You Cannot Pour From an Empty Cup

Oct 27, 2021


You’ve probably heard it before, but I’ll say it again: “You cannot pour from an empty cup.”

If your tank is feeling pretty “empty”, you’re likely feeling pretty physically exhausted, mentally crabby, and emotionally torn (and you’re likely feeling worse if you’re in lockdown or in a state of fear or stress during this pandemic!). Most people we work with are parents and ask them what is the most important thing in their life, and they will likely say their kids. But when you’re physically feeling. So. Damn. Burned-Out. It makes it really hard to show up as the best mum (or dad) that you can be.

And so, in order to heal from body burnout, and to become the best parent that you can be, you have to start with YOU first. You and your relationship with yourself.

There’s a story about a gingerbread mother (yes, this mum is made from gingerbread!). This mum lived out in the forest with her gingerbread son. They were alone and cold and hungry. Every day the son whimpered: “Mummy, I’m hungry.” So the gingerbread mum took a piece of her foot, and she fed it to her son. The next day, the little gingerbread boy said again: “Mummy, I’m hungry.” So the mother took a piece of her leg, and she fed it to the son. This went on, day after day, the mother feeding herself to her son until all that was left of the mother was her heart. And the son said: “Mummy, I’m hungry.” And the mother took the last piece of herself - hear heart - and she fed it to her son. The mother broke bits of herself off to feed her child. And in the end, the mother fed herself out of existence.

Can any other Mum relate to this? Do you constantly feel like you’re giving so much of yourself to others, that you are feeding yourself out of existence? Do you feel like you’re doing everything for everyone, and you’re left with the scraps?


Why Do You Put Yourself Last?

Why is this so common? If we look back in time, we evolved in tribes, or close-knit family and community groups. Over time we have been programmed to care and look after others. Which is fine, and a wonderful attribute to have. But when it goes to the extreme and you don’t look after yourself, this becomes a problem. 

Let’s be clear here: Genuine relationships with others depend first on a healthy relationship with yourself. That may sound harsh, potentially even false (i.e. but aren’t I a good mother and wife if I put my kids and husband first?), but if you think hard enough about it, if you struggle with self-love, with guilt, with shame, with self-sabotaging, can you ever truly show up as the best parent and partner that you can be?


The Consequence of Putting Others First

When you don’t love yourself enough to care for yourself, it will eventually lead to burnout - physical, emotional, mental, even spiritual burnout. Not only will your body physically start breaking down, but you’ll likely feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and potentially even start losing passion and joy in your family life and even professionally. 

Then can come the Dragon Mum and Zombie Dad syndrome (or vice versa), where you’re either crabby, irritable, and snappy, or you’re so flat and fatigued and apathetic, that you zombie your way through life. In this environment, contention will surely arise within your family, and also possibly in your business and work-life as well. Your relationships can only be as healthy as you are. You cannot give to others to your full potential, if you’re feeling swamped by stress, overwhelm, or depleted by fatigue and body pain. Data backs this up by showing that an accumulation of everyday stressors and burnout is a central trigger for divorce, and can also cause a parent to feel that they are not doing a good enough job at parenting. Even from a professional aspect, research shows that one-quarter of burned-out parents have lost joy in their work and those they serve, due to the stress of juggling business and family, and are even thinking about reducing work hours or stopping work completely.

When we think back centuries before us - even just 100 years ago - family and community connections appeared so much stronger than what they are now. Ancient cultures lived in close-knit tribes, literally for the survival of our species. We have evolved to have strong family connections, and to have close-knit ‘tribes.’ It is a part of our DNA. Yet our modern world has changed dramatically. Not only can we travel more easily, and becoming separated from our ‘tribe’, but we also live in the age of technology. While technology is great and has meant we can connect with people from the other side of the globe within milliseconds, it has also created physical isolation, disconnection, and loneliness, with shallow virtual relationships, according to some research. Another study showed that children are more negative, less resilient, angry, and lonely if they have a parent who is constantly on their smartphone. Ask any parent, and most will say that family is the most important thing to them. Yet many parents’ actions don’t really show this, by being distracted by technology, business endeavors, and work. 

Improving Health, Improving Relationships

As you prioritise yourself and you start feeling physically better, and as you work on your body, your mind, and your environment, it is quite common for our relationships with our families, and with others around you, grow stronger - more healthy, happy, and connected. It is likely that you will feel more love, give more love, and grow in love with your family, and your passions, and your purpose in this world again.  

Often this happens naturally, but sometimes, if it has been many years of feeling disconnected, angry, or apathetic, it will require some internal work to learn to love yourself again, so you can then show up as the parent, the boss, the colleague and the human being that you want to be.

There are many ways you can open up these doors again. We like to work through specific personality tests with our clients, which relate to how you interact with others. We like Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages” and Gretchen Rubin’s “The Four Tendencies”. You can complete these quizzes here:

It is also important to learn to communicate better and to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Carving out quality time is also so important - date nights, family home evenings, activities, and holidays. 

My Struggles with Body Burnout & Relationships

As I’ve mentioned many times, after the birth of our first baby, my health really took a nosedive. Physically I was feeling crap, and this really started affecting my relationships with Chris and our kids. I felt so terrible, that there was very little intimacy in our marriage (how could I be bothered expending energy for sex, when I felt so gross and depleted?!). This overtime brought a wedge between Chris and me. Our conversations (if we talked at all) were either about the kids…or finances, which always ended in an argument! Our relationship was stagnant, robotic, and frigid. Chris started staying at work until late at night, not wanting to come home. Which of course caused my already anxious, over-thinking mind to conjure up all sorts of imaginary scenarios of him cheating on me. This combination - my anxiety and suspiciousness, as well as a marriage walking on eggshells - was deadly. I started exhibiting OCD tendencies, of obsessively checking every message, email, text that Chris got, to a point where I was driving myself sick - and driving Chris crazy! I had also become what I called a Dragon Mum, especially after the birth of my second baby. My anxiety showed up as anger, irritability, and flying off the bat. I was super over-reactive to every little thing that my baby and toddler did. I was screaming at them, then rolling up in a ball with guilt, crying, and shaking. 

Yes, I felt crap physically. Yes, I was struggling with my mental health. Yes, even my work life was being affected. But it was our family. It was my deep pain - my deep fear - that we would either split up, or live in hate of each other, or our kids would become dysfunctional, that really caused me to seek out the healing of my body with functional medicine.

And what I did saved us. It really did!

If you’re feeling like you too are suffering from a body that is failing you, and it’s affecting not just your health, but also your relationships, your career & your quality of life. I’d like to invite you to take our Ending Body Burnout Scorecard to see test the severity of your body burnout, and to work out what areas are contributing to your body breakdown. Start the test HERE.


Filipa Bellette is Co-Founder of Chris & Filly Functional Medicine. She is an accredited Clinical Nutritionist & Functional Medicine Practitioner. She is also a Ph.D. thought-leader, award-winning writer, and regularly published as a guest blogger & in the media. Together with her husband Chris Bellette, Filipa has worked with over 2,000+ busy, burnout clients in the last 10+ years, and specialises in producing healthy, balanced, and happy Mums & Dads...or as she calls it, a Power Parent! Filipa’s passion for producing high-performance Power Parents came from her personal experience of Mummy Burnout, after having babies and juggling the demands of business, family, and her failing health.

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