In 2010, I started talking about my mental illness and path in life with other people. I have conversed with many people struggling with a number of different problems. I’ve spoken with several friends, family, and loved ones of mentally ill people who want to be compassionate and understanding to our challenges. The people who do well at it with least amount of emotional turmoil because of it share one important ingredient. Self-love.
The idea of selflessness is one that is heavily promoted and romanticized in our society because it is a beautiful ideal. You can look at anything from religious figures and icons, to movies featuring heroes and heroines willing to lay their life on the line for the cause, to questionable hero worship of people. Everyone who deigns to undertake some action of sacrifice is doing so for some reason in their own mind and soul.
“I felt like it was the right thing to do.” “I felt it was my duty.” “I’m doing this because I want to make a difference in the world.” “This is my calling…” “I believe in my heart…” All of these things have to do with the emotions and beliefs of the person expressing them. All of them. And I have crossed paths with so many people who think that by emotionally martyring themselves, they can somehow save another person. It doesn’t work that way. You can only assist someone in saving themselves.
I don’t believe that the romanticized version of selflessness that so many people seem to think is a good solution actually exists. And that’s why self-love is so important. Self-love allows you to see a situation more clearly. It helps you set boundaries that will keep you well and healthy. It helps you know when it is time to walk away from a situation, no matter how much you want to help. Self-love can also help you recognize relationships and friendships that you should not be in.
“I don’t care! I care about X more than myself!”
And that’s a problem. You just can’t do that and expect to come out of it unscathed. That’s not a mentality that will bear a healthy relationship with respected boundaries. Furthermore, someone that genuinely loved and cared about you wouldn’t want you destroying yourself for them. That all gets into much trickier territory when you’re talking about parental love or mental unwellness that is so severe that it’s really twisted the person’s perspective inside out.
Even in those situations, there does a come a time when one has to say enough is enough to ensure they can survive the situation intact. Love is not an infinite resource for many people. It’s something that has to be fed and nurtured to keep it healthy and strong. And that’s something that you need to do with yourself, just as much with the people you care about.
Parental love is different. I’ve met several parents who would sacrifice anything and everything to help their child – and quite a few that have. That includes wealth, property, and their own physical and mental health. But, again, you can’t save someone from themselves. Burning your own life and health to the ground will not help an adult child who refuses to help themselves.
And if you can’t see that for yourself or feel that your well-being is just as important as the object of your affection – that is something you should speak to a certified mental health counselor about. It may point to something in your own mind that needs to be sorted out so you can find more peace and happiness with yourself in addition to weathering whatever storm you are facing in your life.