My Oxygen Mask First

Do you ever feel like you’re often the one people turn to in times of difficulty and despair? The one who people seek advice from when they’re in a dilemma? Or even the one they simply just want to vent to? Have you always had a natural desire to help others? If you’ve nodded whilst reading and your answer is yes to any of these questions, then hopefully this post will well resonate with you! Or perhaps you know a few people this applies to.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all take on specific roles in our relationships with friends, family, partners, etc. For as long as I can remember, I have always been the ‘peacemaker’/’mediator’, the ‘advisor’, the ‘comforter’ and the ‘voice of reason’. As much as those qualities highlight my good nature and integrity, it can often get quite overwhelming at times – especially as it means I often place the needs of others above my own.

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For those of you who have been blessed enough to travel abroad, and pay attention to the safety demonstration by the cabin crew, I’m sure you would have become extremely familiar with the instructions given. One of the most crucial things they instruct us to do is to to put on our oxygen mask first, before assisting others. Yet still, how soon after do we just brush it off and push this information to the back of our minds?

When I met up with one of my cousin’s (who’s more like a big sister), and shared how overwhelmed I felt with the stresses of life and all of my responsibilities, she reminded me: “Always put your oxygen mask on first.” Funnily enough, despite how many times I’ve been on a plane, her repeating those words had more of an impact on me. I empathised with what she shared and felt choked up because I realised just how much I had been running around on empty – being everything to everyone, with very little oxygen left. Being an empath means you tend to feel everything intensely. Being an empath has also left me feeling consumed at times – not only with my own issues but everyone else’s too (well, those closest to me)!

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The Catch 22 of Being an Empath:

“Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they’re there for you, world-class nurturers.” 

~ Judith Orloff, MD

There are advantages as well as disadvantages when you are an empathic person (but I’ll probably talk more in-depth about this in another post). For me personally, one of my main issues is that I really want to be there for those that need me or who just need support in general – even though I know that I need to make time for myself. As a result, when I offer my time and a listening ear, they sometimes get carried away and end up talking for hours on end. Then there are those who may want to confide in me, but because they are as considerate and mindful as I am (understanding the fact that I need time for myself – to deal with all that I have going on); they hesitate to do so, pretending to be okay, which just results in me worrying about them anyway because I can sense that deep down that they are not “okay.”

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Sometimes we need time and space to reflect, to breathe and to make sense of all the chaos unfolding around us. Having said that, I have friends who also tend to retreat when they’re going through difficult seasons and aren’t in a good headspace – and they have every right to. However, I have been on both sides of the spectrum, so even though them distancing themselves can be quite difficult to be on the receiving end of, I also understand how crucial it is for healing and recovery and I try not to take it personal. Therefore, although I sometimes wish they would just open up to me and be completely transparent, I know I have to give them their space – especially if I would want them to do the same for me.

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Have you ever experienced moments where other people have been so self-absorbed; spending so much time talking about their own issues, that they rarely ever paused to consider your feelings and wellbeing? When you are known for being ‘strong’ for everyone else, people often assume you are always coping – when sometimes that simply isn’t the case. They often assume our mental capacity is limitless (well at least that’s how it feels anyway). However, we have a duty of care to ourselves to be open and honest with people – especially our loved ones when we’ve reached our limit and need time alone. This prevents us from falling into a state of burn-out.

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There have also been times when I have been so exhausted – to the point where no amount of sleep was sufficient enough for me to feel truly rested. This has usually been a result of putting everyone else and their struggles before my own peace of mind. It can be extremely draining – mentally, emotionally and physically when no matter how much you try to advise others, they choose not to accept it, resulting in things becoming progressively worse. Yet for some reason, they still continue to ask for help. What’s even more irritating are the situations with supposed ‘friends’ who only contact you when they require some form of support that you have to offer – be it emotional, practical or even financial. I’ve painfully learnt and realised that even though it may seem like those individuals come back to you because they value you as a person, they often only return because they simply value what you can give. Then eventually when you make a stand and no longer allow them to take advantage, they are the same ones to turn around and call you ‘selfish’. Well, if being selfish means taking care of myself and refusing to allow others to take me for granted, then so be it!

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It makes me wonder, what is it that causes someone to feel so entitled to our time? What makes them believe they have a right to access our gifts/assets at their disposal? Life is predominantly about give and take. Thus, there has to be a balance – otherwise friendships and relationships can become very one-sided. I have also been wondering where the desire to help others so much stems from? Perhaps it’s a mixture of our personality, upbringing and our beliefs. Or perhaps it’s because (if you’re an empath like me, who’s experienced some real trials and tribulations), you never want anyone else to feel the hurt and pain you have? The truth is, maybe when we focus on supporting others through their difficult circumstances, it enables us to escape our own painful realities. Or in some cases, it might be the complete opposite – where helping others could lead to holding a mirror to our own issues; forcing us to face what we’ve been trying so hard to avoid.

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We have to be so careful not to dedicate unhealthy amounts of our time and energy to dealing with other people’s issues that we end up with very little time to rest and be at peace. Furthermore, we also have to be mindful of making a habit of sacrificing our own wellbeing for the sake of someone else’s. When we become so consumed with supporting others and giving them comfort, we can in turn fall into a state of discomfort.

Putting yourself first doesn’t make you cold or insensitive. In fact, it’s a true act of self-care. Over the last two years I’ve been realising more and more that:

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

~ Eleanor Brownn

Being there for people during their difficult seasons is great, but when you serve from a vessel that is full rather than empty, you then place yourself in a better position to help them.

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Always set boundaries and always be aware of your limitations. Although we have a duty of care when it comes to those close to us, it isn’t our job to be their ‘saviour’ every time they have a crisis. That’s how unhealthy attachment and dependency is formed. Furthermore, if you’re a believer like me, you’d know we already have a Saviour. Thus, it’s simply impossible to rescue everyone we love out of their dark seasons. To be brutally honest, sometimes we aren’t even equipped to help ourselves sufficiently, which is why it is important to know that our help should ultimately come from God – if only we would seek Him and truly understand that His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). When we accept that as a reality, we then put less pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone.

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Don’t be reckless with the amount of your time and energy you allow others to consume – they are precious! Every now and then it is crucial to take time out to pause and simply just breathe. Sometimes people will have you feeling guilty for prioritising your own peace and distancing yourself from the stress they cause, but just remember that your wellbeing and your sanity are far more valuable.

Always put your oxygen mask on first!

💙

Author: Gifted Lily

Creative empath.

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