When The Universe wants me to hear a message, the Signs from The Universe come loud and clear. And damn - have they been crystal clear recently.
It all started with a little post-holiday family drama that brought up my Mommy issues, mostly the belief that to be valuable in the world, I must care for others to the exclusion of my own needs. Depending on who you ask, my mother is either a saint or a steamroller. She has put many children who aren’t her own through college, lent people money, taken in grieving widows, adopted a “special needs” child and a foster child, cared for an aging aunt, volunteered at the school, raised three girls whose mother abandoned them, given money to charities, run a camp for children who just lost their mothers. You get the picture.
She’s the kind of person who not only jumps in fully clothed to rescue children who fall into the pool, but does so often enough that she’s ruined quite a few expensive watches.
Not only was I raised by Mom. My father was a physician (duh! Savior complex!) His father and brother were international missionaries doing God's work. So were my mother's sister and her husband. So more of the same.
In my family, the more you give, the better human being you are. If you don’t give until you’re bleeding (literally, they’re big fans of donating blood), you’re not a good person. At least, that’s how I interpreted the message as a child, that love was conditional - that my whole worth is tied up in how much I sacrifice of myself, even if I wind up depleted and feeling like the Cosmic Tit.
What nobody tells you is that most Cosmic Tits who are martyring themselves to help others have a dark side - the victim.
I started OwningPink.com because I wanted to help people, to serve out my calling, to heal the world. But within four months, I had depleted not only my finances, but my joie de vivre. I started to get pissed. I started to resent the very people I was helping. I was feeling sucked dry.
I had to draw a line in the sand and realize I couldn’t help every person who showed up in pain. So I started setting boundaries around my time, money, and energy, and some people didn’t like it, including me.
This family drama of late led me to write my mother a letter that challenged whether service and sacrifice to those who don’t necessarily even appreciate it is saintly or misguided. This brought up my deep-seated issue, one I’ve been trying to change, with great difficulty. Ever since I quit my conventional job in medicine in 2007 and realized that you can quit your job, but you can’t quit your calling - and my calling was to be of service - I've tried to balance this line, often unsuccessfully.
I keep coming back to the question, “How can I be of service without winding up depleted? How can I help others heal while also filling myself up?”
That’s the question I pondered as it took me three hours to fall asleep after I wrote my mom the letter about how I now believe it's possible to give too much.
Finally, I did fall asleep and had a potent dream. In the dream, I was at a retreat center with a fellow health blogger who shares my commitment to service, and we were getting a loving ass-kicking from three powerhouse women we know - Regena Thomashauer, Danielle LaPorte and Marie Forleo.
In the dream, Regena, Danielle, and Marie were telling my friend and I that we could never heal the world until we first healed ourselves, that we had to fill ourselves up first. Then, when we were full, we could happily, graciously, and easily help others.
Then the fire alarm went off in the house - for real. Not the blaring “There’s a fire” alarm, but the annoying beep you get when the fire alarm runs out of batteries.
For twenty minutes, I tried to sleep through the alarm, all the while pondering the wisdom of the dream versions of Regena, Danielle, and Marie, who are all strong, successful women who totally know how to serve while caring for themselves first.
Finally, I woke up Matt and begged him to go downstairs and get the two story ladder we would need in order to reach the fire alarm at the top of the roof. Matt, bless his heart, got up and left the room.
As soon as he did, the beeping stopped. Without a new battery. A week has now passed and the fire alarm hasn't made another peep. (Cue Twilight Zone music...)
I knew it was a sign that I was supposed to wake up - WAKE UP - and hear the message the women in my dream wanted me to hear. Had I not been awoken, perhaps I would have forgotten my dream. But as it played out, the message I received was crystal clear. "Lissa, you must fill yourself first so you can help heal the world."
The next morning, I was scheduled to do a somatic awareness session with my friend Steve Sisgold, author of What's Your Body Telling You? I thought I scheduled the session to help me allay the nervousness about an upcoming talk I was slated to give.
But after what happened, I knew I was supposed to use my time with Steve to tackle this belief that I must sacrifice my own needs in order to be a valuable, loving, generous, good person.
I started by telling Steve the story, then he invited me to walk around the room and declare the issue I wanted to change.
I said, “I want to help others heal without depleting myself.”
He asked me to flip it around into a positive statement.
I said, “I want to heal myself first so I can help others heal.”
He said, “Bingo.”
The rest of the session is hard to describe. Steve asked me questions, and feelings arose - feelings of anger against my mother’s rigid rules growing up, anger against the medical profession that only reinforced the belief that you must sacrifice yourself in order to help others, sadness about how many years I lost torturing myself for the sake of helping others. Steve asked me to physically move my body into these feelings, bend into them, feel into them, and let my body take me where it wanted to go.
Steve believes that we can believe something in our minds - like “I can help others heal without depleting myself”- but until we feel it in our bodies, we often fail to make lasting change. These limiting beliefs we hold - things like “I’m only a good person if I give so much to people I hardly know that it hurts me and my loved ones” - live in our bodies, and must be released somatically.
We focused on my heart. I felt tightness. Steve encouraged me to repeat the words, “I love myself as I fill myself up first so I can heal the world.
We focused on my pelvis - I accept myself as I fill myself up first so I can heal the world.
We focused on my throat - I express myself as I fill myself up first so I can heal the world.
I felt all sorts of resistance. My mind was on board, but my body was struggling.
I cried. I ranted. I moved my body. I made primal noises. I called upon the hurt little girl that is still pissed off that she has to sacrifice her own needs in order to make Mommy happy.
The voices said, “You’re selfish and narcissistic if you take care of yourself first.” The Gremlin said, “You have no value unless you’re helping others.” The Gremlin said, “It’s impossible to take care of yourself and others.” The Gremlin said, “Your mother won’t love you anymore if you don’t give of yourself until you're dry.”
Steve asked me what my body was feeling and I said, "My body feels freezing cold." My hands and feet were icicles.
Steve said, "I can bring you a blanket or turn on the heat, but let's investigate that feeling. Because I'm wearing short sleeves, and I'm feeling a little warm, so maybe your body is trying to tell you something."
So I felt into the cold, really leaned into the cold, and I started to cry again.
I said, "I feel like if I don't give until it hurts, I'll be a cold person. Warm people help other when they're in pain, even if it depletes them."
More limiting beliefs. More work for Steve to help me move through...
Bye Bye Gremlin
Then, as Steve led me through the process, I released it all. I released the resentment I felt against feeling forced to choose between my needs and the needs of my patients. I reassured the scared little girl who is afraid of being rejected if she doesn’t get validated for being a “good girl.”
I gave the little good girl permission to take care of herself, to love herself, to nurture herself, to set boundaries, to say no, to choose who she spends time with, to do what she loves, instead of what she feels obligated to do. I encouraged her to stand up for herself, knowing that Mommy will love her anyway, and that anyone who doesn’t love her when she’s loving herself first is worth losing.
Steve encouraged me to yell, “I am valuable!”
Then I cried some more.
Steve said, “You know it’s true, don’t you?”
“You know you can help more people if you fill yourself up first instead of letting people deplete you.”
I nodded again.
"You know that when you're full, you'll have even more to give and even more people will benefit from your love, generosity, wisdom, and gifts, right?"
Finally, I settled down. My breathing slowed. The tightness in my shoulders, my chest, my throat, and my pelvis relaxed. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t feel sad anymore.
I felt proud of myself for standing up for myself. I knew in my body that I can only serve my mission if I fill myself up before helping others. I know that depleting myself to help others is unsustainable and must change. I know that if I feel full, happy, nurtured, and loved by myself, I can help more people.
