How to Be Mindfully Self-ish – And Why It’s SO Important.

How to Be Mindfully Self-ish - And Why It's So Important

We are the foundation of everything in our lives – our relationships, our decisions, our thoughts, our feelings, our actions – everything. When we meet our own important needs we enrich and enliven ourselves and all that is connected to us.  On the other hand, when we are depleted and unsatisfied, it’s difficult to thrive and to have energy for the important things.

If you’re sitting there with the words in your head sounding something like, ‘Yeah, no – I’m actually great to be with when I’m exhausted and unsatisfied. Nobody can  tell – so – yeah, I’m pretty good like that,’ then it might be time to give yourself some loving – in the form of a reality check. People can tell. I promise you. They can tell because the relationship feels different. You feel different. And they probably miss the ‘you’ that is vital, energised, happy and full. If you’re still not convinced, think about the relationships you have been in where the person has been depleted or dissatisfied. You might not have felt differently about the person, but the relationship might have been short of where it could have been.

Everyone has needs and when those needs aren’t met we lose balance. We lack joy and meaning. We become disconnected – from ourselves and others. We get shades of anger, frustration, sadness shame and guilt. Ultimately, when we become less than who we are capable of being – less strong, less happy, less engaged. Other than that, we’re fine.

Putting ourselves first doesn’t mean putting others last. It is an investment of energy and resources into the foundation upon which our relationships and everything we think, do and feel are built. It’s restorative, strengthening and nourishing for ourselves and for everything that is connected to us. 

Nurturing Your Self:

We have to stop thinking of self-love – selfish-ness – as an option. It’s not. It’s essential. Here are some places to start. 

  1. Mindfulness

    If putting yourself first is something you’re completely unfamiliar with, it can be difficult to know where to start. When the noise of our lives is too loud, it’s difficult to know what we need. Sometimes, it is easier to be rolled around by the needs of others.

    Of course, it is important to be generous, supportive, empathic and flexible – but we also need to do those for our own selves. Being self-ish is so important because being other-ish will always have its limits. There are some things that only we can give to ourselves. One of the things that get in the way of this is our habits. We humans tend to think as we’ve always thought and do as we’ve always done. Our thoughts and actions become automatic, at least until there is a reason to take a good look at them and be more deliberate.

    Mindfulness changes this. Mindfulness is the act of being present with our own experience without the intrusion of future worries or old ways of thinking, being and feeling. It is being fully present with what is real and unfolding in the moment, without the intrusion of habits or old ways of being. It is a way to be fully engaged with the self in the moment. The stillness and sense of self that eventually comes from this makes it easier to notice any important needs in the ‘not met but waiting to be’ zone, that is of course if the act of mindfulness itself hasn’t already helped things along.

    Not only is the act of mindfulness a wonderfully self-nurturing thing to do, it also has so many benefits that will strengthen the foundations of ourselves.

    Research has shown that mindfulness can:

Ten minutes a day is enough to start making a difference. For anyone who thinks it’s a little too ‘zen’, it’s just breathing and noticing – and science is fully on board. The effects of mindfulness are so powerful, it’s easy to imagine that in a decade or so, the idea of ‘not practising mindfulness’ might be viewed in the same way as ‘not wearing a seatbelt’. People won’t ask why you do it, they’ll ask why you don’t (non-judgementally of course). 

By being mindful of our needs, it is less likely that we will trample over the needs of others to get our important needs met. When needs are mindfully noticed, it is likely that within those is also the need to stay connected to others, to be seen in a favourable light by people who matter to us, and to not do damage.

[irp posts=”802″ name=”Mindfulness: What. How. And The Difference 5 Minutes a Day Will Make”]

  1. What you focus on is what will become powerful.

    Thoughts, actions, feelings, people – let them be good ones. Every time we focus on something bad, it changes our physiology and the wiring in our brain. It’s much easier to notice the bad and be directed by that, than it is to notice the good. It’s also very normal. It’s called the the negativity bias and it’s what has kept us alive up to now. Our survival throughout the ages has depended on us being quicker to notice the bad (the sabre-toothed tiger asleep at the cave door) than the good (how cute it looks when it curls up like that).

    What this means is that the bad things tend to stick and the good things tend to slide right off us. To counter this, we have to be deliberate with our experience of the good so they are able to effect our physiology, brain and state of mind and assume more influence than the bad. There are two options.

    The first is to remove the bad things from our lives that draw our attention. This would be nice – so nice – but not always possible. Pity. Not to worry because there is another option. Take time out to expand the positive experience by letting it soak into you for 10-20 seconds. This is long enough to change the wiring in your brain in a positive way. One bout of 10-20 second feel-good might not make much of a difference, but over time the difference will be remarkable. The positive can be a text, a memory, the way a song makes you feel, a kiss, a chat with a friend – anything that makes you feel good. When it happens, stop, notice it, feel it and enjoy. 

    [irp posts=”923″ name=”Hardwiring for Happiness. How We Can Change Our Brain, Mind & Personality.”]

  2. Play

    Humans were meant to play. It connects, teaches and nourishes, which is why babies and children are so good at it. It’s often tempting to leave play until last. When the ‘important things’ are done, then we can play. Play is one of those ‘important things’ and has to be given its due place somewhere near the top of the list. If it’s been a while, try something that makes you laugh, something that makes you happy, or something that you used to love doing – try a team sport, a board game, going to a show, a drama group (you don’t have to be good at it), singing, cooking for fun, a picnic, throwing a frisbee or kicking a ball in the park, going to dinner, a movie, a date night, colouring your hair – anything that makes you feel lighter and happier.

  3. Choose good people. And know that it’s okay to walk away from the ones who feel bad to be with.

    Having good people around you is key to a happy, productive, fulfilled life. Ultimately, the people you have in your life is for you to decide and if there are some troublemakers there you can’t get rid of just yet (an ex who is also a co-parent, in-laws, colleagues) make sure you’re building yourself up in other ways and surrounding yourself with as many good people as you can. And it’s always okay to walk away from the ones who feel back to be with. When it comes to acts of self-love, this is one of the biggest.

  4. Go outside – just because.

    Spend time outside. Nature is healing. Be mindful of the world around you and experience it fully, with all of your senses switched on. That doesn’t have to mean being still, just being present with your mind fully engaged in the experience.

We have been conditioned to think of ‘selfish’ as something bad. It’s not. It’s important for ourselves and for the people around us. Though it’s important to be aware of the needs of others, it’s also important to be aware of our own. Unmet needs lead to a life that feels flat or disconnected. Even small changes will make a difference.

Putting yourself first sometimes, instead of staying somewhere near the bottom of your own list will strengthen you – mentally, physically and emotionally. Everything we do has an effect on our brain and our physiology. It might be in tiny, undetectable ways, but many tiny undetectable things over time eventually become something much bigger.

We owe it to ourselves and to the people around us to be the strongest, richest, most complete version of ourselves. Sometimes that will mean asking the rest of the world to wait. Looking after our own needs isn’t always easy, but when the return is a strong foundation on which to build everything that is important to us, it will always be worth it. 

8 Comments

Kathaleena

“And it’s always okay to walk away from the ones who feel bad to be with. ” This is a hard one, and so essential in the long run of our life span. Yes… sometimes it has to wait… as in… waiting for the death of a parent. Toxic family of origin and continued interactions are exhausting and debilitating. Your post is timely. Thank you.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome Kathaleena. You’re absolutely right – even if walking away is the right thing for you, it’s not easy.

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Chris

Thank you for this article and so many others I have read from your sight. I cannot express the gratitude I have for you because I learn so much to help break the patterns of my VERY toxic/abusive upbringing. And my children benefit from this knowledge. And I just became a Grandma and I know that this new generation will benefit as well. Thank you!!!

Reply
Hey Sigmund

You could never know the difference you are making by being one who makes the strong decision to end family toxic patterns. You are amazing. Your grandkids are in wonderful hands.

Reply
Kerrie Byer

Well timed article and a great reminder. It is nice to read through the process to get back to putting myself first. Question: Would it be possible to add a “print this article” icon to print the articles without all graphics/advertisements?/

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Yes – absolutely. In the share functions, the green button at the bottom is the printer function and it will print a ‘clean’ copy for you. They are on the left if you are on a laptop, and on the bottom behind the grey ‘Share this’ bar if you are on a mobile device.

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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