How can I get more enjoyment out of my relationships? I struggle with thinking about others more than myself and it keeps me from getting what I actually want from relationships.
What you should want is the opportunity to receive from your relationships. Tending to others is a sign of compassion and empathy, but when it’s not in balance with your own needs it could mean you are codependent or suffer from martyr syndrome.
What are your motives for giving so much of yourself to others? If you self-sacrifice out of a fear of abandonment and constant need for approval, your actions will never nourish your insecurities. Prioritizing someone else’s needs is a sign of a close relationship, but it can also be a byproduct of low self-esteem, which can be detrimental to a relationship.
On the extreme end is codependency. This is the case when one individual becomes the complete object of another’s attention (long after the initial infatuation stage). Examples include making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner’s needs, having your entire sense of purpose revolve around that person and finding it difficult to say no when your partner makes demands on your time and energy. Your mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person.
A cousin of codependency is martyrdom. This also refers to a person who unnecessarily sacrifices themselves for others while ignoring their own needs, but the difference is that a martyr syndrome can develop. The martyr gets overwhelmed and then feels like a victim or becomes the persecutor, having angry outbursts followed by a cycle of guilt and atonement.
In psychological lingo, this phenomenon is called “unmitigated communion,” and it is more common in women. It means a focus on and involvement with others to the exclusion of the self and is related to psychological distress, particularly depressive symptoms. Allow me to give a shout out to all my sisters out there who know how to nurture, because it’s essential to relationships, but too many women go overboard in caring for everyone else but themselves.
I work with many clients who feel guilt when they act on their basic needs for self care. Guilt is relevant when we make mistakes; how is taking care of ourselves wrong or bad? If guilt is leading you to neglect your needs for the sake of others, give yourself permission to satisfy your desires. You deserve this and it is your birthright.
Explore the origins of these behaviors in your life. What did you model as a child regarding the ways your caregivers (particularly your same sex caregivers) nurtured relationships? Likely you grew up with an unreliable or unavailable parent and you took on the role of caretaker and/or enabler.
A child in this situation puts the parent’s needs first. Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. As a result, its members repress emotions and disregard their own needs to focus on the needs of the unavailable parent. When the “parentified” child becomes an adult, he or she repeats the same dynamic in their adult relationships.
We all need to balance our concern for others with concern for ourselves as best we can. Setting clear, firm boundaries means that you don’t automatically react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings.
Nurture your own wants and desires and develop a connection to your inner world. Delegate. Bask in the freedom of saying no. And above all, allow yourself to see the ways you are worthy, regardless of what you do for others.