Practicing self-generosity is a critical component of self-care, which also gives us an opportunity to serve others
It had been over eleven years since I last changed diapers, but after two children, I knew I had enough practice to change my mother’s diaper.
I became my 79-year-old mother’s nurse after she got hit by a taxicab while crossing a busy street in Rio de Janeiro. She ended up needing two surgeries to fix a broken leg, her jaw and brow bones. Before she left the hospital, my siblings began to move her from her own house, where she lived independently, into my sister’s apartment. And so began my journey as my mother’s caretaker.
The first night out of the hospital, my mother moved in bed with sounds of distress. I asked her if she needed help, but she didn’t respond. Fifteen minutes later, I heard more restless movements and asked her again if she needed help. Once again, no response. After the third fidgety noise, I got up, turned the lights on, walked to her side, and asked softly, “Mom, do you need help?” “I’m wet,” she said feebly. The following night it happened again; she was in pain, and the third night, she was cold. Even though I was sharing a bedroom with her, she didn’t want to bother me, so I kept waking up and checking on her. But she only told me about her pain and discomfort when I got up, turned the lights on, and whispered in her ears. It was sad to recognize that my mother didn’t know how to ask for help.
Why don’t we ask for help?
Every woman needs help from time to time. When we lack the courage to ask for help, it’s usually because of a combination of fear of disappointment, shame, or a false self-image — all things that we most likely learned from our families. It can be especially hard to ask for help if you’re the type of person who is accustomed to over-helping others. This is the case with a lot of women who don’t know how to say “no.” Women who live with the excessive burden of trying to be superwoman. In addition to working full-time and helping their families and friends, these women help in their churches, schools, local organizations, and communities.
In time, some of these powerful women tend to resent the extra work they do. Often, the desire to help comes out of a feeling of insecurity. We feel that we have to earn our existence, and we don’t feel we deserve to ask for help from others. Plus, we fear being disappointed when others won’t come through for us.
Here is a new thought: What if asking for help is a way of being generous to others? What if being vulnerable by needing assistance gives the people in our lives the opportunity to practice ‘acts of kindness’? Asking for help is an example of courage, not a sign of weakness. It also gives us the opportunity to practice ‘self-generosity’.
You may be thinking, “Isn’t generosity what we all practice when we donate old clothes, feed the poor, or give money to the church?” Yes, but these types of generosity have nothing to do with self-generosity. When we give others the opportunity to give to us, whether it’s their time, ear, hugs, compassion, positive energy, or a diaper change, we practice both sides of generosity—giving and receiving. Self-generosity means giving without obligation, pressure, or burden, and receiving without shame or guilt. It feels good and we deserve it. It taps into all of those good feelings you have when you give to others. By allowing others to help, you give them the opportunity to experience those same good feelings. Generosity is a flow that needs to go in both directions for it to be healthy and balanced.
How to Practice Self-Generosity
- FIND GENEROSITY — Make a list of the people you could ask for help if or when you need it. Imagine some possible scenarios when you might need help, and think of the people who could help you. Make the list as long as you like, but try to have at least ten people on the list. Don’t worry about what they would say, think, or do if you asked for the help. This is so that you can see that generosity is around when you look for it.
- PAY ATTENTION TO JOY! — Schedule something that gives you joy today. Joy can cure PMS, bad moods, stress, overwork, menopause symptoms, and fatigue. It allows you to slow down and pay attention to you. I love going to a nice spa where I can relax while listening to the sounds of New Age music as I sip tea in a comfortable bathrobe waiting for a massage. The key is to schedule it. If you don’t schedule the joyful time, it’s not likely to happen, so don’t put it off too long. Write it in your calendar. With this action, you’re telling the universe and yourself that you matter.
- DO SOMETHING NICE FOR YOURSELF — It might be as simple as sleeping in one day and asking the children to get a ride to school or walk just like we did growing up. Maybe it’s taking a nap or going to the gym at lunchtime or getting your hair done after work. Or it might be taking a long, uninterrupted bath with French salts. Hang a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign on the door and don’t answer any calls.
- LET GO OF BURDENS — Make a list of everything you do for others that no longer serves you. This can be a bit tricky because over-giving has probably brought you joy in the past; helping others usually does. The key is not stopping your practice of generosity, but only doing those things that feel good without any feeling of resentment. Once giving becomes a burden, make a decision as to whether you feel it’s necessary or if you can let go of giving in that particular instance. My experience tells me that we can easily let go once we detach from the thoughts of how people will react to our new found self-generosity practice.
- PRACTICE ASKING FOR HELP — Ask a friend or family member for help, then practice detaching yourself from his or her response. Tell yourself that they have the right to say “no” and that it isn’t a reflection on you or their feelings toward you. Maybe you want to ask for help with weeding the garden or moving heavy furniture. The goal is simply to become more comfortable with asking for help.
If you aren’t used to doing nice things for yourself, these practices may sound overindulgent. But trust me, they are not. Just give yourself a small break and select one of these suggestions. With time, self-generosity will become a habit.