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Learning to Put Myself First

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It seems that for some people the idea of compassion entails a complete disregard for or even a sacrifice of their own interests. This is not the case. In fact, you first of all have to have a wish to be happy yourself – if you don’t love yourself like that, how can you love others? – Dalai Lama

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Last Sunday a friend of mine was talking about how her priest was retiring because of compassion fatigue. That witnessing the suffering of his parishioners all those years had depleted him, and he had nothing left to give.

In the post What Compassion is Not, I talked about the misconceptions that lead some people to believe that compassion enables people to be lazy, unproductive members of society. But there are also misconceptions about compassion that can lead to burnout. Here are some of the ones I’ve written about in my blog.

1. Date your enemies. When Jesus said to love your enemies, I took this a bit too far. Yes, I do try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. To recognize that we are all capable of good and evil. But I also thought it meant that if I didn’t want to date someone because of race, SES, mental illness, red flags, etc., then I was judging them, and judgment is bad. So I should try to overcome my prejudice and go out with the person, anyway.

This has lead to disastrous consequences in my personal life. It would have been kinder to both of us if I had just acknowledged that we were not compatible from the start.

2. Love your neighbor more than yourself. I know that the quote is actually to love your neighbor as yourself, but somewhere along the line, I came to believe that my needs were less important than others. If I could help someone, I should, whether it hurts me or not.

Blogging has been the best reminder to put my needs first. Since I’m always preaching self-care, it would be hypocritical not to take care of myself. Plus, since I have made blogging a priority, before I take on a new task, I ask myself how many blog posts it will cost me. And even if it costs me one post, I won’t do it.

3. Practice compassion perfectly. Technically, evaluation should not be a part of compassion at all, but tell that to my Inner Critic.

In my last relationship, I hated the guy for a year after we broke up, and I felt terrible about this. Despite my best efforts, I could not make myself let go of my anger. But when you are practicing compassion, you must have compassion for yourself first. So I would tell myself that this is where I am at the moment. Not yet ready to let go of my anger toward this person who hurt me. And that’s OK. When I’m ready, it will happen.

And it did.

If you are interested in learning more about how to practice compassion, I recommend Jack Kornfield’s compassion meditation. It is one of my favorites.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

28 responses »

  1. Loved your post – and your link to the Kornfield meditation – and your #1000Voices badge; hope it’s alright that I borrowed it as my #1000 voices badge – and can you please tell me HOW to create a badge page?? (the one with just the image)) thanks

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  2. Well put, there are so many things we do for other people that burn us out. The worst part, I find is that most of the time the people we sacrifise for don’t even appreciate what we have done. SOmetimes, they don’t even have a clue of what is happening.

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  3. I like that you see your passion for blogging as a form of self care…and that you protect it. And how lovely that this in turn benefits your readers:)

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  4. Another great post. Thank you. If your love is to warm others then the hotter the flame within the more others are warmed. It’s a beautiful lesson and one I’m just beginning to learn.

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  5. “I came to believe that my needs were less important than others. If I could help someone, I should, whether it hurts me or not.” THIS really talked to me. It’s only been in recent months that I’ve realized that by saying, “Yes,” to others — including our own adult daughters — when that, “Yes,” means that I (and, by association, my husband) will go without something we actually need (enough money, enough food, enough time…fill in the blank here…between paychecks), that I should really just say, “No,” without feeling guilty. In the end, it does me (us) no good at all to extend our energy, time, or resources to anyone if we are left in need ourselves. Thanks for sharing! Blessings!

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  6. Great post ! We all need to be reminded to show ourselves compassion and kindness, just the same as we offer it to others. Your example of the priest reminds me of a talk by Ajahn Brahm I listened to on You Tube. If I can find the link I will put it.

    Ajahn Brahm is a Buddhist monk and he does counseling for people that come to him and he hears horrible suffering and terrible situations. He said the way he deals with it is the way his teacher Ajahn Cha taught him to.

    He said to be dustbin. A dustin is what you sweep all the dust and garbage into. You take in all the bad things while you are counseling. You really listen and have compassion for the person you are helping at the time while you are with them.

    But when they leave, you have to go on to the next person. There is no room in the dust bin if you keep adding sadness and darkness over and over.

    Each time you have to empty the dust bin out. It does not mean that you do not care. But you start fresh each time you are with a person. You pay attention to the person right in front of you, but do not carry the pain with you from the last person.

    This is the monk way of counseling and not burning out from it. It is easy to burn out. Then there is nothing left for yourself or anyone else.

    I love Ajahn Brahm talks. 🙂
    Annie

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  7. Over the years since my divorce, I have felt increasing compassion for me. I’m starting to let go of the anger about the way I was treated. I don’t have enough energy to stay angry, but if someone is mean to my oxymorons, then you better believe I’ll find the strength to protect them.

    Love,
    Janie

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  8. Beautiful quote from Dalai Lama. Going to check out the compassion meditation now. Bye!

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  9. Ah, Christy, wiser words have never been blogged. 😀 I loved the humour laced post and yes, I’d definitely not go with date your enemies either. God knows they can’t stand me. I would love my neighbours more but none of them are that good looking, damn it! But on a serious note I can aim to practice compassion perfectly. And who better a candidate than me to start with? Yes, I am going to pick and choose because I can. I will give as much as I am capable of for stretching my limits will only exhaust my resources and barely be beneficial. Thank you for this honest to God post. Loved it!

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    • Exactly. Even posts that tell us how to be passionate make me feel guilty for all of the things that I’m doing. But I’m doing the best that I can. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and to give such thoughtful comments!

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  10. Excellent post on recognizing compassion begins within. To be kind to ourselves allows us to be kind to others; I can’t see how we can sustain the overflowing cup if we’re constantly treating ourselves harshly. I’m not suggesting that one must dive into a life of egotistic pursuits, but practicing compassion at home is a great start.

    Thank you for sharing your journey of compassion through your personal experiences. Losing ourselves in others isn’t the intent; sharing ourselves with others, I think, is.

    Kudos, Christy. 🙂

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  11. This is a great post – and very true that self-compassion I think is the first step. I think we each need to remember to put our needs up high. If we are happy people, we are better people for others.

    As for showing compassion by spending time with our enemies, I was mid-way through my 20s before I realized that I needed to “break up” with certain friends who weren’t really friends. They took more than they ever gave and that’s not friendship. I didn’t get what I needed, and they used me as a crutch which meant they didn’t have to stand on their own, so I ultimately wasn’t really helping them either. I think, at times, it shows more compassion to let certain people go from our lives.

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