Self-Care: Selfish or SelfLess

You probably know by now that Self Care is uber important, and that taking the time to do the things that your body, mind and soul are calling out for is imperative to your health and wellbeing.

But how many of you really- like really– actually do it? How many of you actually make it a priority to engage in activities or make the changes in your lives that you know you need in order to feel good most of the time?

I seem to be having the same conversation recently with clients and friends about concern over being ‘Selfish’ when it comes to taking care of our needs- Self Care- and the resulting guilt that comes with it. Here’s an example of one recent conversation, let’s call her Ann:

Ann: I can not BELIEVE that my jaw is in this much pain again. I thought it was finally getting better.

Me: What have you done this week that was different?

Ann: Oh, nothing much. Though I do have a big presentation this week, my husband is out of town, it’s the last week of school for the kids and I need to make sure that everything is clean for my parents visiting this weekend

Me: Well, what have you done this week to take care of yourself in the midst of all this?

Ann: Take care of ME? Well, I’m here, aren’t I? That’s taking care of myself

Me: Yes, very true and I’m glad you made the time and didn’t cancel again. But, what have you done DAILY to be in your body and take care of yourself, knowing this happens with your jaw when you get stressed?

Ann: Hmmm, well I thought about that and I REALLY wanted to take a day off for myself, go for a run and read a book at a cafe. Oh my goodness, it sounds like Heaven (she said as her eyes teared up and memory drifted to a favorite time and she began to breathe deeply again)… But, I never did it. I felt that I shouldn’t and really, it feels Selfish to take a day off and do something for me at this point.

Me: Why?

Ann: I had too much to do! And I would feel guilty if I took a day just for ME. I mean really- who has time for that? I really shouldn’t even be here right now, even when I know it will make me feel so much better. I guess it comes down to this, if I did the things I know I need but feel I shouldn’t, that would just be SELFISH, and I shouldn’t be selfish when I have all this responsibility.

Me: Really, Self-ISH? Or perhaps, would it be Self-LESS to take care of your own needs first instead? What if taking care of yourself first, actually would make you more equipped to take better care of others? Really rock it out with that presentation? And be totally present for your parents visit?

Insert 19 similar conversations in 2 weeks here.

Sound familiar? Could this maybe be you?

Here’s the bottom line: There is an old rule in healing, that you can’t heal others until you’ve healed yourself. This can be translated to everyone, because really you’re all healers in your own way: You can not take care of others unless you care for yourself first. It doesn’t matter if you are a mom of 2, run a small coffee shop, are a coach or a CEO of a large public company with thousands of employees to care for.

Think of the first rule if there is an emergency on a plane- when the oxygen masks drop, put yours on first, then help others with theirs. If you don’t, you may lose your breath and help them incorrectly if you are not fully aware from lack of air- then you’d both be in trouble. Same rule applies to everything you do in life- Self Care is your oxygen. Is it selfish to breathe when others need to breathe too? You need it, I need it, 7 billion people in the world need it.

I love The Secret app with daily lessons on my iPhone. Recently, one was this:

Many of us were taught to put ourselves last, and as a consequence we attracted feelings of being unworthy and undeserving. As those feelings lodged within us, we continued to attract more life situations that had us feel more unworthy and not enough. You must change that thinking.

I feel this is at the heart of what I like to call the “Selfish  vs Selfless Trap”- Somewhere along the line, many of us were led to believe that if we didn’t put others needs before our own, there was something wrong with us. We may have even been called selfish if we asked for what we wanted or acted in accordance with what our heart was calling out for. And so there is a tendency to suppress it, or invalidate what we need to feel good as it is bad or wrong or selfish.

In order to serve others, you need to serve yourself first. Period. No guilt, no shame. You deserve what you know you need to be the best person you can be.

And we all need different things to take care of ourselves- what is right for you might not be right for me. But your heart will know what you need in any moment to keep yourself cared for, to keep your body safe and out of pain, to keep your mind crisp and sharp. It’s when we ignore the signals that we need something because we “shouldn’t” or it’s “selfish” that something inevitably happens. Pain manifests. Anger and resentment grow. Anxiety and all sorts of other ailments show up.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation, and afterwards my client or friend spends an afternoon doing what they feel they need, and the next day the pain is gone, the presentation is amazing, the best time is had at the event, or barriers are broken with their loved ones. It works.

Taking care of yourself, following your heart, and taking actions based on your intuition= self-LESS, not self-ISH. Self-less is being in service to others- at your best. If you are not at your best, then you are not being of full service to anyone really, and therefore you are actually being selfish. Taking care of yourself will make you a better mother, lover, teacher, healer, leader. It will make you a better person.

If what you want to do- with your life, your day, your hour- aligns with your intentions, highest good, and how you are of service in the world, then there is nothing better you can be doing. Even if that means taking a day off to play, taking a nap, going to the spa, quitting your job, taking that vacation…. You can not take care of others or be effective at what you do if you don’t take care of yourself first.

So how can you shift your mentality of Self Care as being Self-Less, not Self-Ish? Here are 3 ideas:

1. Create White Space in your calendar- yes, schedule time for yourself, with nothing to do, nowhere to be, and no way that anyone can take that time from you. Play hookie. Take a whole day off if you need. If you know what you need, like a massage, book it and pay for it so you can’t cancel. And go. Or just let it be free time to follow what your heart says it needs. And do it, with no guilt and knowing that by following what you need, you will better be able to serve those you love even better

2. Little Rituals- Next week I’m going to write more about Ritual, but for now, think of little things you can add to your day that make you feel special. It could be waking up 15 minutes early to go for a walk around the block and meditate, or a relaxing bath at the end of every day for a week, or maybe setting the table for dinner at night instead of eating on the couch. What feels good, what feels authentic, what is your heart calling out to add to your day?

3. Speak up and Ask for help- This one may be tough, but what would happen if you admitted that you need some help? Or that you just don’t want to do something? Maybe that one project that’s draining you is actually perfect for someone else. Or you need more time, and it turns out that’s actually ok. Ask yourself: What do I need, and what do I need to do/ ask for to get it? Then let the Universe take care of YOU for a change by figuring out how that is going to happen.

And here’s the key: Know that you DESERVE it, and remind yourself of that every day.

Have you recently experienced a moment where you needed something, but held back from fear of appearing Selfish? How did you feel? How do you overcome this to integrate Self Care into your life? Or did you have to make a major life change to make it a reality? Please share in the comments.

Jennifer Blackstock