One of the words that often comes up in conversations with clients is “selfish.” They feel selfish investing time and money in themselves and their development and happiness. They see it is as taking away time and money from others as they do. Feelings of selfishness also come up as they try to reclaim their time from their children or families or friends, and in not feeling that they have a clear, clean right to do so.
This word was used in many of our young lives as a way to remind us to think and care about other people. But for many people, the accusation goes very deep, to who we actually are. If someone called us selfish, it felt like the worst condemnation of all, eliciting huge shame.
The problem is that, as it is possibly the worst accusation anyone could hurl at us, we go out of our way to avoid anything that hints at self concern, often leaving ourselves last on our lists of whom to give time and care to. This can result in untended needs and wants, having our priorities focused on taking care of others, with not much time spent filling one’s own bucket.
A leaving of oneself. And when we leave ourselves and are way outside, over there tending to others, we feel stressed and anxious, ungrounded, unsatisfied and at the whim of whatever appreciation might be available to us out there. Then our needs go underground and unconsciously try to get met, filled, which results in frustration and confusion in our relationships.
The distinction between selfish and self-care is very important.
Selfish is a way in which we could not care less about anyone else and care only about ourselves. The dictionaries (notably the OED and Random House) define selfish as (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure; devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others. This is not most of us.
This is not who we are. We may have temporary lapses of concern for others, but for the most part, unless we have narcissistic personality disorder, we care about our fellow human beings.
So what, then, is self-care?
Self-care is caring for others and caring for ourselves. It means including our wants, needs, and desires in our assessment of what to do, how to act, who to be. Self-care is defined as the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s health and wellbeing. Self-care can be as simple as taking a walk or as complex as learning a new skill. It can be the setting of boundaries, learning to say no, learning to say yes to oneself, learning to listen to and honor what you want for yourself rather than dismiss or disregard it – taking care of yourself as you would a best friend.
Self-care is so important.
When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow.
You cannot serve from an empty vessel.
– Eleanor Brown
When we care for ourselves this way we are giving, not from a dictum that says we must always be concerned with others at the expense of ourselves, but instead in a balanced, full way, from a full satisfied heart, one that has been cared for and wants to give from a genuine compassion for us all.
Diane Ingram, PCC, is a Coach, Coach Trainer, Workshop Facilitator, and Speaker for Personal and Professional Development. She is a regular contributor to Pawling Public Radio and the author of five books. To learn more, visit DianeIngram.com online.