I wear many different hats. There's my blogger hat. Then there are my clinician and student hats. I'm somebody's child, sibling, spouse, cousin, and friend, each with its own hat. I've also worn mentor and employee hats. No wonder I have a headache! Each of us assumes many different roles in our life, usually multiple roles at once. Some of these we choose, and some we don't. Each calls on us to use different skills and access different parts of ourselves.
Sometimes a certain role takes priority over others. This is both normal and necessary. For example, the role of parent will be a higher priority than that of friend, especially when the child is very young. Most parents feel they never truly take off the parent hat. Any role we assume in life has potential to be fulfilling or draining. Most are a combination of both. So my question to each of you is this: In which of your roles do you find personal fulfillment and satisfaction?
A particular role that gets neglected the most is that of self. This hat gets the most use, but is often the most tarnished. We justify and rationalize that other roles require more of our attention or that we will get to our role of self later. Whenever I work with someone who is experiencing a great amount of stress, I always ask this question: What are you doing to take care of yourself? Some will answer that they are engaging in self care, and be able to tell me how. I love that. It makes my job so much easier. Often though, I am told that self care will just have to wait, or at least remain at an inadequate level. My next question is, “until when?” What has to happen to get us to that point when we will make ourselves a priority? I know someone who will push themselves until they begin to experience flu-like symptoms, and will have to stay in bed for a couple days. This person describes it as having a “bug.” After about 48 hours of downtime, this person feels so much better! I know I am not a medical doctor, but I don’t believe this person would be helped one bit by antibiotics, antivirals, or a flu shot. I think it’s their body’s way of saying, “I’ve had enough, you’re going to rest. Now!” This is an example of how we can get unintended boundaries set for ourselves. What would be better would be if we could be proactive and set boundaries with intention.
When we apply Maslow’s Hierarchy, we can see how things that we may believe are optional are actually very necessary. When we have a physical need, the need goes away once it is met. We feel better. Psychological needs, however, continually need to be met. It is only in doing so that we are able to keep growing and learning, and eventually reach self-fulfillment.
My suggestion is to find a way to balance the roles that are the most draining with roles which are fulfilling. Can you take a class you might enjoy? Is there a group you’re interested in joining? What about a hobby that’s fallen by the wayside. Make it something to really look forward to. Get excited about it! For me, it’s drawing. When I need to, I make my drawing time a special reward, a treat. I get big glass of water, open all the windows, and put my favorite music on. I make a point to use my favorite art materials and find a subject that makes me happy to look at. It’s all for me. If I need to, I schedule it.
It’s always important to continually take stock of the hats you wear. In what condition is each one? How are you doing at that spouse role? What about parent? PTA secretary? Congregation member? Are you getting more, or giving more in each? Is that okay with you? There is almost always something that can be done to change the dynamics of a relationship. It may not be easy. Usually the ones that are the hardest to change are the ones that need the attention the most. The changes don’t have to be big ones in order to be helpful. Maybe the change is just what you’ll do differently in your relationship with yourself to help you feel better about other roles.
No matter what it is, we all need to spend time working on the relationship with ourselves in order to reach self-fulfillment and self-actualization. All relationships take work, and this one is no different. It’s one of the most important relationships you will ever have. It will be life-long. Just like any relationship, it is multi-faceted. It can be easy to deny the mind-body connection when we are in the thick of particularly draining or challenging roles. But we cannot take care of the body and not the mind, or vice versa. Psychological needs and self-actualization needs are just as much a part of our existence and experience as physical ones. Your only get one "self" hat, and it has to get you through your entire life. Give it the care it deserves.