You’ve heard it before.
If you’re an empath in a relationship - whether a friendship, a partnership, a romantic relationship, a familial relationship; I offer to you a reminder, a most compassionate and gentle reminder to put your own oxygen mask on first, even if just a few moments ahead of assisting someone else with theirs.
You even know why.
You know that codependent quality that can happen when our way of caring for someone else means we leave ourselves in order to do it. You know what it is like to long for connection, for unity and oneness, such that we try to morph ourselves — to bring certain parts of ourselves more into the foreground, and place some central parts of ourselves and our ways of being on the back burner — in order to best fit in connection with another person. Sometimes, because we are empaths, we may also have a sense of being able to read someone well enough to know what they are looking for, and we may want to, consciously or subconsciously, become that in order to have, maintain, or deepen a connection with someone else.
Wait. Before you raise those well-wrought points, there are some acknowledgements that need to be made.
As human beings, we are social creatures. We need external connection. External connection is a valid need to have. Sometimes, we draw a meaning from the importance of self-connection that says we are somehow weak for also wanting social connections. We are meant to have those connections. We are also meant to have a really strong connection to ourselves.
Well, you have to do your work. Whatever that work is for you.
For me, the practice of meditation has been central to the work of connecting to myself: feeling into my body, and naming it home. Somatic meditation allows me to sit on my cushion and feel comforted, supported, held, and, importantly, home. Meditation is where I come home to myself. From this space of home, I turn my attention and curiosity to my self talk. The way all these practices come together and converse with one another contributes to my self awareness. Bringing that awareness into the world, and into the way I life live with myself and others? That is self care. Self care has to come from that place of connection to ourselves.
As empaths, we must care for ourselves to be in relationships with others, not because we are fragile or weak, but because we are so strong we live open-hearted, in vulnerability whether we want to or not. We must reconnect with the self regularly and say to the self: “This connection to myself is worth more than anything else.” So that when we are connecting with others or wanting to connect with others we are affirmed in our worth, not searching for someone else to define it.
When airlines ask people to put their own oxygen mask on first, they ask it of the responsible party in a dependant relationship. So, the parent should put their mask on first before putting a mask on their child; not because the airline is asking the parent to love themselves more than to love their child, but to value their life in a way that gives them them best chance of fulfilling their responsibilities toward someone else they love.
In the event that a cabin decompresses, breathing is the work that one person needs to do in order to support another. Relationships are continually compressing and decompressing. That is why they are so wonderful and why they are so challenging. In relationships, connecting to the self is as important and vital as breathing, it allows us to love and be loved by others, to support and be supported by others, to hold and be held by others. To recognize relationships that strengthen our primary connection to ourselves and ones that seek to erode that connection.
Our work, our practices that lead us to self discovery, self awareness, self affirmation, self care, self value and self worth, are what allow us to commune deeply with another. I’m not saying you need to fall in love with yourself before falling in love with someone else. I’m suggesting we learn to recognize ourselves, to value ourselves, so that when we do fall in love with ourselves, it can feel just as deep and rich as falling in love with someone else.
Better, even. But, then, you know that, too.
You have been worth waiting for this whole time.