Can you be a spiritual person and still advocate for yourself? In other words, does being spiritual mean you forfeit your own self-interests for others?
These are rich questions.
Healers dedicate their lives in service to others, but often struggle with appropriate boundaries. Without proper boundaries, healers, empathetic people and those who are religious, spiritual and service-minded can easily take on the worries and problems of others.
The result can be stress, depression, guilt and chronic fatigue. Women are particularly susceptible to this because the majority of us are raised to be caregivers and put others first–the family, spouse, or aging parents—and yes, even strangers.
As a result, we see a lot of emotional exhaustion in women. And that’s because most of us have never learned to properly take care of ourselves.
I know when I was married I put my energy into supporting my husband’s career, though I had my own, and taking care of my son. I was happy to do this, but when my marriage of 20-years ended and my son was away at college and I was left with just me, I remember thinking how foreign it felt to think of myself, to prioritize …well, me. I didn’t even know what I needed and wanted anymore because I had willingly given myself away in service to an idealized notion of the family norm.
It was completely my fault. And in retrospect, I think everyone, my son, my husband and myself, would have been happier if I had put more energy into my own hopes, dreams and needs.
Now, eight years later, I still struggle with this. But I am better. I find ways to be of service to others in big and small ways; I fully believe our mission here on earth is to learn how to love and how to serve.
But I also believe that we must learn to be of service to ourselves. We must learn to nurture ourselves, our spirits and our bodies. And I am not talking about doing it with spa days, shopping trips, lunches and weekend getaways. I am talking about doing it through the deep spiritual and reflective work that is needed to really connect with one’s higher self and purpose. The kind of reflection that allows us to learn who we are, what we need, what resonates with our own soul, and where we learn to say no to others sometimes because it is in our highest good.
Sometimes our spirit is working in our highest good when it tells us that we are wired and tired and too empathetic to spend another minute offering up our energy to those who drink from the well of our good nature. Do we care enough about ourselves to listen or slow down?
As a person who considers herself to be spiritual and wildy empathetic, I struggle with creating boundaries. More and more, the world is shrinking, and many of us are becoming more porous and experiencing an empathy overload as a result. Watching the news, seeing photos of abused animals on social media, hearing of a co-worker’s problems can touch us deeply. But it can also cause damage to our emotional psyches if we don’t learn to take care of ourselves when we feel overwhelmed or frustrated.
There is a message for us in the overwhelm.
And on those occasions when we feel a resistance to serving someone and sacrificing precious reserves of energy for someone else, it’s time to take a step back. Maybe it’s a message to re-evaluate, to question your resonance with the cause or the person, to get clear on your own needs, or to work on your shadow so you don’t stay perpetually stuck in the caregiver or mother archetype and too depleted to evolve into your own Divine Self.
Just know that in the end, we aren’t much good to others if we are continually sacrificing ourselves or our emotional well-being to be the friend on call, the sympathetic ear, the committee chairperson, the dutiful child, or the nice one who is always too polite to say I’m sorry, “Here’s a dime, call another caregiver today, I’m on a break.”
Now, let me be clear—I am not advocating cold-hearted selfishness for the sake of selfishness. I am arguing for strategic selfishness that nurtures us and empowers us to become healthier, more whole, and more loving. Because when we get to this place where we love ourselves enough to prioritize our own emotional and even spiritual needs, we actually become more genuine and authentic in our service to others.
When we choose to help others from a place of personal integrity, love, respect and resonance, and not from our shadow sides of guilt, obligation and co-dependency, it feels so much better. And more loving.
So listen to your spirit, and advocate for yourself on occasion. Because being an advocate for yourself might be the most spiritual thing you can do sometimes.