When talking about the need for self-care, the most often heard phrase is “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. It’s generally accepted that this saying means when you give and give and don’t stop to recharge and take care of yourself, you’ll be too “empty” of energy to take care of anyone including yourself. For the most part, on the surface, this is a good example of what happens when a person is completely drained. However, when it comes to care and mending, it is still a bit faulty in its logic. Think about it. What cup have you ever seen refill itself? It doesn’t. Someone has to pour from the pitcher into the cup. And someone has to brew the tea to fill that pitcher. And someone had to pick the tea leaves to brew the tea with. It goes on and on. The cup is not solely responsible for refilling itself and neither should we be. Yes, people should be able to take care of themselves as best they can and not rely solely on others. But that is not the point of the saying. Even in the context of self-care, this saying and message is still focusing on getting yourself better so you can pour out to others more again. That is not what interpersonal relationships are about. It doesn’t matter if it’s romantic relationships, or friendships, or business relationships, or family or any other type of relationship. Relationships are not about one person doing all the pouring. They are a team effort with all involved working together and pouring for each other from what they have. If that’s not happening, you’re draining yourself unnecessarily for no reason and your cup will never be filled no matter how much self-care you give yourself. Stop emptying your cup for people who expect you to refill it yourself or only share a fraction of their cup’s contents with you. In fact, get rid of the cup and find yourself a fountain.
When you think of a fountain, you can see the waters flowing on and on and never ending. You know that it will keep going and it doesn’t run out and go empty. But what makes that continue that way? It is the pump and the body of water around it working together to keep it flowing. The water goes from the pool into the pump, then out the top and back down into the pool. It cycles. No matter how much water goes into the pump the pool does not empty because the fountain pours it back down into the pool. And no matter how many times the fountain pours out, it doesn’t empty because it’s going back into the pool it came from and is given back into the pump. It is reciprocal. Just as our relationships should be. There is still a chance of gunk getting into it and needing maintenance and cleaning. But that too is normal and healthy. Yes, be careful. In a fountain analogy you should still keep away anything (or anyone) that will add pollutants to the water and clog the pump like toxic or abusive behaviors and actions. And keep away those who take away from the fountain instead of putting back into the collective pool like those who don’t give their fair share into the relationships. But, as a whole, the fountain is still a better suggestion than pouring out your cup and refilling it yourself just so you can pour yourself into others again without others pouring into you. Self-care is important. And sometimes we just need to be left alone and to ourselves for a while to rest. But that should not be for the purpose of being able to serve others over and over. It should be simply because it is the healthy thing to do with or without others. And most importantly, stop telling people to take care of others but only them take care of themselves. If someone is giving of themselves and gets to a point where they need to take a break and “self-care”, before leaving them to care for themselves, offer to give to them for a change by seeing if they need anything. How about instead of your loved one taking self-care by giving themselves a soak in the tub, you go and ask them (before they’re completely worn out) if they want you to draw up a bath for them so they can take a break. Or instead of your co-worker going off on edge needing a break, if you have a moment, go ask if there’s something you can help them get done faster. And make sure the people in your life do those things for you consistently as well. Stop giving more than you get. Don’t empty your cup and refill yourself just to pour out more over and over. Smash the tiny cup that no one wants to help fill, and get yourself a pond full of only those who are willing to put themselves into making the fountain work continually. You deserve for them to do things and pour out for you too. If they choose not do for you as much as you do for them equally and consistently, they are not for you. Don’t blame yourself for being drained and not doing enough self-care when there are people who should be caring for you too. Again, self-care is important. But, receiving care from others is too. So, now I ask you, why pour from cups when you could have a beautiful fountain?