Practicing self-sacrifice all the time is not sustainable. You must learn how to have a balance between caring for others and caring for yourself. This shift is probably going to push you out of your comfort zone, and it might make the people around you (who are used to you not having needs) get bent out of shape. They may not like it at first, but you have to start making your own needs matter.
Old (untrue) beliefs
In order to change this behavior, you must figure out why you don't enforce boundaries and make your own needs important. It is usually one or more of these four fear-based beliefs that are behind the behavior:
- You can’t be seen as selfish. You believe that taking care of yourself makes you a bad person and that good people are unselfish and sacrifice themselves. If you think this way, other people can easily use guilt to manipulate you. They may not do it consciously, but they subconsciously know the rules of engagement with you and what technique works to get what they want. The truth is, self-care isn’t selfish; it’s wise. If you make sure your own needs are met, you will have more to give others.
- You might be rejected if you don’t give others what they want. You may fear what other people think of you, and you might believe you need their approval to feel safe or have value. This leads you to betray yourself and your own needs to get validation that others like you. You must get used to the idea of other people not being happy with you, and that it’s not the end of the world. If you try to make everyone else happy all the time, you will end up with nothing left to give.
- You can’t handle confrontation. You might believe it’s safer to betray yourself than risk having a fight. You might be subconsciously afraid conflict will lead to rejection. Take stock of how much conflict scares you. Are you willing to betray yourself to avoid it? The truth is, you can usually enforce boundaries in a kind way that won't lead to conflict.
- Putting others needs before your own makes you righteous. Caring about others and being a righteous person does not require you to treat yourself poorly. Scripture says to love your neighbor as yourself, not instead of yourself. You are more righteous when you love yourself along with loving others.
Which of these fear-based beliefs is driving your doormat behavior?
New (true) beliefs
Once you understand the fear behind your weakness (and over-giving), you can write some new, more accurate rules of conduct for yourself. You must officially give yourself permission to change these beliefs and adopt some more accurate ones. The following new beliefs will help you to do this:
- What other people think of you is irrelevant. You are the same you, no matter what they think. Their opinions don't affect your value. You have the same infinite, absolute value whether they like you and your decisions or not. Recognize that thoughts in the heads of other people have no power unless you give it to them.
- You teach people how to treat you by how you treat yourself. You must honor your own needs if you want other people to honor them. If you continue to act like your needs don’t matter, everyone around you will see your needs the same way. This leads to them taking your self-sacrifice for granted. If you say “no” on occasion, and show them that you deserve to be cared for too, they may resist this at first. But in the end, they will respect and appreciate you more.
- If you disrespect yourself and allow people to guilt manipulate you, they won’t respect you. Weakness is never respected. You may think your sacrifice will win their love and approval, but you can’t have love without respect.
- It is not selfish to take care of your own needs. When you honor your own needs, you demonstrate to the world that all people deserve to be honored and cared for. No one is more important than anyone else. It is emotionally healthy to find a balance between self-care and showing up for others.
- If you don’t love yourself first, you are not capable of giving love to others. If you don't value your own needs and are driven by pleasing other people, all your loving behavior will actually be driven by your need to get validation. Think about this one. You will do nice things because you need validation from other people that they like you. That is not loving behavior at all; it is selfish. Real love can only happen when you experience the same amount of love for yourself as you feel toward others. When you make sure your own needs are met, you have a full bucket and can give to others without needing anything back.
Healthy boundary rules
Using these principles to guide you, create some specific boundary rules for yourself and your life situations. Decide how you are going to enforce them and why it is healthy to do so. Write these new boundaries down on paper, don’t just think them. Writing them down makes them more concrete. Here are some examples of great (permission for self-care) boundaries:
- I have the right to say no to watching my neighbor's kids, especially if it would push me over the edge of sanity and make me grouchy toward my family. This is the loving thing for all concerned. I choose not to hold fear around how my neighbor will feel about this. I know it is the right thing and that is enough. How she chooses to feel about it is not my business. I will tell her, with love, that I can’t do it (without explaining why). In the end, she will respect me for my strength and love.
- It is important that I honor my own feelings. If someone asks me to do something I am not comfortable doing, I will say no in a loving way. They will respect me for being true to myself.
- I give myself permission to ask for time and space when I need it. My family might not like this at first, but in the end they will appreciate me and respect me more if I insist my needs are honored.
Taking the time to write out, on paper, exactly how you are going to choose to feel and behave helps you to own these new boundary rules. You are creating official policies for yourself and your behavior. Read your new policies often and practice enforcing them with love and kindness. You can be strong and loving at the same time; and when you practice doing it, you will find your power and your love.
You can do this.