Thursday, February 19, 2015

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

By Erin Stitzel, MA, LPC

Have you ever found yourself in situations in life where things just don't seem to be going your way? Perhaps you are in a relationship that is more draining than nourishing. Or, your job makes you feel like a robot who just shows up day after day, not really emotionally or mentally invested. You may have friends or acquaintances in your life who seem to be energy vampires; they are more adept at taking than giving. Why do we tolerate these situations? What is it about our conditioning that keeps us from saying "Yes!" to happiness, joy, and thriving?
            Perhaps we grew up in families, cultures, or societies that value selflessness and putting others first. To be sure, giving and care for others are honorable and valuable qualities. They allow us to have empathy and connect deeply with others. However, a recent conversation with a client of mine revealed the following wisdom: If we don't take care of ourselves first, and cultivate a healthy and loving relationship with our Self, then we have no Self from which to give and care for others.
            "In the event that our cabin loses pressure, an oxygen mask will fall down from above you. Secure your mask first and then assist others." So, how can we begin to cultivate this loving relationship with our Selves? How can we shift our paradigm to one that is inclusive and understanding? The following guidelines can serve as gentle reminders to move you onto the path of taking care of your Self.   
  1. If it feels wrong, don't do it.
  2. Say "exactly" what you mean
  3. Don't be a people pleaser.
  4. Trust your instincts.
  5. Never speak badly about yourself.
  6. Never give up on your dreams.
  7. Don't be afraid to say "no."
  8. Don't be afraid to say "yes."
  9. Be kind to yourself.
  10. Let go of what you can't control.
  11. Stay away from drama and negativity.
  12. Love.

These sound so simple, but you may find that as you go about working on these for yourself, it feels easier and more natural to extend these principles to others. As with many things in life, just keep at it. Practice makes possible. So what do you think? Ready to put on your oxygen mask?

Erin Stitzel, MA, LPC, is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. She co-leads the Adult DBT group and the Teen/Family DBT group. Erin is specially trained in Internal Family Therapy (IFS), Person-Centered Therapy, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. 


  1. I love this. I am printing this to share.

  2. Amy Grabowski, Director The Awakening CenterFebruary 24, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    Thanks Erin! Great reminder that if we don't take care of ourselves, we can't take care of anyone else. I also wonder when "self-care" became synonymous with "selfish"? And when did "selfish" become a negative trait?