When you really think about it, your huge efforts to help or empower others, or to make some kind of meaningful contribution to society, are motivated by your tireless and hungry effort to justify your existence. You believe that if you can only find a way to be maximally useful, to do enough for others around you and/or for the world at large, you can feel that you have value and be happy. You wear your accomplishments and contributions as signs of your worth; your self-worth is contingent on what you do. You just want to make others happy and help them live good lives so badly that you take responsibility for their pain. This can be a wonderful quality, but you take it to the extreme and find yourself prioritizing the well-being of others over your own. Perhaps you learned to do this because, during your development, you didn’t receive enough compassion from those around you. So, you tell yourself: if I can just provide compassion, perhaps that is close enough - perhaps I can live vicariously through others in offering them what I never got.
You put yourself last. You are always there to help your loved ones, but you rarely ask for anything in return. You treat other people’s feelings and needs as more important than your own. Or, you minimize and invalidate your own pain by comparing it to the very real and atrocious suffering that exists globally - and conclude that your own distress doesn’t matter. You play “suffering Olympics” - and you lose every time. When you do try to prioritize your own needs and feelings you feel guilty. Self-care often feels selfish. So, because this guilt is so painful, you avoid it by continuing to self-sacrifice by minimizing your own needs and feelings.
We all have an inner critic - but yours is so mean! You have probably been told you are hard on yourself. Your expectations for yourself are sky-high! You rarely feel “good enough.” When you stop to think about it, you feel inadequate, an imposter, worry that others will “find you out” and that you will not “measure up” - despite your tireless efforts to perform well and care for others. This is creating a good deal of anxiety, shame, and self-doubt in you.
You may have a hard time reaching out to others; the worse you feel, the harder it is to express your feelings to others. You tend to smile and say you’re fine when you’re not - even with people who you suspect may actually want to know. On some level, you are afraid that if you express feeling crummy, the other person will judge you, dismiss you, or in some way make you feel worse. You received the message growing up - whether from parents, society, culture, gender, wherever - that you are supposed to be happy and helpful most - if not all - of the time. You wish you could never be upset, never cry, never feel blue. You don’t feel entitled to your more painful feelings. When you are anxious, afraid, sad, depressed, or lonely, you feel as though you are “needy” or “weak.” You may not even be aware of feeling these hard feelings at all, so set are you to “Suck it up and Get On with Life.”
As a young child, you may have been sensitive to feelings, sounds, smells. You were probably a “super-feeler” - your feelings were intense - and it may have taken less to upset you then those around you. You had a complex and rich inner life - and still do! Maybe you were afraid of violent movies or extra connected to animals or nature. Your sensitivity was probably not valued as it should have been. When you expressed the depth of your feeling, it was dismissed. You were told - whether explicitly or implicitly - “Get Over It! Stop Being So Sensitive!” Your parents were well-meaning, but at least one of them wasn’t really available to soothe you when you needed them. Maybe they just weren’t very psychologically minded. Perhaps one of them was ill - physically or mentally - and so you had to be the one to take care of them. Perhaps this is where you learned that your usefulness comes from taking care of others. Perhaps, when you were a child, you learned to hold back your feelings from this parent because you didn’t want to further upset them given their challenges. Or - you learned that this parent was going to respond in a dismissive way - and that you’d end up feeling worse - so it was in your best interest at the time to hold back. A part of you feels a bit guilty reading this and considering ways that this parent wasn’t there for you enough - because you don’t want to make them look bad or seem ungrateful for the ways in which they well-intentioned and ways in which they were available.
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