seem. It happens to be your responsibility to take care of yourself, not just others.
You need to remember to take charge of your own life. If you keep looking out for others, there’s no guarantee that you will be looked after, too. You cannot expect others to treat you the same way, cannot expect them to take care of you. Put yourself first, because if you don’t, who will. Remember, yourself>>others.
2. Caring more for yourself doesn’t mean caring less for others
If you still find it difficult to embrace the idea of putting yourself before others, that you still completely believe that you need to take care of others, remember this. Caring more for yourself doesn’t mean there’s less care left to devote to others.
It is not an exhaustible resource, and hence when you put yourself and your needs first, it doesn’t undermine those of others. If you want, there’s enough care within you for all.
Maybe caring for yourself is even the way you need to take if you want to care for others. Imagine your life in concentric circles, with you occupying the center.
You fulfill your needs to reach one outer circle after the other and help other people in these circles fulfill theirs. Help yourself first, so you can get to others. Besides, when you put your needs first and take care of yourself, you are better equipped to handle others.
3. Practice putting your needs first persistently till you make it a habit
It is true that this may not come so easily to you, but that doesn’t mean that you never can get there. One way you can make sure that you practice this is to be assertive when dealing with others, more specifically, when you want to say ‘No’ to something. Being assertive can greatly help as it revolves around communicating your needs in ways that appeal to both you and the other person.
It also has so many perks. It improves your self-esteem and makes you more confident. Be patient with yourself and slowly make it a habit to be assertive.
When you make it a habit and practice it long enough, you learn to get accustomed to it. It wouldn’t seem so strange anymore and you gradually normalize it – putting yourself first.
4. You’re the only one who will always be by your side
Remember that you are the only one who is completely and directly under your own influence. You can try as much as you want, but you cannot, for sure, determine the actions of another person.
You can try to persuade them, you can try to influence them, but in the end, they will only end up doing what they want. But that isn’t the case with respect to your own actions.
When you wish for something and truly intend for something to happen, you can get it done. You are the one who can get your intentions transformed into results.
You cannot always be certain about how people will act. Hence, you cannot expect others to be there for you. Make it a point to be there for yourself. Friends, family, and loved ones will, for sure, be there too, but at a more profound level, you are your one true companion. Remember to stand up for yourself when required.
5. Self-care isn’t selfish
When you engage in self-care activities, remember that it is not selfish. It is a highly worthy investment that you make and it will pay off. These activities can be anything that makes you happy and lights up your day. It can be meditation, it can be cooking, or maybe even taking a walk on your street.
The best thing about self-care practices is that they heal you and make you feel better about yourself on multiple levels. Your mood lightens up and you feel powerful.
When you work on yourself, it shows that you are there to take care of yourself. Again, it promotes self-worth and independence, and putting yourself first this way shouldn’t make you feel guilty.
6. By putting yourself first, you show immense respect for yourself
When you constantly put yourself first, you become stronger. When you put your needs above others when required, your respect for yourself grows vastly and it will portray that you expect the same from others.
Others will start to feel all the more compelled to never disrespect you, even by mistake. They become inclined to respect you and treat you with the dignity that you deserve.
When you fail to put your needs above others and simply get used to giving in to those of others, you don’t emanate this energy yourself. Hence, you cannot be surprised, then, when people do not give you the respect that they don’t see you giving yourself.
Guilt is often looked at as a negative emotion. But I would like to look at guilt in a rather positive light. The fact that you feel guilty about something, like in our case, when you think of putting your own interest over that of others only means your moral compass within is working right.
Feeling guilty reminds you that even if you feel you have done something irretrievably wicked, you inherently feel bad about it. This reflects the difference between who you think you are as a person and who you are as a person. You feel bad about it and perhaps won’t do that again.
Yet, safeguarding your own interests shouldn’t be one of those things. It should not be something you feel bad about and completely stop doing. Because putting yourself first is something you have to practice unapologetically.
It is okay, if, despite it all, you still can’t help but feel guilty about putting yourself first and standing up for yourself. It may only mean that you care too much about the people around you, about the people you love.
It denotes how selfless you can be. But, that is no reason for you to keep looking over your needs to take care of others because that is not at all healthy. Be patient as you make your way through this journey and keep trying deliberately to put yourself first. Caring for yourself is not selfish, because if you don’t who will?
Related Article: The Battle Of Inner And Outer Self