Stop sacrificing yourself in the name of love

We live in a society that keeps telling us to do more, be more, achieve more. “Lean in.” says Sheryl Sandberg. “Just do it.” says Nike. Push yourself harder. Get into better shape. Make more money. Get that promotion. Run faster, sleep less, eat less, work more. Worry constantly that you’re not doing enough. No excuses. Don’t be lazy. Why? What for? Why are you stuck in this hamster wheel, exactly? Have you ever stopped for a second to ask yourself what you’re doing all of this for? Is it so that you can be loved? Admired? Respected? Envied perhaps? So that you can afford more stuff? So that you can feel better about yourself? So that years from now, when you’re old and sick, you can actually enjoy your life?

In her book, the Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown describes the dig-deep button: “You know the dig-deep button, right? It’s the button that you rely on when you’re too bone-tired to get up one more time in the middle of the night[,] or to do one more load of throw-up-diarrhea laundry[,] or to catch one more plane[,] or to return one more call[,] or to please/perform/perfect the way you normally do even when you just want to flip someone off and hide under the covers. The dig-deep button is a secret level of pushing through when we’re exhausted and overwhelmed, and when there’s too much to do and too little time for self-care.” 

One of the pearls of wisdom Gaya shared with me was “listen to your body.” (This is another one of those super simple sounding lessons that takes a lot of time to really sink in – you have to live the experience of it before you can understand it truly). Listen to your body is the polar opposite of the dig-deep button. Whether you believe in spirit or not, assume for a moment that your body (your emotions, your feelings, your sensations) are the way your soul, or your higher self, communicates with you. It lets you know when you’ve reached your limits and where you are pushing past boundaries when you shouldn’t be. Those messages deserve your attention. They actually exist to serve your highest good.


In our culture, however, we are taught to fight against our bodies, to push past our limits, to go for it all (whatever that means). We have lost respect for our own internal guidance system. We’ve lost our ability to love, respect and nurture ourselves and our own bodies. We are so busy sacrificing ourselves in search of love and acceptance outside of us (from all the people in our lives) that we neglect our own self-care. This isn’t always as obvious as it sounds…


I was talking to a friend who told me that she hurt her back when she pushed herself to run three extra miles last week. She knew she shouldn’t (because she’s had back issues in the past), but in her words “like an idiot I pushed myself to do more.” She spent the entire following week in agony, unable to sit or move around without severe spasms. Then came Thanksgiving, and instead of taking care of her back and staying off her feet, she spent the weekend cleaning, cooking, preparing to receive her family over for the holiday. More back pain, more pain meds, more pushing past her own physical boundaries in order to make the holiday special for the people she loves. Sounds wonderful and selfless right? It’s not.


We are taught to believe that this is what love means. Love = sacrifice. If you love someone, you put your needs aside in order to cater to their needs. And theoretically this sounds lovely. In practice, however, this doesn’t work out so well.


What ends up happening, for my friend, and for many other people who believe this myth – is they end up exhausted, resentful, and unfulfilled. They aren’t happy, they’re tired and cranky. When a family member (for whom they do all the sacrificing) acts in selfish ways, all they are left with is anger and frustration. “Look at all I’ve done for you! Look at how much I sacrifice for you! And all you think about is yourself…” Does this sound familiar? It’s inevitable. When you push past your own limits, for the sake of someone else, you aren’t being selfless. That’s not love. If you go inside yourself and ask why you’re really doing all this sacrificing, you’ll find some interesting answers that may surprise you. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t selfless reasons at all).


In order to really give love, in a way that is unconditional and without expectations (where you don’t get resentful or angry; where you aren’t tired or cranky), you have to fill yourself with love first. Then let that love overflow to others. (It will. I promise). To fill yourself with love, you have to honor your own needs. You have to be kind and gentle with yourself, your body, and stop pushing yourself to do things you don’t want to do. Listen to your body. You have to learn how to set your boundaries, say no, and refuse to punish yourself with guilt trips. Sometimes it means asking others for help, or even letting go and creating space for others to step in and carry the burden for a while. It takes a little practice, but when you experience giving in this way, you’ll never want to go back to the sacrificing again.