“You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”
It sounds simple enough. It’s like what the flight attendant says while waiting for the plane to take off: In case of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. In daily life and intimate relationships however, this is easier said than done. If you’re like me and you have the “Giver” or “Helper” personality, then you probably put the needs of others before your own. Your default mode in most situations is to ask yourself, “What do I need to do for them?” and not “What do I need to do for me?”
I was in denial when two very close and extremely insightful friends pointed out to me that I was a TYPE 2 or Giver/Helper on the Enneagram (a personality typing system I will talk about in another post). Here’s an overview of the type from The Enneagram Institute website: “Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs.” Yikes. It was hard for my ego to accept the truth behind these statements. When reading about a certain type makes you emotionally uncomfortable and brings up a lot of resistance, then you know there’s something there you need to investigate.
And investigate I did. I started noticing my pattern of “overgiving” to my family and to whomever I was currently involved with. There was a time in my life when I was the main breadwinner of the family and I played that role very seriously. I would give and sacrifice to the point of exhaustion and depletion; then somewhere down the line I would explode in anger and reveal my true feelings. My constant helping and giving, which perpetuated my self-image as a good person, almost always led to resentment. This was how I behaved in intimate relationships too. I wanted to be seen as “the good one” and my boyfriend as the one who is taking advantage of my niceness and therefore needs to change. In my social circle, I was “everybody’s friend” who was always there for them. I enjoyed being liked and I was good at morphing myself into what I thought other people needed me to be. Even in my career as a performer and teacher, these tendencies were present. It didn’t matter what I wanted or needed. It didn’t matter what was authentic for me. I was able to present myself to the world in a way that won me the approval I didn’t realize I was always angling for. Being honest with myself and others about what I really thought, felt, and needed was low on my priorities.
Something obviously needed to change. There was too much drama in my relationships. I had financial problems because I didn’t know how to say no to my family and how to manage my money well. My acting and voice-over career was going well but I felt depleted by almost every job and professional interaction because I wasn’t being authentic. I realized I had no problems with giving but I had issues with receiving. I knew I had to start taking care of myself. I had to learn how to be vulnerable, how to admit weakness, and how to ask for help.
Enter yoga. Along with the personal growth work I did (self-study of the enneagram and psychology in general) and lifestyle changes I made (quit smoking, better diet, and exercise), starting a yoga practice was a major factor in my transformation. With regular practice, I started to learn how to be truly in the present moment. We need to be present enough to notice our habitual thoughts, emotional patterns, and reactive tendencies. What I realized was I was always outer-directed and rarely inner-directed.
This realization had profound effects on my work and relationships. As an actress, I was always performing and I was used to being watched, judged, and critiqued. I was my own worst critic, of course. On my yoga mat however, it was the complete opposite. For the first time, I wasn’t performing or competing. I didn’t need to achieve the pose. I didn’t need to accomplish anything. My time on the mat was for me and me alone. It was time to slow down and tune in to what I truly needed in the moment. Did I need to push and try? Did I need to hold a pose? Did I need to steady my breath? Or did I need to rest and drop into child’s pose? There was absolutely no need to impress anyone. It was such a relief to really listen to myself for the first time and honor my own needs. It was such a relief I found myself crying in yoga class! I can’t count how many times I’ve cried on my mat. I didn’t cry from physical pain (that would not be good!) but mostly from the relief that comes with surrendering. I surrendered and set aside my expectations, my tendency to please others, and my desire to control outcomes. Before then, I didnt realize the extent of my self-neglect. I’ve ignored my own wants and needs for so long it took a while for me to find out how to take care of myself. These changes spilled over into my personal life as I transitioned out of toxic relationships. Slowly, I spent more time and energy reflecting on my authentic needs and desires. I became less preoccuppied with what I think I need to do for other people or how to gain their approval. Yoga was a well that replenished me and enabled me to give more authentically and to receive more graciously.
Like everyone else, I’m a work in progress. I’m married to a wonderful guy who still needs to remind me to look after myself. As a yoga teacher, I know I need to take my own advice! I’ve been through stages where I was teaching so much yoga (15-18 classes a week) that I began to resent it and I started neglecting my own practice. Year 2017 is going to be particularly challenging with our first baby coming (I’m 37 weeks pregnant as I write this!) and the need for self-care is more important than ever. As a mom, I know I will be tempted to focus all my attention on my family and not attend to my own needs. That’s why I’m glad my yoga mat is always waiting for me. It’s there when I need to unplug and unwind. It’s there when I need some quiet time. It’s there when I want to have some fun! Most importantly, it’s there when I need to nurture myself. It is my hope that you find what you need on your mat as well.