God is first, others are second, and I am third.
This saying has always bothered me because I don’t think it is good advice for child abuse survivors. This message assumes that everyone is naturally selfish and thinks about his or her own needs before considering anyone else’s. So, if everyone followed this advice, then everyone would be thinking about other people’s needs first, and we would have a wonderful balance where everyone was interdependent and nobody was taking advantage of anyone else. Sounds great, right?
Here’s the thing – Many child abuse survivors always put themselves last. They are so filled with shame that they question whether they even have the right to exist at all. So, it hardly occurs to a shame-filled child abuse survivor to put her own needs ahead of anyone else’s. To someone with this mindset, that message is just a reminder that she exists on the very lowest rung of the social ladder and that everyone else’s needs matter more than hers.
Sometimes my needs do have to come first. As an example, when I am sick, I need to be able to get some rest. If I ignore my own need to rest my body, I am not going to be able to meet anyone else’s needs for very long.
Because I was such a people-pleaser for most of my life, I have had to retrain my husband and others who were in my life before therapy that my needs matter, too. Before therapy, I would continue to take care of other people while I was coughing up a lung. By the time I would attend to my own needs, my doctor would be aghast that I waited 22 days to see her when I had a severe case of bronchitis. Meanwhile, I would feel guilty for going to see a doctor at all because I didn’t deserve to “put myself first” by taking time off of work and my other responsibilities to focus on myself.
As with just about every other area of life, I believe that balance is the key. There are some times when I need to suck it up and push through my issues in order to take care of someone else. As an example, when my child is having an asthma flare up, my need for a day of rest has to take a backseat. However, my needs matter, too, and sometimes my needs have to take priority over the needs of others in my life. It’s OK (and necessary) for my needs to be attended to.
Photo credit: Hekatekris