Sunday, 15 April 2012

You are a centre... of the universe

My father once gave me a present of an autograph book and his entry in it read "You are a centre; a centre of the universe." Note, he didn't write "the" centre of the universe, only "a" centre. This implies that each person can only ever be the centre to their universe and not the centre to anyone else's.

Hands up if you are there for anyone else 24/7, no matter what the problem might be, however large or small, major or trivial. Any hands up? Take them down, you are lying to yourself and in the process putting your own health at risk. We cannot be there 24/7 for anyone if we are to be well ourselves. We cannot live their lives for them and nor can they do that for us. We each have to have something in reserve for ourselves in order to be able to survive whatever life throws at us. We each have the right, merit and deserve time and space for ourselves to enjoy and engage in our interests, hobbies, aspirations and to deal with our own problems.

I have met so many people who try to be 'people-pleasers' and have been one myself. If we strive to always do anything we can to ingratiate others; to avoid confrontation, to keep the peace, to keep others happy at all costs we end up negating our own needs. This is particularly important to remember to avoid being gaslighted (see last article), undermined and negated by others. When we put others first all the time we start to establish relationships whereby others feel free to use us as a doormat to wipe their shoes on and before long that may end up being all we are to them. By such behaviour we can end up being taken for granted with no respect shown toward us as people or for our own needs.

This doesn't mean we have to be callous, selfish or not be supportive of those we want to help though. It simply means we need to learn the importance of setting our own boundaries (also outlined in an earlier post) and of how to be assertive enough to ensure those boundaries are maintained. It means we need to be honest with ourselves about where our limits lie. Knowing when and where to cut your losses and when to stick by people when they're hurting you or when to tell someone you can't help are all incredibly important to our well-being.

An example of a difficult choice
Since I started to practice putting myself first I have had to make many difficult decisions about who and when to support others. Hardest of all to me was learning to say 'No, sorry I can't help'. Whenever I have done so the other person has to manage and so far at least, they have coped without me. They do so because just like I have had to do in times of trouble, they have found the means by which to survive. They have chosen to do so. Not really surprising as the alternative is so unattractive. It has seldom been a case that I have had to pull away permanently.

It was an extremely bitter pill to swallow to have to recognise my own limits in this way. However, it doesn't mean I stopped caring about those people or that my heart didn't and doesn't still go out to them. I know though that I made the right choice for me in pulling away for the sake of my own well-being at those times.

If I hadn't been that honest with myself I would probably have ended up getting very ill and making matters worse for them as well as myself simply through not knowing how to be of help and not having the energy or commitment to do so. In some cases I have since learned how to be of support for them, and have gone back to them to help but only once I looked after myself first.

Taking time out for yourself isn't always down to having troubles. Everyone has dreams and aspirations; we all have a right to chase them and make time for them. By fulfilling our own needs we become stronger and more able to be of support to others.

These things highlight how vital it is to recognise that you can never be the centre of anyone else's universe. You can only be the centre of your own and do what feels right for you in it at any given point. Yes, it can seem that you are selfish at times, but you may need to be and not just for you but for others too.

There is a danger in being too supportive as doing so can lead to others becoming too dependent on you instead of them learning to cope for themselves. Personally I have developed a passion about helping to empower people which is far better for them and for ourselves. Empowerment puts those you are supporting in control of their own lives. It involves giving them the tools to do so and gives them the freedom of making their own decisions. It's a million miles away from spoon-feeding, advice or 'doing for others'. It enables us to enjoy the same freedoms on our own journey of development instead of leading to feelings of being burdened, obliged to help or of being tied down. Provide farmland with access to water and the farmer can do the rest himself.

You might be disappointed if someone says "no" to giving you a lift to collect a bit of shopping from town, but we need to recognise that the request might come at an awkward time and that constantly saying "yes" does not encourage someone to find a way of making their own way there. They too have to walk away at times, so why turn it into an ordeal to say no? At all times we have to set our boundaries on what we can handle and we should learn to accept that this is the case for others too.

We all have a multitude of different relationships in our lives; family, close friends, acquaintances, colleagues and professional relationships. Each person we know or meet has the potential of being a member of not just one but several of these categories as our relationships develop. A close friend one day may end up being relegated to the level of a mere acquaintance or a professional relationship may blossom into a close friendship or end up marrying you! Not being equipped with a crystal ball, none of us can be certain of anything and in truth nothing is written in stone unless we ourselves carve it there.

For each instance of universes colliding and needs clashing, there is the potential for an equal number of instances of them coinciding and becoming symbiotic for there are millions of people in the world, some of whom will be a source of support for who we are even if others cannot or will not be.

Timing and talking
Getting a balance on helping others and looking after yourself is always going to be an ongoing challenge due to timing. Relationships will always undergo good and bad phases as life continually sets challenges to overcome and I believe we should not expect to be on the same wavelength with anyone during all these phases. It is frequently
a question of timing as to whether we receive or can provide assistance.

Anger over people not being there for us in a time of need often escalates. It can lead to feelings of betrayal, rejection and isolation to add to the frustration when people don't respond or don't seem interested in our individual universe. It can hurt and cause damage. Sometimes though, lack of support can be down to us not stating we are in need of it; at others it might be because we have gone to the other extreme of swamping people by offloading our troubles too much when others have difficulties of their own or, they might not know how to help because we don't let them or accept what they can offer.

