Giving in Your Relationships, Even When You’re Completely Drained

Young beautiful mother, breastfeeding her newborn baby boy at night

When you have a demanding role as a mom on top of marriage, career, extended family relationships and other commitments, it’s natural to sometimes feel “selfish.” You might desire escape because you’re worn out. Is it possible not to be selfish in your relationships, even when you’re at your limit? Finding the balance between your needs and others' can be a challenge, and it requires realistic expectations.

What It Means to Be Selfless

To be selfless means to put another person’s needs above your own. Every time the baby cries and you interrupt your own sleep to care for him, when you skip a social event to tend to a sick child, or when you stay home to watch the kids while your spouse is traveling, you’re acting selflessly. It’s part of the role of motherhood.

You might start to question whether you’re being selfish when you want to address your own needs. When do you cross the line? If you want to be less selfish, you first have to define what that means for you.

Recognizing Your Own Needs

Every human being has needs, including (perhaps especially!) overworked moms. These range from basic survival necessities such as food and shelter to more complex mental and emotional needs like love and safety. If some of your basic needs—including nutritious food, adequate sleep and healthy adult relationships—aren’t being met, you are not going to be as responsive to others’ needs and are more likely to give in to truly selfish desires that can be harmful to other people.

If you look at it this way, it isn’t selfish to meet your needs if doing so better equips you to serve others. From time to time, as situations demand, you will have to sacrifice those needs, but that doesn’t have to be the norm or the expectation. You can give yourself permission to practice self-care, and your family will probably enjoy having a happier, healthier, more responsive mom.

How to Be Less Selfish in a Romantic Relationship

With kids in the home, you may find that your partner frequently receives a lot of your “leftovers” at the end of a long day when it comes to time, attention and affection. One strategy to be less selfish is to recognize this tendency and try to prioritize the relationship, even if that sometimes means skipping out on “me time.” While your own needs are important, they might be met in a different way if you can work cooperatively with your partner.

Communicate with each other about what you desire most from another, as not everyone feels loved in the same way. While you might find it difficult to go the extra mile for him when you’re feeling drained, you may find that he, in turn, gives more back to you, and you both benefit.

It takes time, practice and even some outside help to identify and communicate each other’s needs, but it is well worth the effort.

How to Be Less Selfish as a Parent

It’s a little more difficult at times to be a giver to your child, because she is not mature enough to be able to give much in return to meet your needs. This is why a change in perspective can be helpful. Your child’s job is not to act like an adult or meet your needs, so don’t expect her to. Have reasonable expectations for her at her age and maturity level, and you may find yourself less frustrated and exhausted.

Since they are needy, kids can be very draining on your energy and patience. This is why it’s especially important to prioritize self-care, so that you can be more responsive and less selfish as a parent.

How to Be Less Selfish With Friends and Family

Extended family, friends and others outside of your household can be challenging to deal with when meeting their needs, because they don’t necessarily fit in with your immediate family’s expectations. While it’s important to maintain healthy relationships within a larger community, you don’t have an obligation to be everything to everyone.

If you do give of yourself, don’t do it with an expectation to get anything in return. In this way, you may find joy simply in the act of giving, which is a self-perpetuating practice. In fact, this is a proven strategy for personal happiness and fulfillment. Beyond this, you can give yourself permission to say “no” to the requests and needs of others when you’re unable to meet them.

Other Considerations

If you consistently find yourself battling with selfishness, you may benefit from counsel from a professional psychologist or spiritual adviser. She can help you determine whether you truly are being selfish or whether you simply need a different perspective about your expectations when meeting your needs and the needs of others. She may also offer some specific strategies for personal growth.