Steve asked me to repeat my mission. I said, “I’m here to facilitate helping patients, health care providers, and visionaries ease suffering and disease. But I want those I lead to find their healing within, where they can replenish their vitality and life force at will, rather than coming to me so they can suck off some of my life force. When they suck from my Cosmic Tit, it’s only a Band-Aid. They feel better for a blink, and then the pain returns. But if they do the personal work that allows them to ramp up their own life force, they can transfuse themselves whenever necessary without depleting me.”
Steve said, “If patients, health care providers, and visionaries will only ease suffering and disease for themselves and others by filling themselves up first, you know you must lead by example and fill yourself up first before teaching them to do the same.”
I knew he was right, like I knew in my body he was right, that I couldn’t let anyone suck off me any longer.
Steve pointed out what I was doing with my hands. They were a foot away from me, building a wall, palms out. I was setting a boundary, making a declaration.
Here’s what my body was declaring.
I don’t want my patients sucking my life force. I don’t want my mother doing it. I don’t want my husband doing it. I don’t want Siena doing it. I don’t want my friends doing it.
And I don’t want the Owning Pink community doing it.
It’s my life force. Mine. I work hard to earn it - with meditation and personal growth work and green juice and daily hikes and prayer and loving attention to friends and vegan foods and regular orgasms and fulfilling my mission in the world and releasing traumas and a commitment to living as fully and vitally as I can.
I want to spread my life force and use it to inspire others to tap into their own. But I crave the strength to be able to witness need in others without feeling an unhealthy obligation to fill that need to the point of depleting myself.
Steve asked whether there was anyone I wanted to share my realization with, and I said, “I think I want to write a blog post - for my friends, my family, my online community.”
But I noticed a fear come up. What if those of you reading this feel rejected? What if you’ve gotten used to sucking off my life force? What if sharing this boundary with you triggers you and leads you to reject me? What if you leave nasty comments because you’ve grown addicted to my life force and don’t want to do the work to generate your own?
But I breathed through the fear because I decided I’m gonna do it anyway.
It’s my life. My life force. My energy. My time. My hard-earned wisdom. Mine. Not yours.
Don't get me wrong. I still love you. I still want to serve. I still want to help you and others. I desperately want to help patients heal from whatever is holding them back. I want to empower visionaries and amplify my own vision by sharing what I’ve learned and share my platform and shine a spotlight on you and the great work you're doing. I want to build my own sphere of influence so that when I highlight the work of other healing visionaries, everyone listens.
But I can't achieve the kind of influence that will help me leverage my life force and power to shine the light on all of you unless I take care of myself first.
I want to help you - I really do - but I need to do it by filling myself up first. When I do, the abundant life force I wilI generate will spill over so others will benefit from it. When there's a surplus of life force, everybody wins. If I let myself wind up depleted, everybody loses.
Unless I take care of myself first, what I'm doing is not sustainable, and I’ll wind up drained - or, even worse, sick. I know this now. My body knows this now.
Steve took me outside, where we looked out over the expanse of the bay, and I breathed in the affirmation he asked me to repeat. “I love, accept, and express myself as I fill myself first so I can help others heal with great joy in my heart.”
I breathed it in. I breathed it out. I knew it was true. My body was on board to support my new belief.
I will be the Cosmic Tit no more.
I’m not here to babysit people who want to feel better but don’t want to do their personal work.
I’m also not here to offer you free advice outside of what I already give you every day at OwningPink.com, in the Daily Flame emails, in what I write for other websites like CrazySexyLife.com, Care2.com, BlogHer.com, and PsychologyToday.com, and on social media.
If I fill myself up, I may have extra time and energy that allows me to help some of you out of the goodness of my heart, because I love doing so. But if I don’t, I want you to understand that it’s not personal; it’s just me filling myself up first.
If you want to support me in this process, please respect my personal space and don’t expect me to respond to a three page email when I’ve never met you and you’re not a client of mine. My time is precious, and to be lovingly honest, I’d rather spend that time having lunch with my best friend or going for a walk by myself.
