7 Reasons Why You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup

Someone is pouring green tea into a cup

Have you ever heard someone say you can’t pour from an empty cup? Are you confused about what that means or why people say it? 

It has nothing to do with being a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of person— instead, it has everything to do with self-care.  

I tried to continue to pour from an empty cup for years, and unfortunately, it took me a long time to realize what this meant and learn how to fix it.

Below I am going to share what makes this saying true, and what you can do to prevent having an empty cup. 

Let’s check it out. 

You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup Meaning 

People often think of self-care as a selfish act. You can’t pour from an empty cup means that if you aren’t taking proper care of yourself, you won’t have remaining resources left to give to the people around you.  

It is all about making yourself the ultimate priority and taking the best care of yourself so that you are better able to take care of others. 

What is the empty cup a metaphor for? 

The empty cup is a metaphor for your energy and resources. When you don’t have anything left to give, it makes it impossible for you to be the best person you can be for the people you care about around you. 

I like to think of having an empty cup as a metaphor for burnout. Once your cup is completely empty you have likely reached burnout and are no longer taking care of yourself let alone taking care of anyone else around you to the best of your abilities. 

What causes your cup to be empty? 

When you put other priorities in life above yourself, like children, your partner, or your career, you often have good intentions and mean well, but you tend to neglect yourself and your own needs. This leads to you emptying your own cup faster than you are able to refill it.  

I remember when I finally reached burnout. I had spent so long putting my husband’s and my stepson’s needs in front of my own, that eventually my body and mind began shutting down and I simply could no longer function. 

It was as if my entire being started to short-circuit and I began to experience severe panic attacks. 

My motivation came from a good place. I wanted my loved ones to be happy more than I cared about my own happiness, but in doing this I wasn’t taking the greatest care of them that I thought I was. I would have been doing a way better job if I had made myself the first priority so that I could be the best version of myself for them.  

If I had been able to put in 100% of myself instead of the 0.1% of myself that I had left, I would have done a much better job.  

You can't pour from an empty cup quote

7 Reasons Why You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup 

There are many reasons why you can’t pour from an empty cup, or take the best care of other people, but below are some of the most common ones: 

1. You are emotionally and physically exhausted 

When you haven’t given yourself the chance to get proper rest, you won’t have the energy required to take care of other people to the best of your abilities.  

2. You have no patience for the people around you 

Do you know anyone that gets grumpy and easily irritated when they are tired and worn out? When your cup is empty you won’t have a lot of patience left that might be needed when you are doing something like taking care of young children, for example. 

3. You feel hopeless or helpless 

When your cup really is empty, you won’t have space for a lot of the positive things in life. This includes things like hope and happiness.  

Sometimes when you feel burned out you don’t feel like you will ever be happy again. This is a terrible feeling and one you should avoid at all costs. 

4. You get sick or injured more often than normal  

When your body is run down and exhausted, your immune system also tanks. This means you will get sick more often, and can also injure yourself because of how tired you are.  

If you have people that solely depend on you, being sick is not an option. 

Wouldn’t it make sense to take the best care of yourself so you could prevent any downtime due to illness or injury? 

5. You have no time for anything you care about

When I was deep in burnout, I used to say that I was so busy that I had no time to take care of myself. I was convinced that I didn’t have time for any of the things that I enjoyed, and it became this unhealthy cycle of me being so tired and needing rest, but convincing myself that I didn’t have time. 

This was untrue, and a limiting thought that I needed to get rid of.

6. You have trouble focusing 

When you are exhausted you don’t think clearly which makes it hard to focus on anything important. This can be scary if there is an emergency or you are doing something that requires a level and clear head. 

7. You feel increasingly resentful  

When your cup is empty, it can be easy to feel so awful and tired that you hate feeling that way and begin to resent whatever it is that is emptying your cup in the first place.  

Resenting the thing you have made your priority is not healthy and can do a lot of damage to your life and to your relationships.

Self care is giving the best of you quote

What can you do to start filling your cup? 

1. Start setting aside time for self-care activities 

It is easy to say that you don’t have time to take care of yourself, but once you shift your priorities you will be able to make the time.  

Instead of doing activities that are self-indulgent and are unhealthy coping mechanisms, like binge-watching t.v or binge-eating comfort food, try going for a walk instead or cooking a healthier meal. It can feel like climbing a mountain to try to get enough momentum to do one of those things, but you will feel so much better in the end. 

2. Start setting boundaries 

The fact that your cup became empty in the first place means that something in your life is off balance. Maybe there is an activity or a person that drains your cup faster than you are able to refill it.  

That could be a sign that it is time to set a boundary when it comes to that thing or that person. 

It’s okay to say no if you feel that something will be too overwhelming and you know that you will not have time, or do not have the current resources to say yes. 

Setting boundaries can be difficult, especially if you are a people pleaser, but it is extremely important for your own happiness. 

3. Start asking for help 

When you start to notice your cup is becoming empty, that is a sign that it is time to ask for help from someone. 

We all end up with too much on our plates sometimes. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are weak or a failure. It means you love yourself enough to know when you need someone else to step in. 

4. Stay healthy by eating right, exercising, and sleeping more 

When you are burned out and your cup is empty, the last thing you want to do is exercise or cook healthy meals, but if you can use that last 0.1% left in your cup for these activities, it will help to refill your cup and keep it from draining so fast in the first place. 

4. Develop new healthy coping skills and strategies 

If you are currently in a high-stress or unhealthy situation, it would be wise to develop your own coping strategies for the times when it gets really dire, but you don’t have any help and you can feel your cup emptying rapidly. 

Something like stepping into the backyard to take several deep breaths, or reading for a few minutes while waiting for the kids to get into the car, or blasting your favorite song on the way to a stressful job. Healthy coping strategies won’t fix your problems, but they can help when you are in a bind and need something fast to help. 

5. Maintain your personal relationships  

Feeling burnt out can cause you to withdraw from your friends and family. It is really important that you try to not let this happen, or if you have already had it happen then try to rebuild those relationships. 

Humans are social creatures by nature, and social self-care is one of the main areas of taking care of ourselves. 

6. Take more breaks 

If it’s possible at this time, try to take more breaks to give yourself more time to relax and for your cup to start to refill.  

7. Stay hydrated 

Staying hydrated is so important. There have been so many moments where I thought something was wrong with me, just to realize I needed to drink more water and when I did, I immediately felt better. 

8. Spend time outside in nature 

There is something naturally healing about being outside and getting fresh air, even if you aren’t that much of an outdoors person.  

Taking a few deep, calming breaths of fresh air can be like magic sometimes. 

Final Thoughts On You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup 

As much as you might want to be, you can’t be everything for everyone all the time. But you can be everything for yourself. You just need to make yourself the ultimate priority.  

Once you are taking the best care of yourself, you will become the best, and happiest version of yourself which will automatically spill over onto the people that mean the most to you.  

Take care of yourself.  

Check out my three steps to follow if you want to get unstuck and start being happy here.

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