by Kristin Armstrong
Photographs by Jessica Fontenot
One of the most important things we can do for our own wellness is to stop giving ourselves away.
I am not referring to anything about service, generosity, kindness or empathy.
What I am specifically referring to is to stop giving ourselves away to people who cannot receive us, and who cannot love us in return. The healthier and more whole we become, there are simply some relationships that cannot rise and meet us where we are today, or even join us in the direction we are moving.
Although it is one of the hardest things to do, there is no greater gift we can give ourselves than to honor and intentionally allocate our own energy. The energy we expend in giving our time, our love and our connection is the most powerful asset we have. It’s our lifeblood. And many of us can be emotional and energetic hemophiliacs if we aren’t careful and aware.
It’s a perfect time to take stock of our closest relationships. To look at the people in our lives who receive the lion’s share of our time, energy and love and thoughtfully consider the reciprocity and health of those relationships. Are there people in your life whom you spend time with who leave you feeling drained and depleted? People who take but cannot or will not give? Are there people who enjoy your beautiful banquet but are unwilling to bring something to the table? Are there people who benefit from the infusion of your love and support but turn to vapor when your chips are down? Are there people who count on you but cannot be counted on? Are there people who show up only when it’s convenient or appealing to them? If you stopped calling, texting, giving, planning and showing up, would the relationship flatline? Are you exhausted from trying to make someone happy who simply isn’t happy or doesn’t really want to be, or trying to love someone who does not love himself/herself? Are you worn-out from trying to explain your heart to someone who is unwilling or unable to grow? Are you weary from the effort of keeping a relationship afloat with a person who refuses to learn to swim? Are you rowing alone, going in circles? Is this paragraph making you cry?
It’s a perfect time to take stock of our closet relationships.”
One of my spiritual mentors describes a conversation she had with her partner, who was tenderly questioning some of her parenting choices regarding their son. Her partner said to her, “Are you going to ‘go to the gym’ for him, too?” When we desperately want someone we love to get healthier or stronger, we often mistakenly, metaphorically, “go to the gym” for them. Out of profound love (and sometimes codependence), we lift weights and run miles for them. And then we wonder why we ache from effort. We wonder why they never get any stronger, fitter, faster or healthier. How can this be? I’m working out so hard for him/her. We are often surprised by how fit we become by doing other people’s workouts, how strong we get by carrying other people’s loads, how much endurance we gain by dragging other people along, how healthy we become when we start to take excellent care of ourselves.
And the funny thing is, the more fit we become on their behalf, the more they cannot keep up. The endurance we build creates a gap in distance they cannot close. The strength in our own muscles has developed at the expense of their own development. The healthier we become, the worse they feel. In other words, our effort completely backfires relationally.
We can go to the gym in our work relationships, our parenting, our friendships, our intimate partnerships and in our families. The greater the attachment we have to the other person’s outcome, the more prone we can be to going to the gym for them. In other words, the more we love someone, the more careful we have to be about mandating that they do their own work, carry their own load and take good care of themselves. We have to be very clear as to whether or not they are trying to come forward and meet us, or if we keep doubling back to go get them.
And just because some people we dearly love cannot meet us or reciprocate right now does not meet that they never will be able to. Once we release them to go to the gym for themselves, anything is possible. But we are no longer waiting to see. We stop doubling back. We stop carrying what is not ours. We open up to what is truly meant for us. We stop trying to fix what we did not break.
Imagine if all the energy we invested in depleting and defeating relationships could be returned to us and channeled back into our creativity, our work, our spiritual journey, our curiosity, our health and invested into the relationships that yield a substantial return? The relationships marked by a sense of reciprocity, ease, fulfillment, attunement, safety, playfulness, adventure, collaboration and joy.
It can be returned, expanded and redirected.
We get to choose everything about our own energy, how much of it we generate, its quality and frequency, and where we decide to focus it. We can choose to give of ourselves, or to give ourselves away.
They are not the same thing.