“Isn’t self-care selfish?” 4 Answers

The question, “Isn’t it selfish of me to practice self-care?,” comes up sometimes in my counseling practice, and I answer it in 4 ways:

“What’s the alternative?” If we don’t take full responsibility for caring for our adult selves, who will? In the beginning, our parents and other caretakers did the best they knew how to protect, nurture, and raise us. Then they handed the keys to our life over to us, and ever since it’s been up to us to protect, nurture and raise ourselves. Hopefully we found our way into a reasonable safe and healthy community where “together we could do what we could never do alone.” But even with the support of a good community, it’s still our responsibility to step up to the task of caring for ourselves.

“Self-care isn’t self-indulgence.” I’ve got a secret – shhhh! – I like Snickers bars. My cavity-prone teeth and my expanding waistline can handle perhaps one per week. Anything more than that would not be “self-care” but more like slow self-destruction. So good self-care implies not just the impulse to focus on what gives us pleasure, but includes the wisdom to know what is optimal, that is, what combination and interaction of behaviors will do us the most good and the least harm, while keeping us well-connected with our loved ones and our Higher Power.

“Caring well for yourself allows you to care well for others.” If we want to influence others to care for themselves, the best leverage we can have with them is to model it. I’ve heard it said that the first three laws of teaching are example, example, and example. The poet Edgar Guest wrote: “The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear/Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear … For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give/But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.”

“Most often the problem is not intellectual but emotional.” The difficulty many people have with self-care is not a matter of brain-power or the right technology, but rather the voice inside them that says, “You’re not worth taking care of yourself.” If we can learn to wrestle well with our own inner demons of self-abandonment and even self-loathing, we will be better equipped to come alongside of our fellow-sufferers and walk alongside them on the happy road of self-care.

To those who really care for their loved ones, the instruction to “put the oxygen mask on yourself first” feels counter-intuitive, which is why the airplane’s flight crew repeats it so often, and why I find myself talking about it so frequently with my clients.

WHAT TO DO: It’s still early enough in the new year to resolve to upgrade or add some self-care practices in 2017. Pick one or two categories – body, mind, emotions, relationships, spirit, creativity, finances – and decide in the next 24 hours to improve or begin one or two habits. Send me an e-mail and let me know what changes you decide to make!

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