I used to be one of those people whose happiness was dependent a lot on how good I made others feel. I think this pattern started a long time ago as a child, when I saw my parents fighting and having problems with each other, so I took it upon myself to be responsible for their happiness. An absolutely hopeless task, especially since I was only 11.
This pattern carried over to my adult life and spilled over to my relationships. I had an overall general feeling of care taking. It often left me empty and depleted. It took me years to realize the value of replenishing myself and putting myself on the top of my to do list, of taking care of myself so I can take care of others. And at some point I really got that the key to happiness is to going deep inside myself and realizing that I was enough, and that is what I call the process of "unbinding."
Assigning yourself the part of the caretaker, as noble as it is, can become very binding to your heart. Learning the boundaries of taking care of yourself so you can take care of others is a continuous process, but when you do, oh boy, does it feel good.
So how do we find the wisdom and courage to make ourselves first? How do we give ourselves permission to nurture, honor and listen to ourselves? How do we trust that things will work out,
without pushing ourselves to the limit and burning out?
How do we do that?
It comes down to the practical little things that keep us balanced, so that the caretaker in us and the spirit in us can thrive in our heart.
I always love the quote from the Bible, "love thy neighbor as yourself," but I think that our neighbors might not want to be loved like we love ourselves. For sure, they would not want to be talked to like we talk to ourselves. How many times do we judge, criticize and berate ourselves for things that didn't work out?
Instead of running perfectionism with ourselves, we could ask "What can I learn from this situation?" or, "How can I course correct from my mistakes?" I remember once when I was going through menopause, I had put on some extra pounds that were very hard to shed. I was putting on my Spanx to go out and I was so frustrated with myself and so in judgment of my body changing, that I remember a voice loud and clear coming out from inside of me, saying "You can wear Spanx around your body, but don't wear them around your heart."
Realizing how harsh I had been on myself, I started to let go and lightening up a new pathway of love and compassion for myself, for my human process and all that goes with it. After all, if I wasn't going to be there wholeheartedly for myself, why would I expect that others would? This process to my own unbinding had many layers to it, and many experiences came my way that led me to understand the value, the responsibility and the love it takes for oneself in order to live a fulfilling life. This realization of the things we do to ourselves that shut ourselves down was so powerful that I ended up writing a book called "Unbinding the Heart," filled with my personal stories and my mother's wisdom that inspired me.
Here are some practical tips to remember to always put ourselves on our own to-do list.
1. Don't leave home without it. Not your American Express, but your center. What centers you in the morning, other than your latte? Your prayer? A meditation? Stretching? How do you connect to yourself to bring yourself present? Find your way. Find a way that does that for you.
2. Change the channel. Watch your thoughts and redirect them so you think more about the outcomes of what you want more of, rather than imagining the worst. Stay connected to yourself throughout the day and watch your thoughts so they don't undermine you. We often have the habit of rehearsing the negative things that will happen to us, and it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
3. Feed yourself the foods that nurture you and support your energy. Keep those foods around in your home, at your office, in your handbag. My mother never left the house without some healthy nuts in her handbag for her or someone who might need a little snack in the day.
4. Schedule time for yourself and to do the things that enliven you. What activities are your joy triggers?
5. Ask for support from others and voice your truth without censoring.
6. Take "should" and "have to" out of your vocabulary and replace it with "choose." Know that you are in the driver's seat and you always have a choice.
One of my favorite quotes that Oprah said was that what she wanted most in her life was to be used by God, or whatever God means to you, or just to be used by life.
I think I can definitely sign my name on that. But to be used by God how? What does that mean? For me, it means that we all come with gifts that are unique to us, and if we truly tend to ourselves like a garden, then the seeds that are planted in our heart and the dreams we have will flourish and will blossom. It begins with taking time out to go in. It begins with putting yourself on your to-do list and never leaving you out. As we take ourselves into account and let go of the restrictions that we have placed around our heart that bind us, there is a great fulfillment that waits for us on the other side.
Share with us: What are the things that you do that include you on your to-do list, and how do you unbind your heart?
Agapi Stassinopoulos was born and raised in Athens, Greece. At age 18, she entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and afterward became a member of the Young Vic. She moved to the U.S. to act, and later went on to earn her Master's in Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.
While her sister, Arianna Huffington, was doing research for her book about Greek mythology, Agapi's love for the gods and goddesses was ignited and led to two books of her own -- "Conversations With the Goddesses" and "Gods and Goddesses in Love" -- as well as a one-woman show and a PBS special.
Agapi speaks and conducts seminars worldwide empowering others to create the lives they want. She lives in Los Angeles and New York and is a frequent blogger for The Huffington Post. Her new book is titled "Unbinding the Heart: A Dose of Greek Wisdom, Generosity, and Unconditional Love" (Hay House).
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