Thinking Others Are More Important Than You
Do you betray your own dreams in order to shape your life to the wishes of others?
In the May 13, 1955 issue of Housekeeping Monthly Magazine, there was an article entitled “The Good Wife’s Guide.” It listed eighteen rules for being a good wife. Among these rules were:
- Listen to him….remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
- Never complain if he…goes out to dinner or other places of entertainment without you.
- Don’t complain if he’s late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night.
- Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember he is the master of the house….You have no right to question him.
- A good wife always knows her place.
This tells women that their husbands are more important than they are, and that the wife’s role is to make her husband’s life pleasant. Whether or not her life is pleasant doesn’t matter. Her husband is more important than she is. But that was back in 1955. While we have come a long way since then, my survey shows that many of us still feel guilty if we don’t cater to the wants and wishes of “other people,” including our husbands. In the following excerpt from my upcoming book, This Is Your Life: No Apology Needed, we will explore your relationship with yourself and others
What Does It Mean To Think Other People Are More Important Than You?
Thinking other people are more important than you means putting other people first – which means putting other people’s needs, wants, wishes, hopes, dreams, goals or plans ahead of your own. Women put other people first for many reasons. Here are just some of the circumstances that can lead you to treat other people as if they were more important than you:
- When you think that others have valid needs, but you don’t.
- When you believe that you hurt others when you help yourself.
- When you allow your parents, preachers and teachers tell you what to think rather than discovering how to think for yourself.
- When you think that, because your parents gave you life, you owe them your life.
- When you are afraid that other people will disapprove of you, or bully or punish you, if you don’t please them.
- When your empathy enables you to see things from other people’s point of view, but you ignore your own convictions.
- When you think that your personal goals are automatically “trivial” and that someone else’s goals are automatically “important.”
- When you think that “humanity” is everybody but you.
- When your gratitude makes you feel beholden to others, and you sacrifice your goals to them.
- When you see the treasure that is in every person you meet, and you want to help in any way you can, no matter what it does to your own life.
The trouble is, when you think “other people” are more important than you, you never learn to truly care for yourself and you never take your own needs and goals seriously. When you don’t take yourself seriously you limit your capacity to take other people seriously. That’s because you must discover how to appreciate your own self before you are capable of appreciating other people’s selves.
Thinking You Have To Turn Your Back On Yourself To Be Good
Those of us who spent our childhood in non-abusive, respectful families, experienced a tremendous joy in being alive, in being a person, and we were eager to learn and do new things. We looked forward to living an exciting life, and we had dreams about what we wanted to do when we grew up. Most of us never questioned the fact that our life was our very own to live. We thought it was perfectly natural to consider our own lives to be our chief responsibility and concern and to learn and achieve and be happy.
What happened between those exuberant, radiantly hopeful and confident childhood years and our adulthood? Our adult authority figures told us otherwise, and we accepted what they said. If you want to know what squeezes the enthusiasm out of a child, listen to what some of your authority figures have told you during your growing-up years:
- “A good girl does as she is told.”
Message: Don’t think or dream for yourself.
- “A good girl doesn’t brag or show off.”
Message: Don’t be excited over your accomplishments.
- “A good girl thinks about other people, not herself.”
Message: You don’t count.
These messages carry over into our adulthood. But the fact is, reality requires each one of us to focus on our own life in order to survive and thrive. When our adult authorities say to forget yourself and focus on others, we feel torn between “living for others” and “living for ourselves,” and we feel guilty for not being able to measure up to what our authorities say is good. We end up wrestling with lifelong conflict, confusion and guilt as we try to take care of our own needs and everybody else’s needs at the same time.
Thinking You Have To Serve Others To Be Good
Taking care of other people’s needs can fill up your days, months and years. This makes you a “voluntary slave” to others and prevents you from honoring and achieving your own values and goals. When you think other people are more important than you, you start to allow other people’s needs to determine what you do with your life, instead of your own needs. You think you are somehow obligated to other people’s needs, forgetting that you, too, have needs. You think it’s your duty to take care of other people’s needs, forgetting that they are the only ones qualified to take care of their needs and that you are the only one qualified to take care of your needs. This can lead to devoting your entire life to other people’s needs, wants, wishes and demands, and turning your back on yourself. That’s what almost happened to Lucille.
Thinking You Have To Give Up Your Dreams To Be Good
Lucille dreamed of becoming an actress, but she believed that as long as there were people more “needy” than she in the world, she “owed” it to them to make their lives better. So instead of training to become an actress, she earned her degree in psychology and landed a job as a social worker in Washington, D. C. After six and a half years of seeing no positive changes, she reassessed her situation. She decided to help the needy in a different way, by collecting donations of food and clothing for the rural areas of neighboring Virginia. The recipients took the donations but still remained “poor and needy.”
Lucille discovered that as much as she cared for the poor and needy, they had to learn to care for themselves in order for there to be any improvement in their lives. She realized that her own efforts had made them even more dependent and that they would be an endless drain on her life, with no lasting benefit to anyone, including themselves. She also realized that if she didn’t take better care of herself, she would become poor and needy just like them.
Totally frustrated, Lucille went back to school to study acting. When she became an actress, she chose to act in plays that depicted “rags to riches” characters. In between shows, she earned her living as a visiting drama coach at various high schools and colleges along the East Coast. To her surprise, several years down the road, an audience member came backstage after one of her shows and told her that he used to be a hopeless “inner city kid from D.C.,” but that seeing her act as a guest actress at his high school had inspired him and his buddy to go from rags to riches themselves. Lucille was delighted. By finally being true to her own dream, she was able to make a difference in the very people’s lives she couldn’t reach when she was trying so desperately to “help others.”