Support can come in many forms - a friend you might think would be best to turn to for emotional support might not be in a place to offer it, but they might help ease things with some practical aid instead. People can surprise you so that the emotional support you seek could come from someone you didn't expect could provide it.

There are days when I wish we could all do a check-in to see who needs what and from there devise a volunteer list of supporters and 'support services' on offer so we can work as a team to trouble-shoot our way through difficulties. None of us has the monopoly on providing support, but it doesn't mean we can't offer it in some way - even directing people to other sources of help can be invaluable. We are not bad people for acknowledging our limitations; we are wise to do so because we are less likely to cause further damage to others or ourselves when we accept our limits.

Remember that some problems do require professional help and not just on an emotional level. You could for example, end up perpetuating financial problems by trying to sort them for others or even for yourself. Constantly paying someone else's bills does not help them to learn to manage their own money. When we try to go into 'rescuing others mode' we are feeding a need of our own, that of needing to be needed. The trouble with that is it's not properly addressing the feelings of loneliness that are frequently at the root of those needs. Far better to learn to be appreciated for who you are than end up constantly being 'used' by others and taken for granted.

Rescuers and 'people-pleasers' can all too easily be stopping others develop their own strengths. We don't learn to walk by constantly seeking a parent to carry us.

Just as there is a danger of giving too much of ourselves to others, so too is there a danger of being too dismissive when we are progressing with our lives. Be honest, haven't there been times when you've been irritated, upset or annoyed by others not understanding your need to move forward?

An Exercise
Imagine that at long last all your dreams and aspirations are at the brink of coming true; you're excited, elated and happy. Imagine that something comes along to throw a spanner in the works to drag you back and make it all seem out of reach because another person needs your support. Now imagine you at your worst and lowest. How would you want to be told that someone can't help you because they need to make their dream happen?

Perhaps the pledge we should all make is "
I will always strive to do my best to care and show support wherever I can when I can in the ways that I can, but recognise that I am not perfect. I accept I will make mistakes and might hurt others even though I will never want or intend to because I own I have limitations and will therefore have to put my needs first sometimes."

It is never easy to strike the balance between our needs and the needs of others, but learning to respect and accept that everyone else is the centre of their own universe does help. Respecting the needs of others can open doors to them respecting yours.

Avoiding total selfishness
It is not uncommon for victims of bullying and abuse to turn into selfish people themselves later on in life. It can take just one significant influential relationship or event in your life to change your perspective on absolutely everything and every one. Make sure the influences upon you are positive ones i.e. ones that empower you but that don't encourage total selfishness or a lack of consideration and respect toward others.

Equally it is not uncommon for people adept in caring for others to seemingly stop caring about anyone at all because they suddenly feel or come to realise that their own needs are not being met. They can feel uncared for and unresponded to in this regard. I firmly believe that bullies and selfish people are troubled people in their own right. They can be victims in disguise and their behaviour can stem from a need to prevent being badly hurt again. Although this helps a little to understand them, it is of no help to their victims. Ever heard the phrase 'attack is the best form of defence'? Selfishness is often just the same. Avid and aggressive abusers are frankly beyond all my powers of understanding, so there I have to draw line on help I am prepared to offer and have to hope that professionals can make some difference if only by keeping them away from potential victims.

Whether verbal or physical, mild or intense, in all cases such things can be complex to unravel to put straight. In such circumstances it is best to seek counselling or psychotherapy of some kind whether you feel yourself becoming selfish/uncaring or are the victim of any form of abuse from others. It is nothing new to the professionals. A counsellor once told me there are only two types of client - victims and bullies. Certainly it is one interpretation of how to look at things, albeit simplistic.

The trick to me seems to be to avoid extremes and to seek a balance. If you are not used to the middle ground of balance you may need help to find it, but it's worthwhile seeking the help to achieve that balance because what's at stake is your well-being, your self-esteem, respect and interest from others, rewarding relationships and ultimately happiness within yourself and an enduring liking of who you are. Well worth the self investment of a bit of counselling I found.

We can all be centres of just our own universe, but unless we are connected to other people's we are unlikely to achieve or enjoy sustained and deep inner peace and happiness.


  1. Coming up in future articles, the role of humour, assertiveness and why we all assume things.

  2. I have always been a people pleaser, and still am, although now, this is creating me a lot of problems, and so much hurt.
    I love to help others, and I do. Sometimes, like this last week, I am doing really bad myself, and I need for once to be listened to. I get very happy when a friend asks how are you doing? where are you at home? why didn't you go to work? Oh WOW! for once, someone cares, but that same person doesn't wait for the answer and goes on with talking about her own issues? I will always be a people pleaser, because that is who I am, but I give up on trying to expect anything in return.

  3. That's not healthy for you Nikky and you deserve better than being treated as a doormat for others to whip their feet on or just someone everyone else expects to be there to help them all the time. They need to learn to cope better on their own and you need to start to appreciate yourself more. When we like ourselves more, others like us more too and start to seek our company just for who we are. Can we expect others to value us if we don't do so?

    When we stop being people-pleasers it just means we become supportive in a more appropriate way, a way that is not damaging to ourselves or to others.

    Nikky, I am not a trained counsellor and counselling over the internet is a con in my opinion, but don't be afraid to go to one if you are struggling with all this. I did and it worked wonders in helping me to believe in myself. I have done nothing but grow and get happier ever since. Worthwhile doing I'd say and I'd wish I'd done it earlier in life. All best wishes.


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