We are a few months into the new year and resolutions have probably either faded or have taken root. Regardless of whichever camp you fall into (we do not judge) I sure do hope that self-care was among one of the areas to focus on this new year. Yes, it is indeed possible to love yourself and care for others; that in and of itself does not constitute selfishness.
If we have heard it once, we have heard it a thousand times. So often from well-meaning friends and reinforced by the society around us, we hear that to focus on caring for our own self is a form of selfishness. It is understandable where this idea comes from. Good hearted people construct an idea that if we take time for ourselves that it directly means we will have less time to give and devote to others. We can always pour more into others, devote more of our time and resources, and can put ourselves on the backburner for a while. Following this idea, any moment we take for ourselves or a hobby we engage in for pure pleasure is a distraction away from doing something more “productive” or for someone else and it is thus a “bad” thing. What a controversial thought! The very essence for doing self-care practices is to help put ourselves in a positive and healthy head space so we can face the world again, get back on the daily grind, and feel fulfilled enough to help others. So, the notion that self-care is selfish could actually not be more opposite; and here are three reasons why.
- Being self-focused is rooted in love whereas selfishness is rooted in fear. If I am afraid someone is going to steal my peanut butter MnM’s (a guilty pleasure of mine), I will hoard them and not share with a single soul – enter selfishness from stage right. I feel the need to protect my valued resources at all cost. Watch out thieves! Whereas a self-focus mindset does not concern itself with fear; rather, it comes from loving ourselves and others enough to spend time restoring our own mental energies so we can promote wellbeing in ourselves and others consistently.
- Focusing on the needs of others above our own is a recipe for burnout, fatigue, and can even lead to us actually being selfish (plot twist!) If we come from dysfunctional families or find ourselves in codependent relationships, it is easy for us to get caught up in meeting the needs of others and emphasizing their wants and goals over our own personal ones. Not only will this physically, emotionally, and psychologically wear us down and create symptoms of burnout (withdrawal, hopelessness, etc) but can eventually lead us to a point where we will act selfishly (fleeing, acting out, etc) since it is near impossible to live in a context like this long term without severe challenges.
- The stereotype of self-care being filled with over indulging on chocolate or bubble baths is also incorrect; instead, self-care is about making sure we meet our own core needs as well as some additional ones that help us feel secure in ourselves and life. Ever notice how much more productive you are if you get a good night sleep? Or an early morning jog? Or spend time catching up with an old friend? Finish your to-do list for the day? These things are not merely coincidences. They are evidences that self-care activities generate a positive mindset that equips us to enter into our daily grind stronger and more effectively.
If you find yourself experiencing any of the experiences around burnout, lack of self-care, or overall fatigue, pause, take a breath, and practice utilizing a body scan: aka check in with your mind and body from head to toe and ask yourself “How do I feel in my body right now?” or “What would help me feel more secure in this moment?”. Tune in with your body, figure out what would be best for it, and engage in these self-care activities. Remember, self-care is not selfish, it is simply self-focused!
Hanna Cespedes is a counselor working on her PhD at Mercer University located in Atlanta, GA. She is currently working within private practice and hopes to serve her local community through promoting awareness for mental health in all walks of life and breaking the stigma surrounding serious mental illness.