Q. I was raised to “serve and care for others,” and, as the years go by, I am becoming more and more exhausted. Plus, I perceive little recognition for all my efforts. What is wrong with this picture?

A. There could be several things wrong with this picture. Can you identify the underlying reason for your attempts to “serve and care for others”? Remember, the first reason that comes to mind is rarely the real underlying reason. Dig to discover that. If your underlying motive is to feel better about yourself but your own cup is not full (you fail to practice self-care consistently and effectively), eventually you will be trying to give from the well of your own unmet needs. Over time, this means you will be further diminishing the level of your own well. In the process, you will likely try to do for others what they can learn to do and need to do for themselves—my definition of caretaking, as opposed to healthy caring.

  • The outcome for you is exhaustion and irritation, if not outright anger.
  • The outcome for others is a failure to learn their own self-care, and eventual irritation with your caretaking.

Do you consistently and appropriately practice genuine and balanced self-care? If so, you can care for and give to others from a full well. Self-care begins with you and many people misunderstand that concept. I am reminded of it every time I board a plane and hear the attendant say, “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the compartment above you. Put yours on first before you try to help someone else.” A physician said it this way: “We are all here to serve in some capacity—we were never intended to be the main course.” Food for thought...