Lucille discovered that, contrary to popular belief, genuine caring for others comes first from you allowing you to care for yourself. When others see your success, it shows them that success is possible, and inspires them to go after their own success. And then other people, including you, are inspired by their success!
Instead of the belligerence and resentment she experienced when she was trying to “help others” directly, Lucille discovered a genuine respect and benevolence between people who were each striving to make their own dreams come true.
Acting From Other People’s Needs
Like Lucille, many women allow themselves to be drained by trying to take care of “the needy.” The fact is, there are millions of people in the world who are needy. If you’re not careful, you can make yourself a lifelong slave to the neediness of other people. Then what about you? You are also needy. Taking care of your needs is also a lifelong ongoing process. Mature adults assume the responsibility for taking care of their own needs, but there are many immature adults who want their needs to be taken care of by somebody else. When you help those who should be helping themselves, you only prolong their helplessness, and you get sidetracked from your most important goals.
When you act out of duty to someone else’s need, you have thoughts like these:
- “The world is full of poor, needy people. No matter how needy I am, there is always someone needier. I feel guilty for having more than they do and I feel sorry for them. Therefore I must spend my life providing them relief from their suffering. As long as one person is worse off than I am, my life is not my own.”
- “This beggar needs money, food, education, and a home. Therefore it is my duty to spend my money, time and effort to provide him these things.”
The fact is you couldn’t live enough lifetimes to help all the needy people of the earth because being needy is part of being alive! The other part of being alive is assuming the responsibility to take care your needs. With a few exceptions, every mature adult can help at least one needy person: his or her own self. While it is your responsibility to raise your own children and it is wonderful to be able to help people you value through tough times, basing your primary goals and actions on “other people’s needs” makes other people a continuous burden on you instead of an inspiration and a joy. You end up relating to other people through life-draining, sacrificial relationships instead of life-enhancing, mutually beneficial relationships.
Acting From Your Own Values Instead Of Other People’s Needs
Helping yourself by going after your own values does not mean you can’t help others. In fact, certain other people can be one of your highest values. But contrary to what most of us are taught, you don’t exist in order to serve any of your values; you have values in order to exist. This means:
- You don’t exist in order to work; you work in order to exist.
- You don’t exist to serve your friends; you have friends to increase your enjoyment of your exis
- You don’t exist for freedom; you seek freedom in order to exist as a self-reliant, happy human being going after your own goals, instead of having your life stolen from you by being forced into slavery to somebody else’s goals.
Let this sink in, because it is just the opposite of what most of us have been taught. And it makes an enormous difference in how you treat yourself and your life. When you act out of a passion and a responsibility for your own values, you have thoughts like these:
- “My mother is one of my highest values. She brought me into this world and nurtured me into adulthood, and we have become best friends. Now she is aging and needs help with dressing, meals and taking her pills. Because she is so important to my life, I passionately want to help her meet her needs. Helping her helps me further my own goal to continue to have her in my life.”
- “My business, my music studies, my gardening, and my exercise are among my highest values. When a friend wants to go shopping and I am pressed for time, I politely bow out so that I can honor these values.”
- “My children are among my highest values. It is my responsibility, my challenge, and my pleasure to help them develop into healthy, happy, independent, self-responsible adults.”
When your life is important to you, you honor your own values. When you honor your values, you can achieve your goals and make your dreams come true. But when you think other people are more important than you are, you forfeit your values and channel your energies away from your goals and your dreams for your life.
The Danger Of Thinking Other People Are More Important Than You
When you believe that other people’s lives are more important than yours:
- You never do what you want to do most. Either you never take the time to search for what you want most to do with your life, or you give up what you’ve always wanted to do in favor of what somebody else wants you to do. You deny your own selfhood and fail to develop yourself into the kind of person you would like to be.
- You depend on “helping others” to affirm yourself. You become “the one who is always there” for everyone else: you become the “facilitator,” the “sounding board,” and the “stepping-stone” for others. You start trying to live vicariously through other people, and your feeling of self-worth starts to depend on the feedback you get from those other people. You end up feeling uneasy unless you are with other people: doing for other people, feeling needed by other people, and feeling appreciated by other people.
- You suffer from the “disease to please.” You can become so “needy” in your quest to please others and get their feedback that you become a burden to the very people you are trying to please! Then people try to avoid you, and you feel hurt. When you are willing to be a doormat, people lose respect for you, and you lose respect for yourself. You are left without a solid friendship – not even with yourself.
When you allow other people to make you think it’s “too selfish” to regard yourself as top priority, you betray your own life. When you believe other people are more important than you, you no longer strive for what you want in life. You put aside your values, goals and dreams for the sake of someone else’s. You lose your identity by dispensing with anything that has to do with YOU. And when you’re alone, you feel like a non-person.
When your idea of being a good person boils down to living for other people and ignoring your own needs, values, goals and dreams, you make yourself an enemy of your own self. When you become your own enemy, you no longer treasure your life. You lose sight of the things you wanted to accomplish and experience in your life. You let others persuade you to waste your time on things that fritter your life away. You are never able to say, “I’m doing what is most important to me. I feel healthy, fulfilled and happy.” You lose yourself-respect and you feel that you somehow “missed the boat.” Then you apologize for living.
Avoid The Mistake Of Thinking Other People Are More Important Than You
You can avoid the mistake of thinking other people are more important than you by discovering a Recipe For Living that will show you how to honor your life, as well as the lives of others. You can learn more about the proper relationship between yourself and others in my 8 Steps For Reclaiming Your Life CD Program.