NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Balancing Your Needs with Being Responsive to the Needs of Our Loved Ones

How do we balance our own needs with being responsive to our loved ones?  

There are times in life when we choose to put aside something that we want in our lives to focus on our loved ones, whether this involves a child, a spouse or an elderly relative.  This is a part of life and, usually, we do this because we love them and they're important to us.  But this is different from a lifelong pattern of constantly putting others' needs first and sacrificing our own.  

Balancing Your Needs With the Needs of Your Loved Ones

For many people, it can be tricky knowing how to balance their needs with what's being asked of them from family and friends.  When there's a lifelong dynamic of consistently putting others' needs over our own, it can leave us feeling adrift in a sea of doubt and dissatisfaction.

Here are a few short vignettes that are examples of this pattern of putting others' needs first:

From the time he was a small boy, Paul always wanted to be an airline pilot, but he knew that his father wanted him to be a doctor.  His father wanted to be a doctor himself when he was younger, but he had to help his parents support  a large family, so he went to work instead of going to medical school.  Paul is painfully aware of his father's family history and the many sacrifices his father made.  He feels too guilty to pursue his dream of becoming an airline pilot, so he becomes a doctor to please his father.  Once in the profession, he's deeply unhappy.  He finds he hates it and he's ill at ease with all the patient contact.  But he remains as doctor because he knows it makes his father proud and happy, and he would feel too guilty disappointing his father.

Susan's mother, Mary, has a long history of living beyond her means.  When Mary loses her job, she tells Susan that she wants to stop working, rather than look for other work, and she expects Susan to help support her.  Mary is only in her early 50s, in very good health, and there are no other reasons why she can't look for another job.  She just doesn't want to do it.  Over the years, she's depended on Susan to bail her out financially.  Susan just began building a financial safety net for herself, but she's nowhere near what financial experts recommend of having at least six months to a year of savings in case of an emergency.  Supporting her mother would be a very big financial sacrifice.  Rather than supporting her on an ongoing basis, Susan would rather help her mother in the short term until Mary can find another job.  But Susan doesn't feel comfortable telling her mother this, so she agrees to give her mother a substantial part of her salary every month, which keeps Susan from saving for herself.  She's unhappy with this arrangement, but she feels too guilty and that it would be selfish to speak up for herself.

Alice recently joined a neighborhood writing group.  Since she began this supportive group, Alice has become much more confident in her writing and she has been seriously considering submitting her short  stories for publication.  The group members have been encouraging her to do so, and they especially urged her to come to the next meeting where the guest speaker will be an editor from a magazine who might be interested in Alice's stories.  As Alice is about to leave for the group meeting, she gets a last minute call from her sister, Betty, who is in tears about the latest argument she had with her husband.  She tells Alice she is coming over because she needs to talk to her right now.  This is the third time this week that Betty has called in tears to talk about her marriage.  Alice had very much been looking forward all month to attending her group and meeting the magazine editor.  But rather than telling Betty that she could talk to her later, she takes off her coat, resigns herself to missing the meeting, and tells Betty it's okay for her to come over now.

What all of these scenarios have in common is an inability to assert one's self in order to balance one's own needs while still being responsive to loved ones.  Each person is taking on his or her loved one's problems or wishes at a sacrifice to him or herself.  

When Shame is at the Core of the Problem
If shame is at the core of being unable to assert your own needs, it can make these situations even more challenging.  By shame, I mean that, often, people who tend to put others' needs first most of the time feel too ashamed to allow themselves to want things for themselves.  Their family upbringing might have been that it's better to always put other people's needs first.

Tactfully setting boundaries with others is your right.  You might know this, but knowing when to do it might be confusing:  Are you being selfish or are you asserting yourself?  

Always Putting Others' Needs First Can Exhaust and Depress You
A pattern of putting others' needs before your own can leave you feeling depleted and depressed.  It can also cause you to feel resentful of others.  On the one hand, you don't want to feel like you're being selfish but on the other hand, you don't want to neglect your own needs.  It can be hard to know where to draw the line.  But if you don't learn where to drawn the line, your life will go by without the things that you really want for yourself.  There are few things sadder than someone who looks back on his or her life and says, "If only I had pursued my dreams..."

Getting Help in Therapy
When you work with a clinician who has expertise in helping people to balance their needs with being responsive to their loved ones, you learn to discover what you really want, when to assert your needs, and how to do it.  

It's not a matter of the psychotherapist telling you what to do.  It's about you discovering and learning to listen to your core self, who usually knows what's right for you so you can lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. 

I have work with individual adults and couples.  I've helped many clients to overcome obstacles that keep them from leading more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

For a related topic, see my article:  Overcoming Fear of Anger