A couple of years ago, a friend asked if she could stay at my house for a while. I immediately said yes, and she lived with me for about a month. During this time, she paid no rent, did little to help around the house, roped me into her unnecessarily long and stressful decision-making processes, and was visibly shaken when I asked her to buy toilet paper exactly once. I found her presence in my house immensely stressful, but I believed that it would be wrong of me to ask her to leave or request more from her than she seemed willing to give. I felt that her comfort and happiness was more important than my stress levels. Incidentally, the two of us are no longer friends.
A few years after that, I had to move back in with my parents, who live several hours away from most of my friends. A group of said friends and I used to meet regularly to play board games, and I could no longer join in unless somebody allowed me to spend the night afterwards. One friend kindly offered me his couch for a while. Although I would argue that I am a far less difficult house guest than the friend who stayed with me, I was still somebody regularly existing in somebody else’s space for longer than he wanted me to be there, which can be a stressful experience. Eventually my friend told me that he was no longer able to have me stay over. In other words, he placed his own needs over my wishes. Our friendship remains strong to this day.
Many of us, myself included, tend to operate under the belief that nothing is more important than the giving of our time, money, and energy, to others. Perhaps we have a manager who asks us to work on an enormous project until it is done, only for that manager to receive all the credit. Or maybe a friend calls us all the time to talk to us about her heartaches or ask for favours that only help her. Or our mother might always want us to assist in her new diet and fitness regime. Whatever the situation, we give these people all of ourselves without question, and usually without receiving anything in return.
Giving is not an inherently bad thing. Quite the contrary; giving to others is a good, kind, and loving act, and most of us have had times in our lives where we have been in need of kindness, and have benefitted from the giving acts of others. But everything, no matter how good, has a limit. When we give to others to the point where all of our time, money, and energy is being used up, we are left with nothing for ourselves.
In a world where many people, particularly women, are led to believe that our needs are not as important as the needs of others, the fact that many of us always give ourselves away might not seem to be a problem. But as much importance as we might place on other people, the person that we actually depend on the most is ourselves. In that way, we are each the most important person in our own lives, and we need to give to ourselves just as much as we give to others, if not more.
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Here at The Body is Not an Apology we spend a lot of time talking about learning to love and take care of ourselves. In its most basic form, giving to ourselves is about self-love and self-care. But it is also about more than that. It is about valuing ourselves as the brilliant beings that we are, and spending our time, money, and energy working on that brilliance and becoming smarter, fitter, more creative, or whatever else we might want to be. By doing this we are not just looking after ourselves; we are investing in ourselves.
It is impossible for us to invest in ourselves if we are always giving ourselves away to other people. If we believe we should always give to others first, the idea of looking after ourselves first might seem selfish and wrong. However, investing in ourselves is essential, and not just for our own happiness and self-worth. When we give to ourselves, we actually become better at giving to others. It is like owning a savings account. If we are constantly withdrawing money from this account without putting anything into it, we will eventually run out of money altogether. But if we make looking after the account our first priority, the account will fill up more efficiently and contain more money, which will in turn mean that we will have more to withdraw. Investing in ourselves works in the same way: if we invest in ourselves first, we will be better equipped to give to others.
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The ways we can most effectively invest in ourselves are going to differ greatly from person to person, but here are a couple of useful ideas:
- Learn to say no: My former friend was able to take complete advantage of my unyielding hospitality. This caused monumental stress on my part and essentially ruined what was a nice friendship. If I had been able to say ‘no’ to her once I had reached my limit, like my friend was able to say to me, perhaps our friendship would have persevered. Saying ‘no’ is a hard thing to do if you have a natural disposition to give, but sometimes it is necessary, and if the person to whom you are saying ‘no’ respects you, there will be no hard feelings.
- Let go of unnecessarily difficult relationships: there are some people in our lives who demand a lot of our time and attention, but the amount that they give us in return makes the sacrifice worth it. But there may also be some people who do not give as much as they receive. If there are any such people in your life, it might be worth asking yourself if it is worth keeping these people in your life. If it is not worth it, perhaps it is time to let these people go.
- Take care of your health: We hear about the importance of looking after our bodies many times over, but I am mentioning it here because its importance cannot be overestimated. We cannot hope to be of much use to ourselves, or others, if we are not in our best form. Everybody has different basic priorities with regards to health, and whatever those priorities are, meeting them is one of the best ways you can invest in yourself.
- Set goals: Investing in ourselves is not just about making sure we are in relatively good health. It is also about self-development; devoting time towards bettering ourselves. Think about what you would like to achieve for yourself in the near future. Perhaps you would like to be able to run a mile without stopping. Maybe you want to learn how to drive, or how to code, or how to cook. Think about things that you wish to learn or excel in, and set goals towards achieving that.
Giving to others can be a good and loving thing to do. However, if we are always giving to others, we risk being left with nothing to give to ourselves. The reality is that we are the most important person in our lives, and as such, we need to invest in our own, brilliant, selves. As well as enabling us to better love and value ourselves, investing in ourselves makes us better and more capable at giving to others.
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