Are you honoring yourself—or are you out of balance?
Learn how to tune in to the warning signs.
by Patricia Spadaro
Excerpted from chapter 2 of Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving
When one is out of touch with oneself,
one cannot touch others.
—Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“I am good when I give to others. It’s better to give than to receive.”
Myth or magic?
Although many of us have grown up believing that it is our solemn duty to give, give, and keep on giving to others, that is only a half-truth—a myth that prevents us from living joyfully and giving fully. Instead, consider what the world’s great sages say: You have a duty to give to others and to give to yourself. When you are in need, you must also receive. This advice sounds obvious, but how many of us are even near the top of our own copious to-do lists?
The principles of giving and receiving that apply to our daily lives are no different than the principles that operate in nature all around us. “A field that has rested gives a bountiful crop,” said the Roman poet Ovid. The earth must receive enough sunshine, water, and nutrients before it can produce a bountiful harvest from the seeds we plant. After the earth has given birth to the harvest, it must then rest and restore its life force so it can give again. The same is true of your life. How can you give to others if you don’t first nourish and fill yourself?
In a way that you might not have considered before, that question is embedded right inside the first principle we are taught as children—the golden rule. The golden rule is found throughout the world’s traditions. The Mahabharata, the ancient epic of India, says, “Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” Islam affirms that a true believer “desires for his brother that which he desires for himself,” and Christianity teaches, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Yet, if we are to love and treat others as (that is, in the same way that) we love and treat ourselves, how does that leave them if we treat ourselves with anything less than love and affection? Put another way, we can’t really honor others if we don’t first honor ourselves....
Watch for the Warning Signs
The first step to bringing your life back into balance is to be able to recognize when you are out of balance. What are the warning signs that consistently appear in your life to tell you that your life is becoming lopsided? Here are a few warning signs that can help you become more aware of the messengers who have entered your life to let you know where you need to make adjustments.
• Prolonged tension or anxiety. Tension is not bad. It’s what impels us to act and what creates breakthroughs. Prolonged tension, however, especially when we feel it in our bodies, can be a signal that we have extended ourselves too far—that we aren’t paying attention to our inner needs and are letting our reserves dwindle. Some of us are used to putting ourselves second or third or last, and we have been conditioned to ignore the signals. You can change that habit by noticing when you feel tense or anxious. When you feel a tension, pay attention.Awareness is the first step back to honoring yourself.
• Lack of focus. Your mind and emotions will play tricks on you when you don’t meet your own needs. I’ve found that if I don’t take enough time to play or have fun, I sabotage myself. I can’t sit still, I’m distracted, and I procrastinate. I’ve made a decision to deny myself a few moments of playfulness so I can concentrate on the task at hand, but in reality I’ve done just the opposite. I’ve made focusing impossible because my needs aren’t being met. As a result, I find all sorts of excuses not to settle down (the garden needs weeding, the dishes need to be put away, the cats need a massage), and then I criticize myself for my lack of focus. Be sure to regularly refresh and renew so you aren’t subconsciously sabotaging yourself.
• Griping. Complaining and nagging can actually be a way of communicating. They are often just a code for “I have unmet needs and you’re not taking notice.” They are another way of saying, “I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m needy, but since you are not picking up my unspoken signals, I’ll have to convey my unhappiness in other ways.” We complain about the clothes on the floor or the dishes in the sink when we are really trying to say that we need help, support, or a break. If you hear yourself or others griping, it’s time to gently ask what’s really making you (or them) unhappy and then to listen closely for the answers.
• Physical and emotional symptoms. Your body and your emotions can react in a range of ways when you aren’t giving yourself the attention you need. Watch for the reactions that are unique to you. Is it tight shoulders, frequent sighing, headaches, a knot in your stomach, sleeplessness, tears, outbursts of anger, overeating, or undereating? Remember that these responses are not bad in and of themselves. They serve a function. They are speaking to you. Your job is to find out what they are saying. The real story is always underneath the symptoms. Practice looking for what’s underneath.
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