Hello everybody, welcome to episode 173 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is from a listener who's struggling with worrying about others and living her own life.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
Now today we have a question that was sent in by a woman who’s being a little too selfless and feels as though her tendency to look after others instead of herself is really starting to interfere with her life. A good cause, but yet another reminder that too much giving, AKA the Martyr Complex, can be very unhealthy to maintain. Let’s take a look at her question…
QUESTION: “I’m having a hard time living for myself. I have these periods where I'm doing great and I'm focused on me and what makes me happy. Then, slowly, I fall back to worrying about everyone else. It's not as bad as before, but I'm still struggling to fully let go and live for me.”
Living for Yourself: Focus on Your Inner Life
All right, there we have it. Thank you, asker, for sending this one in. My response is going to require you to further explore these trends that you’ve noticed. It’s pretty awesome that you’re able to see these phases where you go in and out, and to me, a lot of your answers lie within them.
So first off, you talk about the periods when you’re doing great, focused on you and what makes you happy. You’ve described those feelings; the inner life during those times.
What actions are causing them? What does your outer life look like in those times, and what positive actions are you taking that cause those good feelings?
Are you sleeping in a little bit? Are you not blowing off time with your friends? Are you exercising more?
Your Thoughts and Actions in Good Times
If you can document and pinpoint what your thoughts and actions look like during the good times, and – more specifically – the thoughts and actions that you have control of, these high points will feel less elusive, which is what you want.
You can work a little extra to exercise for just a half hour when you find yourself feeling as though there isn’t enough time to. Keep the actions alive and you’ll be more apt to keeping the positive feelings alive.
Right now you seem to be riding that wave, and you can probably call a lot more shots than you realize if you’re able to get clear about when things are good and what exactly you can do to keep it that way.
Your Thoughts and Actions in Bad Times
Similarly, you can pull the same move for the times in which you’re slipping. What do those look like?
It’s probably the opposite of the things I mentioned earlier (or whichever apply to you); sleeping less so as to make more time to take care of others, not making time for friends or exercise. Look for the triggers.
Maybe for some reason they’re more clear to you in bad times than good. Look back to those same small decisions you can make to crawl your way out of the behaviors that are prevalent in the low times.
Even making minuscule efforts to shift back into the right behaviors will go a long way, because you’ll get into the habit of thinking them through and reminded of the fact that you don’t need to just be swept helplessly between good and bad. This will reinstate a sense of control over time.
Value in Worrying about Others
Now with all that being said, this tendency to live for others obviously comes from somewhere, and I don’t have nearly enough time or information to help you understand where it comes from. I recommend you explore that with the help of a therapist.
But in the meantime, it’s also crucial to remember that there is still value in worrying for others.
As I’ve said before on the show, all of our traits come with good and bad, making it blurry sometimes to tell the difference between which attributes are preferable and which are not. The best parts of us can also make for the worst parts of us and vice versa. For you, the extent to which you worry about everyone else would not be so extreme if you were a less compassionate person, and compassion is often regarded as a good thing.
What this means is that even though you’ve recognized living too much for others as something that harms you, it’s important to not be so extreme as to write it off completely.
There is still a lot of value in worrying for others, and a life without it would not be very rewarding, especially if it’s the groove you naturally fall into.
Like everything, it should be kept within reason, so you don’t want it to dictate your life entirely, but beware of putting too much shame on the part of you that shows care for others.
Caring for Others on Your Own Terms
Combining all the thoughts so far, I think the sweet spot for you is to make time to care for others, but do so on your own terms. And you can get creative with this.
Think about the ways you give to others that you also gain the most fulfillment from. Maybe you were once a competitive swimmer, and one of the ways you care for others is by volunteering to teach swimming lessons to those who are elderly or disabled. This would probably fall into the category of high enjoyment as well as high contribution.
If there are none of these hybrids in your routine right now, make them. Or maybe you can plan each day around two significant things you do for yourself and two significant things you do for a loved one.
The point is that these fluctuations you’re experiencing can be melded together by taking bits of living for yourself alongside bits of looking after others.
Just like our asker in the last episode might have had a bad taste in her mouth about marriage because it’s had an unhealthy presence in her life, you have a bad taste in your mouth about compassion. This is not because there’s anything wrong with compassion, but because it hasn’t been addressed correctly. But it still can be, and should be.
Worrying about Others vs. Living For Yourself: Conclusion
As I’ve said a million times, the more you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be able to take care of others – both in quality and quantity. So identify the exact looks of the high and low points you experience, make the extra effort to prioritize that which fills your day during the good times, and give to others in a way that works alongside that, not instead of it.
Thank you once again, asker, for trusting us with this question. Hopefully the answer didn’t disappoint and that you have some ideas now as to how you can wrangle these seemingly “un-wrangleable” ups and downs you’re experiencing. As I briefly mentioned, it’d probably be in your best interest to look into avenues to understand where this urge to give so much to others comes from. That will also be something that I imagine will help you to find comfort with not removing it from your life, but rather putting a leash on it. Really anything you can do to approach the urges with more mindfulness and awareness is sure to help you stay more grounded.
That’s going to do it though, everyone. Thanks a lot for being here and do be sure to come back again for the next one. I’ll talk to you all then. Take care.