This idea may contradict your beliefs about yourself and your role in your family. You are the most important person to yourself. Yes, you read that right. It is not selfish. Hear me out…
As a member of a family, everything you do has an impact on the other members of your family. It is impossible to separate one person from the whole unit. That means that when you are stressed and struggling, the rest of your family can feel that, and will respond or react in an effort to return to the status quo, or to make everything okay again.
As parents, we feel selfish when we prioritize ourselves, our kids are demanding our attention and resources constantly. It feels like we don’t have time for ourselves, and we think that’s how it should be, and that it’s okay. The truth is that we don’t even realize how big of an impact our stuff has on our whole family’s wellness.
Here’s why this matters: Children are biologically programmed to try and control their parents’ affect (mood) so that they can connect with them and get their needs met. As a child, if the parents aren’t okay, that puts them in danger, and they will act out in an effort to feel connected with the parent again. Most of the time, that shows up in a way that demands even more from the parent. Basically, the more stressed you are, the more your children will demand of you, and the more frustrated you’ll become. The loop continues when you react to your kids in a way that you regret, and you feel bad about it, they feel rejected and unsafe, and the whole thing starts up again.
This process continues when we become adults, and translates to us trying to control our partner’s mood so that we can feel safe and okay.
The fact is: You can’t change anyone else’s behavior with your behavior. You can’t make everyone else okay. You aren’t responsible for everyone else’s feelings and reactions, but you are responsible for your own feelings and reactions.
How do we stop the cycle of dysregulation? We learn how to regulate our own feelings and take care of ourselves first. You can be okay even when everyone else isn’t okay. You don’t need to try and control everyone else’s behavior to regulate yourself. When we’re good, then everyone else will be good, too, and if they’re not, you’ll be able to stay calm and help.