I’ve always watched the safety videos displayed on the airplane right before take-off with great interest. Not because I feared the worst that could possibly happen on the flight, but because I often contemplated the scene where one must put their life jacket and oxygen mask on first before helping others around them. I used to think to myself that this concept was selfish — how could a parent put on their mask before assisting their child? But something clicked on a recent flight over the holidays.
The only way to “save others” is saving yourself first. Airplane safety videos have been imparting such a simple yet crucial wisdom to its patrons — yet how many of us have actually paid attention to the message below the surface?
What I have come to discover is this: the only person in my life that at times felt broken beyond repair was me. In seeking to make the lives of others more manageable and pleasant, I would tap into my reserve of patience paired with compassion, flexibility and accommodation. In turn, I sacrificed my basic needs. This didn’t come from a place of wanting approval and validation from others, but it came from a place of empathy. It was understanding that I’ve had from childhood — a sensitivity that others were hurting just as much as me, if not more, and I naturally felt inclined to provide relief and comfort within my abilities.
The more I listened, gave sound advice when asked, and allowed for others to intertwine me in their suffering, the more I became depleted. I couldn’t make sense of my own sadness or if I was taking on the sadness of someone else. Once I was able to give myself permission to walk away when I had enough or simply because their story was not mine—that I had my own to life, I started to cultivate a sense of personal freedom. But this is where my real work began. For all the time and energy I spent on helping others navigate their life’s problems, I hid from my own and neglected myself along the way. This was partially intentional, too — as it gave me an escape and divert my attention away from what I needed to tend to on the inside.
Many times, we find ourselves in situations of wanting to be helpful, compassionate, and giving to others for whatever reasons that are propelling us to do so. The beauty about empathy is that it allows us to share in other’s joy along with crying along side of them. It’s letting someone know that they are not alone, you may not have words of comfort to share, but you can lend an ear or a hug. However, it’s finding the balance of giving only as much as we can within limits — counting our blessings yet realizing that whatever someone else is going through is also unique to their life’s path and growth. In turn, it’s giving the same help and compassion introspectively so we can save ourselves. We can also benefit from help when we need it along with graciously receiving what other’s sincerely want to share and do for us. If we are no use to ourselves, in fact, we are no use to anybody else that may depend on us or who appreciate what it is we have to offer. Self-preservation is one of the most important gifts we can give to ourselves. By knowing our limits, honoring our needs and desires, and taking the time to heal and repair, we are able to give ourselves more spark to radiate our internal light.