An Open Letter To Those Who Always Put Themselves Last

by Kimberly Zapata
Originally Published: 

Hello, sweet friend. How are you? Tired? Exhausted? Are you feeling overburdened and overwhelmed? Like you’re drowning and there’s no way up or out? Well, if you are, I get it. I understand. I’m here with you, right beside you. We’re treading water together, trying to find our footing and catch our breath. And we are doing so because we cannot stop going and doing. Because we are people pleasers. Caregivers. Empaths. We always put ourselves last. And while our openness and generosity is in many ways a virtue, it is a double-edged sword. Our days are always full, our minds cluttered, our priority lists admittedly distorted.

I do not eat when I am hungry. Instead, I work or do the dishes. I help my daughter study or play with my son. I do not schedule “me time” or go out for drinks with the gals because I feel guilty. The thought of spending time on me seems selfish, not self-less. And most days, I do not shower; even my most basic needs are pushed to the wayside. Why? Because, like you, I am busy. Very busy. I am the maker of doctors appointments and the keeper of the family’s schedule. I am a mediator of fights, a mender of boo-boos, a bookkeeper and historian. I do the cooking, cleaning, and budgeting. I work and pay the bills, and I am a wife, mother, daughter, sibling, friend, and employee — all of which are roles which I take very seriously.

I don’t have time for frivolity.

I don’t make time for myself.

And I could live with that. Truly, I could. While a bubble bath would be nice, as would a night out, I could handle the absence of both were it not for the other ways my people pleasing lifestyle affects and damages me. Because people who put themselves last don’t just minimize their physical needs, they ignore their emotional needs: the ones that fill their “cup” and soul.

Because of my giving demeanor, I do not disagree with others, or fight with them. I avoid confrontation because I don’t think my voice matters, or, at least, that my voice isn’t as important as someone else’s. Because of my giving demeanor, I hide how I feel. I view my thoughts and emotions as invalid. I constantly wear a mask. Because of my giving demeanor, I feel shame and guilt intensely. It is one of the only consistent aspects of my life, and because of my giving demeanor, I keep bad company. I stay with individuals who have harmed me or hurt me because I’m afraid to let go. Because I put myself last. This is problematic. This is dangerous.

So what can empaths, people pleasers, and caregivers (like me) do? How can we make ourselves a priority — physically, socially, and emotionally? What needs to change for us to matter?

Our minds. We need to change our behaviors and our minds.

Of course, that is easier said than done. If you’ve been at this a long time, as I have, you likely shoulder a lot of responsibility. You’ve taken on a lot on. The kids need you. Your significant other expects your time and presence, as does your boss. Working through lunch is normal. You never clock out of anything at 6:00 p.m.

But you need to establish boundaries, on your own or with the help of another — like a life coach or therapist. You need to put self-care on your calendar, even if it’s just 15 minutes to drink coffee, to go on a walk, to breathe or cry. And you need to practice saying “no” — sometimes the hardest thing for those with people pleasing tendencies. People who put themselves last struggle to see any reason to put themselves first or even to consider their own feelings and needs at all.

Make no mistake: I am in no way saying you should adopt a negative attitude. You shouldn’t become selfish after being self-less. Don’t adopt a “fuck everyone” (and everything) attitude. I have known people who have lived this way, and they are nasty and bitter. Their soul lacks substance, too. But I am saying it’s time to care for yourself. To focus on your needs and to consider your wants. And I am saying it’s okay to love yourself, and to take the time for yourself that you truly do deserve.

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