We hear the expression “You can’t pour from an empty cup” followed by “You have to fill your own cup first”. These sayings are very much in line with North American concepts of self-care being about one’s self only. That might also explain why there are so many memes which say, “self-care is not selfish”.
I’ve never liked the saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup” because I always wondered, who pours from a cup anyways? When was the last time you went to a restaurant and the waiter poured your tea from one cup into your own cup? Even at home you start the kettle or the Keurig, and your beverage of choice is served from there into your cup. Full or empty, you don’t pour from a cup, maybe this is also key to why people continuously feel empty and drained; they are doing things in ways that were never meant to be.
As for “You have to fill your own cup first”, I would say to others; your cup is not meant to be poured from. Your cup is for you and only you to drink from. How often do you share your personal cup of tea or coffee? Probably never or rarely. Instead what we pour from is the teapot or the coffee carafe. We can pour our own drink first and pour for others or pass the container along for others to do so themselves. Your cup is for you to replenish yourself only and none of it is to be consumed by others, it is what helps to fulfill and sustain you according to your own needs and your life responsibilities.
Drinking from your cup isn’t about the amount of time you selflessly give to others doing good deeds, favours, and things that are a result of your not being able to say no. The contents of your cup represent what is in your life. Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote a book Can You Drink the Cup using the cup as a great metaphor for life. In his book he writes,
“You have to know what you are drinking, and you have to be able to talk about it. Similarly, just living life is not enough. We must know what we are living. A life that is not reflected upon isn’t worth living. It belongs to the essence of being human that we contemplate our life, think about it, discuss it, evaluate it, and form opinions about it. Half of living is reflecting on what is being lived. Is it worth it? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it old? Is it new? What is it all about? The greatest joy as well as the greatest pain of living come not only from what we live but even more from how we think and feel about what we are living. …Holding the cup of life means looking critically as what we are living. This requires great courage, because when we start looking, we might be terrified by what we see. Questions may arise that we don’t know how to answer.”
Everyone has something different in their cup and what they drink might be refreshing, bitter, sweet, bland, nourishing, or toxic; regardless it fills them up. And when filled, what pours out is not from their cup but from their heart, mind, and actions.
Ask yourself, what are you filling your cup with, why, and what does it mean to you. How does it affect others?