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Pouring From An Empty Cup

Many people feel exhausted, drained, angry, tired, and depressed by the end of the day. Fatigue may set in as early as 10 in the morning, and there isn’t enough coffee in the world to make it go away. Every little irritation seems to be magnified. A fight between two siblings can put you over the edge. A few drops of spilled milk causes you to feel panicky. The tasks assigned to you at work seem burdensome and overwhelming.

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You aren’t quite sure why you feel so much dread and anxiety. And why there is so little left within you to give to others. When people ask you for help or expect things from you, you feel a wave of resentment. And yet, you help them anyway because you don’t want them to think you are selfish. Why do you feel like this? And why don’t you feel rewarded or happy when you give to others? Why does it seem like you’re doing it out of a place of obligation rather than joy?


What Does Pouring from an Empty Cup Mean?

Pouring from an empty cup is where a person gives from a place of deficiency. It is a well-repeated phrase that essentially means we cannot give to others if we are not taking care of ourselves. We may do what we need to do because we know we have to do it. We will take care of a sick parent, make dinner for our children, complete tasks at work, and participate in charity events. But we never feel like we want to do any of these things. Rather, we feel as though we must do them because others expect them from us. And we expect these things from ourselves.


Think of it like a phone that needs to be charged. If you don’t charge the phone, the phone will stop working. If the phone is only charged in small increments, it never receives enough juice to last very long. It runs on tiny, rushed recharges so it can make it through another hour or so. Just like a phone, we need to be fully recharged before we can be our best selves.


Conflating Selfishness with Self-Care

Many people who pour from an empty cup mistake selfishness with self-care. They are often codependent individuals who must take care of others to feel any sense of self-worth. When they do take care of others, they feel resentful yet needed and valuable. When they abstain from caretaking behavior, they feel guilty and selfish. They have a difficult time saying no and feel responsible for other peoples’ problems. They don’t listen to their bodies, their minds, or their emotions which are telling them to slow down and stop.


Selfishness and self-care are not the same things. There is nothing selfish about putting one’s needs before others in order to function properly. People must receive adequate sleep, food, relaxation, and personal fulfillment to feel good about themselves. When they do not receive these things, they tend to feel cranky, angry, resentful, and tired. They are pouring from an empty cup.


Doing Things out of Love vs. Out of Obligation

When we take care of people out of obligation, we are not doing it with good motives. We may think that we are because we are taking care of someone else, but our heart tells another story. If you dig deep and ask yourself the tough questions, you’ll find that you maybe don’t want to take care of someone else at that moment. What you want is to feel good about yourself and to feel loved and accepted. Unfortunately, we cannot feel loved and accepted if we do not love and accept ourselves.


When we are giving out of the right motives, we feel so much more rewarded. We give because we want to give. We take care of someone because we want to take care of them. We do something nice because we had time to do it, and we felt like doing it. When we give from a full cup, we feel like much better people. Our inward motives are matching our outward actions. We are being our true selves.


Tips to Give from a Full Cup

It’s difficult to learn how to give from a full cup, particularly if you have struggled with codependency or low self-esteem for some time. While there is no one right solution, there are some best practices you can put in place today. These include –


· Take Some Personal Time Each Day – Every day, take some time to just relax and do something you want to do. We are all busy, but some of us prioritize self-care more than others. Pick something you truly enjoy and block out time on your calendar to do it.

· Start Saying No – Listen to how you feel inside when someone asks you for a favor. If it is out of your way or something you truly don’t want to do, then feel free to say no. This is difficult, particularly when it comes to family members. However, it’s an essential practice to put in place to start getting better.

· Get More Sleep – Adequate rest is critical if you want to be functional during the day. If you aren’t receiving enough sleep, you will feel more angry, frustrated, and resentful. Set a schedule and put all technology away an hour before bedtime. Try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Abstain from too much coffee or alcohol.

· Talk to Someone – Talking to a therapist can help to improve low self-esteem and eliminate codependent behaviors. Find a professional counselor who can help you learn good coping mechanisms for handling stress and demanding people.


Do you struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression? Do you feel like you are pouring from an empty cup every day? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.



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