Do you ever feel needy, selfish, or silly for trying to take care of yourself? Does it feel indulgent or annoying to speak up for yourself and insist on doing what you need to do to feel comfortable, to feel loved, or to feel validated?
Here are some tips on how to handle these feelings so you can meet your needs with less guilt and shame:
1. Feel your feelings.
If you're feeling uncomfortable before going to the gym to take care of your body, or before leaving your child with a babysitter so you can have some me-time, let yourself feel your discomfort. Note 3 feelings you are feeling right now. Take a breath.
We often feel the need to ignore our feelings and just "soldier on." But it's okay to feel sad or weird when you're doing something for yourself, especially after a lifetime of not taking care of yourself. Take a minute or two to acknowledge and feel the feeling. Say "I feel annoyed that I have to go to the gym," or "I feel guilty about leaving my son with a babysitter."
2. Just state what you need, without an explanation.
It's easy to come up with a million reasons to not take care of yourself, and those reasons often involve other people. "My wife is too demanding. If I asked for some me-time, she'd be too mad, so I can't do it." "I am the breadwinner of my family. I'm not allowed to do anything except for making that $$." And so on, and so on.
Instead of explaining your situation, what would it feel like to just state what you need and drop the mike? You don't have to find a solution or tell everyone else what they should do to accommodate you. Let yourself just say "I need time to myself," or "I need relaxation." Repeat this statement as many times as you need. The articulation of the need is your only job.
3. Remember how taking care of you will help your relationships.
I have written before about how many of my clients have a hard time with self-care, because they are selfless people who love to take care of others. That's great! I am often that way too.
For me, it helps me to remember that taking care of myself actually makes my relationships better with my friends and family. Think of a friend or family member you have had who is not taking care of their emotional or physical needs -- they lash out, are passive aggressive, or just seem to not be taking care of themselves. As their friend, you worry about them; you think about them; and you're not sure how to help them. You know they just need to figure it out on their own.
Taking care of yourself is a gift not just to yourself, but to your community. When your friends and family know that you are taking care of yourself, they don't have to worry about you. They can trust you.
So if you don't want to think of self-care as a gift to yourself (yet), think about it as a gift to others.
4. Know that ultimately, other people are not in charge of meeting your needs.
Sometimes, meeting our needs means making requests of other people. For example, telling a guy you're dating, "Can you tell me how you feel about our relationship? I want clarity."
I do this all the time. I feel safe enough to tell my husband, "I need a hug!" or "Give me some compliments!" (I am addicted to compliments.) But in previous relationships, stating what I needed felt like I was being needy and demanding.
The key to not feeling needy or demanding is to remember that other people (even if you're married to them) are not actually in charge of meeting your needs.
"But May, you just said you demand your husband to give you hugs and he does it? So how is he not in charge of meeting your needs?" you may ask.
Well, my friend, guess what? Sometimes I need a hug and my husband isn't there. Other times, I need a hug and he just got home from work and wants nothing to do with me. I know at all times that just because I need something, doesn't mean my husband (or my mom, or my friends, etc.) are there to provide it.
It is my responsibility to state what I need, but not to convince a particular person to give me what I need.
For example, when I'm feeling insecure, and my husband isn't making me feel more secure, it may not be the time to tell him "why are you acting this way? I need you to give me compliments but you're falling asleep! You're so annoying!"
Instead, it's time for me to mourn his absence in that moment, and reach out to a friend I trust. If there is no one I can reach out to, it's time for me to do some inner work. If I'm insecure, for example, I sit with my journal and write things I love about myself. Or perhaps I look over notes from my friends. If I can't even do that, I just sit there and mourn my unmet need. I feel sad about the fact that I don't have validation right now.
If someone is not available to give you what you need, you have options. You can reach out to someone else, meet the need yourself, or mourn the unmet need. Shablam!
All you're in charge of is stating what you need, not making others help you.
5. Taking care of yourself emotionally is part of meeting your other goals.
If you're truly committed to being a part of a happy family, and having good relationships in your life, taking care of yourself is a MUST. If you want to leave a legacy of love of your community, self-care is a must.
Self-care is not a separate thing you "should do." It is part of meeting your other goals, like building good relationships and living in harmony with your family and friends.
Thinking of self-care as a part of your other goals can help you commit to it.
Got questions? Let me know in the comments. <3 <3
Do you find yourself being unhappy, but you don't know why, since everything "seems fine"?
Knowing your life values can help you figure out the "why" and feel fulfilled consistently.
