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In a previous article, How To Take Care of yourself and Not Feel Guilty, we looked at all the quotes that give us permission to take care of our own needs, in order to have something to give to others. A lot of us have spent so long putting others needs first that we don’t even know where to start when it comes to loving ourselves. Let’s turn to the Baha’i Writings and see if we can find any clues!

How do we know when it’s time to serve or time to say no?

For people-pleasers like me, this is a hard question!

There are a few concepts I had to learn in order to be able to answer this question.

Approval Seeking:

I had to learn that seeking the approval of others is displeasing to God:

To be approved of God alone should be one’s aim. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 6, No. 6, p. 44)

. . . at all times seeking the approval of men is many times the cause of imperiling the approval of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, June 24, 1915)

Man must seek to gain the acceptance of God and not that of the different classes of men. If one is praised and chosen by God, the accusation of all the creatures will cause no loss to him; and if the man is not accepted in the threshold of God, the praise and admiration of all men will be of no use to him. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 158)

Service Belongs to God:

I had to learn that my service belongs to God. I should be doing it just for God and not for anyone else, and I definitely shouldn’t be trying to force things to go in a certain direction:

The Universal House of Justice has emphasized the importance of our avoiding any tendency to take responsibility for the Cause into our own hands: ‘Service to the Cause of God requires absolute fidelity and integrity and unwavering faith in Him. No good but only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of the clear texts and our own limitations. It is His Cause. He has promised that its light will not fail. Our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant. (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 119)

Ask God what to Do:

I had to learn how to seek answers from God by learning to ask myself some questions and listening for the answer:

When you wish to reflect upon or consider a matter, you consult something within you. You say, shall I do it, or shall I not do it? Is it better to make this journey or abandon it? Whom do you consult? Who is within you deciding this question? Surely there is a distinct power, an intelligent ego. Were it not distinct from your ego, you would not be consulting it. It is greater than the faculty of thought. It is your spirit which teaches you, which advises and decides upon matters. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 242)

Love Thy Neighbour as Thy Self:

Christ taught us to “Love your neighbor as yourself”, but as a people-pleaser I didn’t have a self. I was who or what someone else wanted me to be.

Think of the millions of women who live with violence and the fear of violence. They lose their sense of identity which has been eroded to the point where they accept the contaminated version of reality dictated by their abusers. (Bahá’í International Community, 1994 May 26, Creating Violence-Free Families)

This was a form of imitation, which had to go:

Man must free himself from the . . . thistles of imitations, that he may discover reality in the harvests of true knowledge. Otherwise the discovery of reality is impossible . . . (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 76)

Know Thy Self:

These quotes gave me permission to find out who I am:

True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self.   (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 156)

The first Taraz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 34-35)

Read your Reality:

When I started to see myself as separate from others, with separate needs and wants; and that I had a bucket of my own that needed to be filled, I started to learn to turn to God inside myself to guide my steps:

Could ye apprehend with what wonders of My munificence and bounty I have willed to entrust your souls, ye would, of a truth, rid yourselves of attachment to all created things, and would gain a true knowledge of your own selves—a knowledge which is the same as the comprehension of Mine own Being. Ye would find yourselves independent of all else but Me, and would perceive, with your inner and outer eye, and as manifest as the revelation of My effulgent Name, the seas of My loving-kindness and bounty moving within you. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 326-327)

I learned how to read my own reality, and know when my bucket was full or empty; and to know when I could say yes or no to someone’s request for service.

It is only through continued action, reflection and consultation on their part that they will learn to read their own reality, to see their own possibilities, make their own resources, and respond to the exigencies of large-scale expansion and consolidation to come.  (Universal House of Justice, to the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)

Being and Doing; Ebb and Flow

Everything in nature has an ebb and flow – a time to “be” and a time to “do”. If this is a natural phenomenon, why do we resist doing it in our own lives?

Every effort is being exerted to ensure that the process reflects the complementarity of “being” and “doing” the institute courses make explicit; the centrality they accord to knowledge and its application; the emphasis they place on avoiding false dichotomies; the stress they lay on memorization of the Creative Word; and the care they exercise in raising consciousness, without awakening the insistent self. (Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)

Boundary Setting

If you grew up in an environment where your emotional needs were not met, or you were primarily taking care of your parents instead of the other way around, you have likely learned to be co-dependent and to take care of others to the exclusion of taking care of yourself.

Learning healthy boundaries is a part of learning that we have a “self”. Even in marriage, when “two become one”, we see that there is still a barrier between them that the other can’t cross:

He hath let loose the two seas, that they meet each other: Between them is a barrier which they overpass not.   (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 106)

Creating boundaries means letting others know your limits. It’s a part of being truthful, and as we know:

Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 26)

I once heard that “boundaries” are not just for protecting you, but also to protect others from the resentment or upset that naturally arise from you overextending yourself for them.

To know the extent to which your lives may be enmeshed with others, please see:

Codependence Characteristics

 False Beliefs That Had to Go:

People Pleasing

My drive to help and please others is at the root of much of my past pain and suffering. I used to make my decisions based on what other people thought I should do, think, and feel. I’d sit at my desk, feeling ravenous with my stomach screaming for food, answering one more email. Anytime I would sit still, I would feel the contrast between exhaustion and the drive to do “just one more thing”. Eventually, my body gave out. I could no longer ignore the signals of not meeting my own needs.