If you have something to offer that will help fill me up so I can keep generating more life force and helping more people, absolutely! Offer to donate a healing session like Steve did or invite me to be a guest in your workshop, as many healing visionaries do. When people do this, I often write blog posts as a result and help translate into words the transformative work many healers do but have trouble articulating.
If you want to collaborate with me and you believe you have something of great value to offer me, reach out! I'm all for collaboration! Let’s support each other in mutually beneficial ways. It's the feminine way...
And if you love what I’m putting out there in the world and want to just send me love letters without asking anything of me, please do. I read them. I love them. They warm my heart. So please don't misinterpret what I'm saying.
Here's the skinny. If you merely want something from me, but don't have anything to offer in return, I’m probably going to say no. Please don’t take it personally. It’s not that I don’t care. I’m not trying to be a diva, and it has nothing to do with you. I just get a lot of requests from people who want something from me without offering me anything in return. And I know it’s my fault. I’ve invited that kind of exchange. It has made me feel like a good person. I've allowed people to think that’s my modus. People suck off my Cosmic tit because I've invited them to sidle right up to the booby bar and take a big long gulp.
But that's in the past. Not anymore.
I’m just trying to reclaim the life I’ve given away in service to others so I can better serve my mission. I know it’s late in the game, but I’m changing the rules. So bear with me, and please try to understand.
It’s not that I don’t want to help you. I LOVE helping you. It thrills me, actually. But that’s my business - helping people like you, and getting compensated for my time and expertise.
If you’re a visionary like me who wants to learn how to get a six figure book deal, grow your online platform, or build a non-traditional healing practice, read more here about scheduling a consult with me. Helping you achieve your dreams fills me up like nobody’s business.
If you’re a patient with a health care problem and you’re ready to be an exceptional patient, willing to do your personal work and go the distance, read more here to learn about doing a patient consult me. I’d be honored to fill you up while you fill me up. There’s nothing I love more.
If you’re a visionary who would like to learn how to heal yourself so you can heal the world, sign up for this workshop in Montana with me so you can amplify your own healing powers, set your own boundaries, grow your business, network with and support other visionaries, and lift up others just like you. (Read more about the workshop here).
If you’d rather take advantage of the self-study healing products I’m developing, dig deep into the multi-media Get Out Of Your Own Way e-course I created. (Learn more here).
And stay tuned. I’m creating more products to help serve you online very soon. So stick around.
Part of me is freaking out writing this WAAAAY long blog post.
The old me would have asked you what you think. I would have obsessively checked comments to see if those who follow me still like me. I would have ignored the validating comments when the first asshole Anonymous comment showed up, projecting onto me some venom that has nothing to do with me anyway. I would have felt tempted to amend what I wrote, tone it down, tell less of my truth, for fear of losing someone I care about.
But that was the old me.
Because the old me is still fresh and vulnerable, I’m disabling comments in this post for the first time ever on my blog. Please don’t email me or tweet me or Facebook me about this post. I don’t want your feedback, even if it’s positive. I am not asking your permission. I don’t need your validation to know I have the right to set these boundaries. And I’m not interested in hearing if you think I suck.
I know I’m a good person, on a beautiful mission, with a big purpose, and I’m just doing what I must to stay happy, healthy, and whole in the process.
My body knows it. And that is enough. Bless you, Steve.
The new me is here to invite you to set similar boundaries for yourself.
Fill yourself up first and then serve your mission. Tell The Gremlin to go to hell. Let the people who reject you because you set boundaries and choose to fill yourself up first go their merry way. Think how much room you’ll make for the people who support you when you fill yourself first.
Personally, I love people who take care of themselves first. If you’re one of them, I count you in my tribe and invite you to take my personal stand as an opportunity for you to rededicate yourself to living a more sovereign life.
What letter might you need to write? What boundary do you need to set? What blog post is bubbling up within you right now? Who might you need to speak to? And how can you teach your body to know that you love, accept, and express your right to fill yourself up first?
Loving you all like crazy, even if it might feel like tough love,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Revolutionary, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.