Values are the aspects of life that you, well, value most at your core. They are different what you need right now, but are the things you value in general.
How are you supposed to figure out your values? I recommend starting by thinking of a time when you felt happy and fulfilled, and writing about it in detail. What activities were you performing? Who did you have around you? What about the experience felt most exciting?
For example, one of my happiest memories is travelling alone in Southeast Asia. I loved figuring out how to travel on my own. I loved travelling slowly and leisurely, without moving around quickly from town to town and island to island. And I loved meeting new people.
What about you? What is your experience that made you feel happy and fulfilled?
Once you write about this experience, extrapolate 10 values from this list that you notice were honored during that experience.
The values I honored during my trip include:
Pick your 5 top values. These are the things you care most about. When you live a life that honors these values, you feel fulfilled and happy.
Ask yourself: How are you currently honoring these needs in your current life? How could you honor them more through your actions?
When you are living a life that honors your most important values, your needs feel "taken care of." Understanding your values can help you feel more grounded and committed to what you're looking for in life, and less likely to get overwhelmed by it all.
I notice that when women are trying to figure out what they need when they feel "off," 2 hurdles come up:
1. Self-esteem: You may get caught up in "I hate myself! Why should I take care of myself when I'm such a bad person?"
2. A specific outcome: You really hate your job. You really, really hate your job. It's hard to see beyond this. You look at the list of emotional needs to figure out how to describe your needs and think, " I don't need to figure out an emotional need. I already know what the problem is -- my job."
Here is how to get unstuck here:
1. Take self-esteem out of it. When you see a baby crying, you know that baby needs something, whether it's a "bad" or "good" baby. It needs hugs, it needs food, it needs a diaper changed, etc. When you are interrogating what you need, take self-esteem out of it. Whether you think you're a "good" or "bad" person, what we know is that you are A person, and you have needs. Try to "snooze" on the question of your goodness or badness, and treat yourself like a baby who is crying. Ask "what does the baby need, and how can I provide it for them?"
2. Ask, "what's the most important thing about my current lack?" We know you really hate your job. We know you really hate being single. But what does make your job suck so much? When you imagine a job in which you're happier, what do you imagine? What is important about getting a different job? What is important about getting a romantic partner? Interrogate the outcome you desire, and think of what seems most magical about achieving the outcome.
Most importantly, use a word from this list to describe what you are missing.
Consider speaking about your current predicament using a word from the list of emotional needs. Instead of telling people "I hate my job and can't wait to get out." Say, "I'm really looking for an environment with more flexibility. I want this so badly." Instead of saying, "I'm so sick of being single," say, "I'm really looking for the right kind of companionship in my life."
This language signals to your community what you actually want, and gets them excited about helping you achieve it. Note that using outcome-based language (such as "I want a new job" or "I want a wife") lets others fill in their preconceived notions about jobs and wives. They may assume you simply want to make more money, or that you're simply looking for the stability of marriage. Using "needs words" stops these misconceptions about what you're looking for, not only for yourself, but for everyone around you.
I know the title of this post is a Spice Girls reference, but the situation I'd like to talk about today is when you can't figure out what you want, when you have no idea if you want to "zig a zig ah"!
As you may know if you follow my writing, I have been talking nonstop about how to assess what you need using this universal list of needs. I talk a lot about honoring your emotional needs instead of pushing them away.
However, what are you supposed to do when two needs bump up against each other and seem irreconcilable? For example, what if you are desperately yearning for self-expression, through your love of singing, but you also reeeeally care about security, in the form of $$$? Perhaps singing has not been lucrative for you financially, so how are you supposed to reconcile those two needs???
When you have two different needs that fight for your attention, it can feel less like the Spice Girls and more like Brandi and Monica fighting over their boy! (Yes, I grew up in the '90s.) These two needs are fighting over who you will choose, and you have no idea who you should listen to.
It may seem tempting to say "I don't need security. I'm just gonna go out there and be a singer! Who cares if I'm broke?" It may also be tempting to say "singing is not realistic. I care about security, so I'm going to let go of self-expression."
But in the long run, your old friends Security or Self-Expression will come running back and demanding answers, Brandi and Monica style. You cannot escape.
Instead, try giving space to your different needs, and staying curious about them. Act as if they are your children. Give each of them the attention they deserve.
I actually speak to my needs. I ask them, "Security, if I get a promotion this year, would you feel comfortable with me spending $ on some singing lessons?"
"Self-Expression, how would you feel about me singing every month at a choir? Is that enough singing for you for now?"
