Caring for Others, Caring for Self

In the first 12 minutes of Pushing Limits, I talked with Adrienne Lauby about the tension of caring for others and caring for ourselves. To hear the interview, click on the link above. Below are notes from the interview which I adapted into a blog post.

There are a couple of ways in which I care for others. There's a reactive way, where I am responding to an immediate situation – a crisis, or a direct request for help. Then there are more relationship based, interdependent ways I care for others which takes on-going attention.  I think a lot of times when we are talking about the tension of caring for others, it's really about the question, will we be cared for and how do we care for ourselves?

It’s easier to know we are caring for other people then it is to know if we are caring for ourselves. When we care for others, we feel like something is accomplished and there's often some kind of resolution. Most times, we go in, we do something, and we leave. But for ourselves, providing care may actually make things messier. The process of caring for ourselves leads us into our bodies and our feelings. There isn’t much resolution because the process is cyclical, we return to it again and again. It feels harder than just caring for other people.

I’m from the desert, so I think of it like watering trees in my yard. I pour water on the trees and then the rest is up to them. For myself I have to figure out where the water is going to come from. This may mean digging deep into the earth to create a well. It may mean planning and building ways to harvest rain. Caring for myself takes planning, listening, and processing. It's hard work. We hear a lot about the need to care for ourselves first, but this is why, that water has to come from somewhere.

As a disabled person, I have some pretty defined nonnegotiable boundaries with my body. I know I cannot walk X amount without being in some serious pain the next day. When I am asked for support, it’s up to me to be responsible to those limits or to communicate those limits in a loving way. For example, if my Tia asks me to come help move a sofa, I can say no, but because I care about investing in the relationship, I can offer an alternative. I could offer to watch her daughter for a few hours so she’s entertained and not in the mix of moving the sofa.  That’s one way to lovingly respect my boundaries and invest in the relationship.

When we are asked to care for community, we can feel obligated to show up. As people who are connected to community, we want to feel part of the community, to give and receive in the ways we can. How we are asked to show up is usually pretty clear. Someone asks us to be there or we want to support some event, but knowing how much we have to give, that’s a different question. That is a lot more difficult to attend to because it takes us risking being with feelings and checking in with our bodies and heart which might make us uncomfortable.

I can feel overwhelmed sometimes with the act of attending to other people’s needs and how I am being asked to show up. A really good practice for me is to check in with myself before answering or committing to something. I take a pause to check in with myself. It’s much easier for me to connect to my feelings then to sit there and logically make a pro and con list in the 2 seconds that I have to make a decision and give an answer. If I feel excited, if I feel like this could be something nourishing for me, then I say “Yes.” If it feels like something that is going to be a little intensive or draining (I feel tired when I think about it), then I move into asking myself, “Am I in relationship with this community? Is this something I want to invest in? Is it worth it for me to maybe give a little more now with the possibility that I may not receive anything?”  

Relationships in community and with others are a practice of giving and receiving. One of the easiest ways for me to practice receiving is to practice receiving from myself. How often do allow myself to be vulnerable to my own emotions? How do I check in with myself about what I actually need? (It’s one thing to know what I need, but it’s another thing to figure out a process to go through to figure out my needs.) Another questions is, how do I choose to treat myself with kindness?

Treat others with kindness, honoring people’s emotions and needs are things we want to bring to our relationships. The reality is that we have to practice on ourselves first, that is where it starts. We have so many opportunities to learn.

© Naomi Ortiz 2015


  1. This was extremely helpful, thank you! I am wondering, though, if you have specific ways to practice checking in with yourself? I find that in the balance of finding what I need and what my community needs, I'm more apt to sway to the community needs. That's the more pervasive response, and I have a stronger (positive) emotional reaction to it immediately.

    1. Thanks for such a great comment. I wrote an in-depth reply that you can find at: