There’s this myth going around lately that I’ve heard time and time again since the beginning of my practice as a therapist—a myth that many of us have come to believe in our adult lives. This myth has made us feel shameful and self-indulgent and resentful. It impacts our well-being and our ability to care for those around us. It enables us to be self-critical rather than compassionate.
The myth I am referring to is that self-care is selfish. It isn’t true, and I won’t have you thinking that way! So, what is the difference between those terms? The way I explain it to clients is like this: Selfishness is putting your wants before the needs of others OR others expecting you to put their wants before your own needs. On the contrary, self-care is putting your needs before the wants of others OR other people putting their needs before your wants. Clear as mud, eh? Just hear me out!
Let’s look deeper into selfishness. In our fast-paced lives, we are often asked to sacrifice our own well-being for the comfort of others. Some who are reading this blog may, unknowingly, be expecting the same thing of those around us when we act impatiently or without compassion to those around us. For instance, I have worked with a client in the past whose family of origin expects them to attend every holiday for several hours on the holiday. Essentially, the family of origin are expecting their children to sacrifice their needs of new, healthy traditions in their chosen family and would often guilt-trip my client into attending. However, the reality is that the family of origin can celebrate their holiday on any given day but they expect others to prioritize their desires of not being alone. Therefore, there are two sides of selfishness: one side is demanding their wants or desires are important and responded to, and the other side is prioritizing those wants above their own needs.
So, why do we give in to the selfish wants of others?
So, what is the mystical concept of self-care we’ve been referring to? Self-care is when we gain awareness of what our personal needs are (emotional, mental, physical, spiritual), then we don’t compromise them. Self-care can come in many forms: A run, bike ride, or walk outside. A cup of coffee in the morning. Five minutes of meditation. A church service. A conversation with our spouse or a friend for connection. A bath or shower. Mindfulness. A chiropractor or massage appointment. Asserting ourselves with family or the ability to say “no” without needing a reason. A motto or affirmation of some sorts (“I can handle what today gives me” is what I use on a daily basis). Sitting on the couch with a magazine or a favorite tv show, uninterrupted. All of these things help us to maintain connection with ourselves, bring us a little joy, and help us to be the best people in the relationships we prioritize.
When does self-care go to far? Let me reassure you, this RARELY happens, but I’ll address it if you are concerned about overcompensating! Self-care is going too far when it impacts the needs of others you prioritize. Thus, one client’s perceived need for a deep tissue massage and facial twice a week may not be logical when their family is on a budget and there are four mouths to feed on a teacher’s salary. Therefore, we can be creative in meeting our personal needs. Get that client a bubble bath, a mud mask, some lavender candles, and one of her kids to walk on her back, and voila! Good as new!
Now I encourage you to take a look at your life:
What are your personal needs and how can you fulfill them?
How have you compromised your self-care routine?
When are you giving in to the selfish wants of others at your own expense?
When are you being selfish in your relationship with others?
Drop a comment below and let me know what your self-care go-tos are!