Why is it that so many of us put ourselves second? Why is it that we often sacrifice what is good for us to make someone else happy, and why is it such a difficult transition to start putting ourselves first? I see this issue not only every day in my office but also at times in my own life. Of course, there are those people who no matter what, without any regard for the other, place themselves first; but that is someone who is arrogant. We are not discussing arrogance here. We are simple discussing how to make a healthy transition into learning to put ourselves first. It is the difference between being self-centered and centered-on-self. If we are self-centered we are putting ourselves first with a sense of entitlement. If we are centered-on-self we are putting ourselves first in the name of self-love and self-respect.

I believe that people who are always putting others before themselves suffer from feeling not good enough, and they tend to have fears of conflict. From my experience this seems to encapsulate the majority of really nice people. The problem is that these really nice people begin to lose their self-esteem the more they allow themselves to be the slaves to the needs of others. So let us get a few things straight. To follow are 5 simple steps to becoming a stronger more defined person.

FIRST: We are only responsible for our own feelings of happiness. We are not responsible for the happiness of other people (even though they may make you think you are.) The first thing to learn is to be true to ourselves. How do we do this? We listen to our first gut response. For example, we are having a tired night and really want to stay in, cuddle up on your couch and watch a movie. However, a friend really wants to go out and we are the only one who can come with her. Now we have conflict. If we are operating in Self-love and in Self-care we will be able to say no to our friend and stay home and rest. Many of us say yes in these situations because we feel an internal guilt if we are not rushing to put on our “need-meeter cape” to fly off to please the needs of our friend. God forbid we say no and ruin the needs to someone else.

Why is it that we feel so guilty when we have that desire to take care of ourselves? Because we have learned to be people-pleasers which is incredibly hazardous to our health. Feeling like we have to please others to maintain peace in our own lives creates undue pressure and stress that is poisonous to our lives. Each time we act against our own internal desire we cut off a slice of self-love and self-respect and literally give it away for free to someone else. This is emotional slavery.

There is nothing wrong or harmful about saying no when we need to say no. What we have to do is battle the fears that there is something wrong with it. Fear is what generates a people-pleasing habit. So here is some advice, if we put ourselves first and the other person has a negative response to us taking the best care of ourselves then maybe this person is not the best person to keep company with. Maybe there is actually something wrong inside them rather than something flawed and defective within us because we want to follow our natural desires. The true loves in our lives will encourage us to take care of ourselves and our needs.

SECOND: In learning to put ourselves first we will carve out a stronger sense of identity. The benefits to this are plentiful. As we feel stronger inside people will feel a change in our sense of whom we are. People will develop more respect for us without us having to verbalize or demand it from them. People who are sure of themselves have an aura about them which automatically communicates they cannot be manipulated with guilt or other tools to stray from their self-love course in life. They are no longer in the world feeling as if they have to constantly prove themselves or try and justify why they need to say no sometimes. They are able to simply and sweetly without much explanation say no when it is necessary and in their best interest. This is what generates respect from others. When our identity is not strong we suffer from self-doubt and seem emotionally out of control to others. It is this self-doubt which creates the fear which creates the inability to say no.

THIRD: When we put ourselves first and we are committed to saying no when we need to say no and yes when we need to say yes, we have a sense of internal or emotional freedom. We have officially become the captain of our own ship and we are not being bounced around by the waves or wakes of others without an anchor. Self-confidence develops each time we stay true to ourselves. We are then not living awash in guilt and self-punishment for making people mad or upset if we do not meet their needs. Guilt is an unwanted life partner and it grows and shrinks according to how much self-doubt we suffer with. The way to rid ourselves of self-doubt is to start, today, in being true to ourselves. The more true we are to ourselves, the better we know ourselves, and thus the better able we will be able to say no.

FOURTH. When learn to place ourselves first, we begin to live life in our own way and this is when the miracles begin to happen. See, when we are saying yes when we want to say no and no when we want to say yes we are off our course. If we are off our course, as determined by our internal worlds, we will never find a functional way to make our lives work because we essentially allow others to dictate our lives. We have to stay true to ourselves to remain internally balanced or in harmony. We all have an internal harmony that is natural. This internal compass comes from our feeling world and our feelings tell yes or no to all situations. If we can stay in line with this natural balancing system as much as possible, then our lives will take on a natural flow where we are moving with currents of what is right for us, rather than swimming upstream going against what is natural for us.

FIFTH: As we put ourselves first, we like ourselves more and we instantly become more attractive to other people. The benefits so outweigh the costs. As we live life in our own way, we have an assuredness about us that will radiate out. Therefore, we will not only seem more attractive to others but we will find that we also begin to attract all kinds of new people, events and circumstances which will bring us joy and prosperity. All of life is really internal. What we feel internally gets reflected externally.

In order to be successful in placing ourselves first we will have to work through issues of guilt and low self-esteem. How do we do this? We can accomplish this each time we face a situation where we are tempted to please someone else and instead we take action to do what is best for us first. Each time we do this we see that people don’t ever get as mad as we think they will, we see that even if they do get mad they get over it, and that the more we say no when we need to say no the less frequently these same people will try and push us off course. It is like building a new muscle we have never used.

Life is designed to be uncomfortable in an effort to get us to grow and to become more true to ourselves. If we are people-pleasing we are trying to skip the uncomfortable growth opportunity and although we may have the immediate relief of avoiding conflict in the moment, we are not having the long term relief of a strong sense of self or the ability to withstand conflict, and thus we never grow. Over time then, self-esteem will just continue to plummet and positive self-esteem and/or a strong identity will not develop. This is when we begin to live a life with much depression and a loss of hope. If we are here, what we have lost is not other people, but rather, the love of ourselves. The good news is that we can start to love ourselves anytime we choose.

As we love ourselves we become irresistible. We walk with a different swagger, we have confidence within, our heads are held high and we have emotional composure. There is nothing more irresistible than composure. When we are saying no when we need to we are developing that inner calm and composure we need to be magnetic. When this happens and we strengthen this muscle we find that miracles begin to show up in our lives. We start to attract all new people, new job opportunities, new interests and new opportunities. We start to come alive with the love of who we are with each no we successfully state. We become true to ourselves. How irresistible is that!

Little life message: If we do not learn to put ourselves first, no one else will put us first either. Courage dismantles fear and when we choose to be centered-on-self this is all we have to remember.

Sherrie Campbell Ph.D.
Copyright 7/30/12

Author's Bio: 

Hi I am Dr. Sherrie. Hope you enjoyed the article and that it was insightful. I am a psychologist and author living in Southern California. I run a successful private practice and love the idea of self-love and empowerment. I believe the only thing we are held back from in our lives are fears and limiting beliefs. I write and assist people in going beyond their limits and into deeper levels of self-confidence. Connect with me at http://www.sherriecampbellphd.com, and connect with me on facebook from my website!