Other needs may chime in. For example, Ease, who may say," Please don't add this choir thing to your schedule. You need to rest!!"
You get the picture.
But through an open dialogue, you will often be able to negotiate with and find compromises between different needs. This will enable you to prioritize different needs more easily. Often, this dialogue will also spark creativity in you, coming up with ingenious solutions to meet your needs.
So keep up the conversation, and most importantly, take all of your needs seriously. They are not going away.
Are you feeling totally "off," but having a hard time understanding what you're yearning for? Are you thinking "I have no idea why I feel so sad or strange right now, so I have no idea how to make it better"? Here are 2 strategies you can use to figure out and honor what you need.
1. At this moment, assess your need using this list of universal needs. You may feel uncomfortable with or unsure of the need you picked. Notice your self-judgement. You may be saying things like this to yourself: "I need love, but I don't deserve it because I'm an unloveable person." "Yeah, I need belonging, but in my life, I have never felt like I belonged, so meeting this need is just not in the cards for me."
Even if you have never known what it's like to fulfill a need like "belonging" or "love," and even if you feel like you don't deserve to have this need fulfilled, sit with your desire. Admit to yourself that despite your past or your views of yourself, you want this. Breathe and take in your desire.
2. Grieve the fact that your need hasn't been met yet. This is a step many people overlook. Do you need safety at this moment, but you don't feel safe? That is an upsetting reality. Have you, in fact, never felt safe? That is a tragedy. Let yourself grieve this reality, and have compassion for yourself. Ask yourself "how would I feel if this need was never fulfilled?" This will embolden your desire and remind you why you want this, and why it's important to you to meet this need. Be gentle with yourself during this step.
These two strategies can help us admit to ourselves that we are human, and part of being human is having emotional needs! Slowing down and sitting with our desire and grief helps us connect with and believe our emotions. This is the first step toward meeting the need. Don't skip it!
Are you feeling more "at home" with your needs? What else is coming up for you? Feel free to reach out in the comments. <3
Do you ever feel like your life is missing something but you just don't know what? (I promise, this is not the start of an infomercial.) Technically, everything is fine. You have a great job, a comfy apartment, supportive friends. But something feels "off." How are you supposed to figure out what's wrong?
It may feel strange to complain since everything is, as we've said, technically fine. From experience, though, that feeling is not going to go away if you don't tend to it. I remember a few years ago when I had a fun advertising job in Tel Aviv, when I went to a lot of parties and enjoyed beautiful nights on the beach, and I still felt horrible. It was excruciating to take myself away from that "great" situation and dig in.
But I had to do it. And you can too.
The first step is to fully describe a recent situation in which you felt incredibly "weird," "off," or sad. Maybe you hated having people over to your house the other day. Maybe you felt uncomfortable when they touched all your things. Maybe you felt embarrassed that they saw your dying plant.
(Maybe "you" is "me" in this case. Hehehe.)
The second step is to ask yourself: "In this situation, what do I need that I'm not getting?" "What am I yearning for that isn't being fulfilled?"
Make sure the answer is about your emotional needs. Look for words from this list. (Note, the answer is not "I need everyone to leave my house and never come over" or "I need to live in a mansion.") For the situation above, maybe you need order to feel comfortable in your home. Perhaps you need self-esteem about yourself as a homemaker.
Write as many "needs words" as you can. Ask yourself "What's important about me not fulfilling this need?" "What would be possible for me if I did fulfill this need?" "Does this need conflict with any other important need in my life?"
Voila! Now you know what's going on, and knowing is half the battle.
PS see my follow-up blogpost on digging deeper into what you need here, and my Facebook videos with a more detailed how-to, including a Q&A, here and here.
To keep updated, I recommend liking my page on Facebook. I am livestreaming and writing about the 4 steps toward confidence when you're feeling off throughout May and early June. <3
I know a lot of anxious people. I'm Jewish after all. And this is an anxiety-inducing time. My social circle and I worry about war; we worry about people losing their political rights; but we also worry about getting in a car crash, getting abducted by aliens, and getting rabies. It's a free-for-all of anxiety!
I recently realized that the anxious people I know are so creative with all the bad things they think will happen! My husband, who is a fun-loving version of Larry David -- comes up with some amazing scenarios. "What would happen if we had triplets and then we both lost our jobs?" He ponders. "What if I meet Eddie Murphy and he doesn't like me?" he questions.
