The difference between self-care and selfishness

Have you ever felt guilty for taking care of yourself?  I certainly have!  And today I wanted to share what I have come to learn in the last years through my own experiences and those of my clients.   Self-care is choosing to do what is best for yourself.  It is making choices that honor your body, your mind and your spirit.   Choices that are in your highest and best interest.  Many times a choice that is best for ourselves may involve the wellbeing of others, other times it may not.

Putting the self first is an act of self-love and responsibility.  As we care for ourselves we are better positioned to take care of others and model a healthy pattern of behavior for them (especially if they are our children).  It’s similar to putting the oxygen mask on ourselves first in case of emergency so that we are able to assist others.  It just means that we need to put our own health and well-being near the top of our priority list so that we can continue to help others for years to come.

The challenge with this topic is to know the answer to the question, what’s in my best and highest interest?  And how do I avoid becoming selfish?  Should I take a nap or should I help a friend?   In my opinion, putting others first is something we can all aspire to.  I do see the value of helping and supporting others.  However, what I don’t agree with is to do it the expense of our physical, emotional or spiritual wellbeing.   It takes trial and error with joy/fulfillment or a similar feeling being the indicator of whether we are taking care ourselves vs sabotaging ourselves.    There was a time in my life where I had committed my time in many different ways, besides having a full time job at the school, I was teaching after school, and had volunteered myself to teach various classes throughout the week.   As much as I enjoy teaching, I had lost my joy.  So, I had to cut off on commitments and say no, when I had previously said yes.  That’s was really uncomfortable, but necessary.   I realized that by not being completely and 100% rested I was not showing who I truly was and that was not fair with myself, as it is important to me to be authentic and kind.   Also,  even though I knew people who were way more giving than me, I accepted the point where I was at, (perceiving I was not giving enough), and decided to loved myself and not made myself wrong for that.  Interestingly though, with time, I have learned to relax more and as I do, I am able to serve/help more than I used to.   But, it starts with with accepting where we are without judgement and honoring that.

The above, is especially relevant if you don’t have a moral responsibility for which you need to put yourself second.  Such as caring for others, small children, pets.  Although I don’t have children, I do have dog, and in my value system I put my dog’s basic needs first as much as I am able to.  But this does not mean I think of my dog first all the time, as for example, sometimes I leave her home for hours at a time so that I can do the things that recharge me and I can be the best I can be for her and others in my life.   I think it is a matter of balance.   The moment we find ourselves isolated from the world, caring only about ourselves, not being empathetic toward’s other’s needs,  the moment we feel saddened and contracted, that is the moment where we have lost ourselves in our quest to self-care.

The goal it’s to get to that place where you can give your best to others.   Giving and putting other’s needs first needs to come from a place of total detachment, where you feel you are not losing anything or giving up something and then become resentful.   We are doing a service to others when we give from a place of detachment and real sincerity.   In the short term it fulfills a need but in the long term, if we are becoming resentful, it is a disservice to others because they are going to feel you did not act from a place of integrity in the first place.   They are going to feel it somehow and sometimes it is not even conscious.  We cannot inspire others or teach others to be happy if we are not happy inside.

Bring awareness to your choices.  It takes trial and error.   The key point here in my opinion is to learn to discern what’s really the best for us.  This requires a good deal of introspection,  and meditation, which requieres practice and honing but it’s absolutely worth it.   The freedom that comes from it, it's invaluable.