Why Everyone Wins When You Put Your Oxygen Mask on First
You’ve heard this idea before, right? You have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help someone else. If you pass out, you won’t be any help to that person next to you on the plane. Those of us who tend to do the opposite of this in life have often heard this advice over and over.
This idea has become such a cliché that you would think that everyone had already mastered it. However, this idea that you have to actually take care of yourself first is something I end up talking a lot about in my practice. Why is this so hard for people to get?
There are two kinds of people who I often see putting others first to such a degree that they put their own self-sustainment in jeopardy. One is the person who survives by squelching how they feel and working like crazy to make everything look “great.” I call this the Idealist pattern, and this person is putting everyone else first because it’s what they “should” do.
The other pattern, what I call the Caregiver, survives by getting others’ approval, conforming to others’ ways, and relying on others’ support. While they may also say that putting others first is what they should do, Caregivers also often feel like they can’t entirely rely on themselves, so they are hoping that they will get what they need in return for their “generosity.”
You might think that I’m exaggerating when I say that people survive through these patterns, but I really mean it. Early in life, we absorb how those around us feel about being human, and we develop a survival mechanism that allows us to fit well with those people. This happens before we have any thinking capacity, so often, these survival mechanisms don’t really seem to make sense rationally. And yet, this mechanism continues to be the way we feel like we have to be to move through life and fit in the world. So, despite the fact that putting their oxygen mask on first makes perfect sense, people with the above patterns still keep moving forward in the same, old ways.
People seek my help when these mechanisms have started to fail for them. They have an internal struggle—they have to be this way in order to survive, but being this way is depleting them and in some cases, literally threatening their survival. What’s awesome is that when they peel off layers of the survival mechanism, not only do they find the ability to really care for themselves, but they discover that the source of their ability to do that also allows them to share their unique light with the world. Instead of becoming “selfish,” they find that they have more to give others from this well of uniqueness within themselves.
One of my clients who has worked on this theme intensely over the past few months is now uncovering new and considerable talents as a healer. While she had felt that it would be selfish to focus so much on her own needs, she is finding that she will be able to aid those around in her in new and wonderful ways as a result of doing just that.
Have you gotten the “put your own oxygen mask on first” lecture? Have you found it a struggle to actually do that? I can tell you from personal experience that moving beyond the survival mechanism of always putting others first can really open up a whole new world of first feeling really good within yourself and then being able to share your gifts with others in a way that doesn’t deplete you, but actually fuels your ability to do more.
Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.