This made me wonder (Carrie Bradshaw style, as usual), what if us anxious people could use the creativity we employ when imagining horrible scenarios, into imagining our goals and dreams? And I don't mean pie-in-the-sky dreams. (Perhaps focusing on meeting Eddie Murphy is not the most productive thing to do.) I mean envisioning things we want in our near-ish future. What if we used this brainpower to imagine having a baby and living a great life with that baby? What if we truly envisioned what it would feel like to get a promotion at work?
I actually started doing this every morning (as part of my work with my business coach), and I love the impact this practice has had on me. I now get to live in the world where I accomplished some of my goals, and I envision how good that is going to feel. My world is much more magical and exciting every day.
Consider using your anxious powers not only to imagine car crashes, but to imagine all the amazing things that will happen to you. Your brain is obviously full of ideas. Why not imagine some fun ones?
In building my business as a coach, I get a lot of advice about showing the VALUE of my work, and pricing my services high so that my clients can see my VALUE as their coach.
This advice makes some sense. It is a truth universally acknowledged that humans blow off services that they get for free. It is also a truth universally acknowledged that humans feel motivated by paying for stuff. "I paid for this shirt. Now I HAVE to wear it." Etc.
HOWEVER, money has nothing to do with value.
In fact, the entire "valuing yourself" advice given to women in the workplace, especially in negotiating pay raises and pricing our services, smacks to me of the conversation around women and sexuality. "If you valued yourself, you wouldn't sleep with someone on the first date." Sound familiar?
I want to send this thought out there, and see how it lands for you: How much someone pays you for your work has nothing to do with the value of that work.
Public school teachers do vital work, and don't get paid much. Douches with useless start-up companies can cash in with millions of dollars despite being of no value to society.
There is no rhyme or reason to value and money, and there's no need to connect the two.
Money is a tool we use to sustain ourselves, to buy ourselves food, shelter, and fun stuff. That is all.
I value my husband more than anyone in the world, and I have never paid him anything (though I do buy him presents sometimes). I value my mom so much for giving me life and caring for me, and I don't pay her EVER.
Yes, it's important to get paid. Yes, you should negotiate pay raises with your boss and make as much money as you can, to give yourself financial stability and peace of mind. And yes, my services as a coach cost a certain amount of money -- an amount of money that feels good for my clients, and which I use to afford the costs of living my life.
But my value, and your value, is in our humanity, in our service to the world and to our community. This value exists whether you monetize it or not.
So get paid. Value yourself. But your money is not your value.
Everyone I know these days is obsessed with getting “self-care.” We know we should be taking baths, going for nourishing walks in the park, and taking care of ourselves so we can take care of others. I find myself telling my coaching clients all the time that they are no use to the world, or to themselves, if they are not taken care of. And they have to take care of themselves! Get enough sleep, get enough food, and get enough time to daydream.
That’s all well and good.
But what if . . . (dun dun dun) . . . self-care isn’t enough?
I’m not saying that you should be a superhuman who takes care of yourself AND everyone else AND the world, all while being beautiful and perfect and a model.
What I’m saying is: for a lot of us, including myself, taking care of others and the world is our life’s mission. Self-care, on its own, does not enable us to fulfill our purpose.
Self-care as a concept originated as a tool for women activists of color, but it has now been co-opted as its own thing.
I want to tell you today that it is not its own thing. And that if you are an empathetic person with a strong desire to heal the world, self-care may not seem attractive to you, and that’s okay. It is a tool. It is not your life’s mission.
You must take care of your own needs. You cannot ask others to take care of you or “save you,” and you cannot save others to please your ego. (Instead of asking others to save you, just do these things.) However, if you are taking care of yourself, now is the time to take part in what I’d like to call “the human centipede of caring.” (I don’t actually like to call it that, but as I wrote this post, I found this wording hilarious, so I’m keeping it).
If you don’t know what the human centipede is, please don’t google it. Just know that it’s a disgusting horror film that involves people’s bodies being connected to each other. You may think of “the human centipede of caring” as “the circle of caring.” Perhaps that would be more appropriate.
But I digress.
What I mean by “the human centipede of caring” is an interconnected community in which people care for each other’s needs and for the future of the world. Self-care is absolutely essential for this interconnected community not to fall into codependency territory.
No – we don’t want to be codependent. But once you take care of your basic needs – you eat, you sleep, you do creative stuff that makes your heart sing, you may wonder . . . what next?
The answer is: be helpful to others, and enable them to be helpful to you.