Women are often told that the path of being worthy is in doing, bending, and molding to the needs and thoughts of others. If we just help one more person or make one more person like us, then, and only then will we be worthy of what we most crave: connection, love, acceptance and a safe place to land.

Human society at present exerts a pernicious influence upon the soul of man. Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power. The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)

When we learn that we’ll never find what we’re looking for in another human being; and accept God as our:

  • Best Lover
  • The All-Knowing Counselor
  • The Brightener
  • The Bringer of Delight
  • My only Hope
  • My sole Desire
  • The Beloved of my soul
  • The Comforter
  • The Counsellor
  • The Desired One
  • The Everlasting Father
  • The Faithful
  • The Forgiving
  • The Friend
  • The Generous
  • The Haven for all
  • The Healer
  • The Helping One
  • The Inspirer
  • The Knower of all things
  • The Lifegiver
  • The Loving
  • The One
  • The Physician
  • The Restorer
  • The Supreme Companion
  • The Supreme Helper
  • The Supreme Mediator
  • The True Physician
  • The Vision
  • The Wise

Life will be a lot easier!

Not Good Enough

From the time we were very young, we are told constantly by the media that we need to be thinner, prettier, dress better. We’re told by our teachers that we’re not as smart as our peers; and in our workplaces, there is fierce competition for jobs. In our Baha’I communities, when the statistics officer asks what we’ve done; and all the work we’ve done for the Faith doesn’t “count” for the forms she has to fill out. All these messages can lead us to feel inadequate or “not good enough”.

We live with a constant barrage of messages from everywhere to “fix yourself” that we forget to love ourselves for who we are.

Of course we’re not good enough! We’ll never be perfect!

… the complete and entire elimination of the ego would imply perfection—which man can never completely attain—but the ego can and should be ever-increasingly subordinated to the enlightened soul of man. This is what spiritual progress implies. (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 11)

Realizing that God doesn’t want us to be perfect, but only to strive, it takes the pressure off, to perform the way we think others want. Striving takes away all “should’s” and lets us live and move according to the Will of God:

Striving means this: Ye must live and move according to the divine commands and behests, be united in loving with ecstasy and joy. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 511)

For more information please see:

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Change is Difficult and Takes a Long Time 

False Dichotomies

One of the most common internal conflicts for the women I work with is knowing that always putting others before themselves is not working but that if they don’t put others first then that means they are selfish. The Baha’i Faith teaches us always to find the middle way; or the moderate position. In order to do this, we need to recognize when we are falling into black and white or either/or thinking; and embrace the idea that two things can be true. Two things don’t have to be in competition with each other.

It brings us equal pleasure to know that the friends are on their guard, lest new false dichotomies be allowed to pervade their thinking. They are well aware that the diverse elements of a programme of growth are complementary. The tendency to see activities, and the agencies that support them, in competition with one another, a tendency so common in society at large, is being avoided by the community. (Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)

It’s possible to take care of ourselves and take care of others. It just doesn’t have to be at the same time.

Time itself is a concept that’s unique to this material world – there is no time in the spiritual world, so when we’re living in our higher natures; and in the spiritual world, time is irrelevant. The past, the present, the future, all, in relation to God, are equal. Yesterday, today, tomorrow do not exist in the sun. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 116)

Once his effort is directed in the proper channel, if he does not succeed today, he will succeed tomorrow. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 21)


Since women are deeply driven to love and care for others, selfish is the last thing we want to feel! In an attempt to avoid feeling (or being judged as) selfish, we just keep going, putting the needs and thoughts of others ahead of our own, all the while, feeling resentful; like we are losing ourselves and any hope that life will ever feel good. That thought can certainly make me spiral down into exhaustion!

This guilt has its grip on us:

It is because of this dual guilt, the things it has done and the things it has left undone, its misdeeds as well as its dismal and signal failure to accomplish its clear and unmistakable duty towards God, His Messenger, and His Faith, that this grievous ordeal, whatever its immediate political and economic causes, has laid its adamantine grip upon it. (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 115)

It’s not unusual for those who’ve been abused to experience guilt for things they aren’t responsible for:

The confused feelings on your part are understandable, considering the extreme trauma you have experienced, and it is not unusual for those who are victimized to feel guilty for situations that occurred through no fault of their own. (Universal House of Justice, to an individual, 12 January 2010)

We need to let go of this unhealthy guilt and assume responsibility for our own lives:

The personal transformation required for true equality will undoubtedly be difficult for men and women alike. Both must relinquish all attachment to guilt and blame and courageously assume responsibility for their own part in transforming the societies in which they live. (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Sept 13, Role of Religion in Promoting Advancement of Women)

For more information, please see:

Healthy and Unhealthy Guilt and Shame

Here are some affirmations I use to remind me that it’s OK to take care of myself first:

  • Every Time I Say Yes to You; I’m Saying No to Me
  • Having needs isn’t a weakness

For more information, you might find this helpful:

Should’s and Service

The Theory of the Big Toenail – or Taking on Roles that Don’t Belong to Us

 What’s been your experience learning to take care of yourself? How has this helped give you permission? Post your comments below!