To me, loving others and helping them achieve peace and power in their lives is my ultimate life mission. When I take care of myself, I feel good, but I also feel pretty empty. I ask myself “what is the meaning of all of this?”, "what's the point?", and "why I was put on Earth?" When I let myself be helpful to others, and when I let others take care of me, I feel that sense of community, of us being in this together.
Taking care of others and the world is essential to me achieving peace and power in my own life. When I advocate for workers’ rights in my community, for universal healthcare across the US, when I speak up against racism – I am serving my ancestors and my descendants. I am serving my community. And that fuels me beyond food and sleep.
Many of my clients are extremely giving people. They deeply care about making the world a better place. And often, when they think of self-care, they just don’t get excited by it.
Even though it’s not exciting to my clients, self-care is essential. I repeat, self-care is essential.
But my clients are right in noticing that self-care does not a life purpose make. My clients’ life purpose is to end the torture of refugees; to heal sick children; and to end the patriarchy. And that should be celebrated.
Self-care is a tool. But to truly live your purpose, live in the human centipede of caring. Let others care for you, and let yourself care for others.
Are you a critical, sensitive person? You may be plagued by self-hate. Many of us are. You may find yourself judging all the annoying things you do on a daily basis. “Why did I send that email?” you may ask yourself. “Why did I make an awkward wave at that person on the elevator?” you may think, compulsively. It’s exhausting!
While self-hate (or self-meanness) is maddening and horrible, it’s also extremely common, and many of us never talk about it.
But worry not. There are many ways to combat that voice in your head that just doesn’t like you. I have done this myself and guided many of my clients through the process. From experience, it feels amazing when that voice is quieted down and you can think of other things – like how to defeat global warming.
Here are some ways to move toward quieting down that voice in your head so you can actually enjoy being yourself:
1. Write 3 things you like about yourself every day.
They can be as small as “I like my smile” or “I have a good taste in plants.” This is a muscle you can hone as you build up this skill of actually liking yourself.
Treat yourself like a small child that you are taking care of. “I should really feed May. She’s hungry.” “May needs a bath.”
This will enable you to do nice things for yourself, irrespective of whether you “like yourself that day” or whether you “deserve” those nice things. When you think of yourself as a small child that you are taking care of, you can’t help but give yourself some love (and snacks!).
3. Let the thoughts go by like clouds in the sky.
If you tell yourself, “don’t think mean things about yourself,” you will inevitably think mean things about yourself.
Sometimes, it’s better to let those mean thoughts run in the background, without taking them as fact. Treat them like comments on an article online – you know they’re there, but you don’t necessarily have to read them.
When I let go of my mean / weird thoughts – I am no longer scared of them. I sometimes find them amusing instead of being scared that they will actually affect my day to day. And when I do this, I don’t have to self-censor my brain, which is a big relief.
4. Sit by yourself.
Don’t call your friends and ask them to cheer you up. Don’t try to get sexual attention. Don’t watch TV. Just sit with yourself and with your feelings. Listen to yourself, by yourself. Feel your feelings. Journal what you’re feeling without self-censoring. Try to do this for a full evening. At first, this may be incredibly tough / almost impossible. But it’ll feel good to actually hear yourself.
5. Notice what makes you happy and fulfilled.
Think of a time you felt happy. What was happening in your life at that time? What qualities were involved in the happy experience – qualities that made you feel fulfilled? For some people, stability feels amazing. For others, power is the ticket. As for me, I need independence.
When you hone in on a few qualities that you value (i.e. “values”), think: how can you bring that value into your life today, even in a tiny way?
Perhaps, you really value independence, but at your current job, your boss micromanages you. Perhaps you crave stability, and the current instability of the world has you scared shitless. That makes sense!
Check in with yourself and think of one small way to bring you into alignment with your values this week. For example, if you need serenity, build a meditation habit. Start small at 5 minutes a day.
By doing this “one small thing,” you'll be building the skill of living your life in alignment with your values. If you keep building this skill, you’ll be so busy doing things you enjoy, that the mean voices will recede into the background.
This “step” can often lead to some pretty big realizations. Perhaps you need a big life change. Perhaps you have to move countries (been there) or destroy the patriarchy (also been there). This stuff ain't easy.
Ergo, the next step: Get some support.
You don’t have to suffer alone and you will not get a reward for doing it “on your own.”
If you want to delve deeper into living in alignment with who you are at your core, or if you know that a big life change is most likely in order, consider working with a transformational coach (like me, hi!). You may also consider working with a psychologist.
Comments? Questions? Tips? Tell us in the comments. <3