Selfishness or self care...?
Sunday, November 10, 2019
I recently read an article that said that one of the most radical forms of love is self care. That eating well (healthy and appealing food), drinking enough water, getting enough exercise, and tending to all of our basic needs is not emphasized for many of us, neither is the development and practice of good mental and emotional hygiene, nor adopting some form of spiritual practice, but nurturing ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually can lead to being better able to be fully realized people.
I know in my experience and upbringing self denial, and self effacement were emphasized. To the point of denying the needs of my self. I really don’t think this was the intention behind the lessons I was taught, but rather the unintended result of my interpretation of the behavior that was modeled and the expectations placed upon me by family, school, and society. I cannot really tell if it is the same for the masculine experience as for the feminine, as my perspective is naturally slanted toward the feminine. But I have noticed in my brothers that they tend to focus on their own needs more, and have done so for as long as I have been aware of such things. I have questioned the differences, but took the strong and pervasive emphasis on humility, self denial, and always putting other’s needs before my own, to heart, for quite a long time.
Since I was diagnosed with a severe and persistent mental illness I have had to reevaluate and revamp my perspective on the importance of self care. When I eat junk, sit on my keister, and generally neglect the important aspects of my physical health, I find my symptoms worsen and/or increase in frequency. And when I neglect my mental, emotional, and spiritual health I get similar results. (And sometimes I develop new, worrisome symptoms). In order to survive I have had to make decisions that may appear selfish or self serving to others, but were necessary for my health and well being.
I decided over 20 years ago to forgo the experience of childbirth and motherhood, as I can barely care for myself at times (and a pet is straining my capabilities as far as splitting my focus goes). I also made a decision to remain single. (I had a tendency to get into unhealthy, long term relationships, and while I know that there are people out there who could cope with my quirks... I find myself unable to cope with perceived expectations).
Ten years ago I made The momentous decision to change how I lived my life on a day to day basis... Making healthier choices, and adopting healthier self soothing mechanisms. It is a work in progress, even after 10 years, and I imagine it will always be so. I still falter and regress at times. My bad habits are seductive, appear easier, and provide blind instant gratification, as opposed to the good habits I have learned which require more work, more tenacity and determination, and more self awareness and self direction.
There are times when, as a result of my mental illness I need to focus my attention and effort on simply making it through each day, and the easier, simpler way reoccurs and predominates, as my capability for making reasoned, healthier decisions is less important than symptom control... but, that said, when I am not strongly focused solely on symptom management, I can direct my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual practices, actions, and thoughts to healthier avenues that prolong my times of reduced symptoms. (this also works for physical ailments...) Healthful practices and decisions are often even preventative practices for my mental and physical health!
Placing my particular needs at the forefront, rather than denying my needs to better serve others can be perceived as selfish by others. (I know this for a fact, as I have actually been told I am being selfish, when I am focusing on self care at the height of a mental or physical health crisis). But I have gotten to a point (for the most part) where I care less for the perceptions and expectations of others... and more about my continued survival. Maybe that is selfish? Maybe I would be better served by serving others? But I think not. How can I help others if I cannot even help myself?
I don’t mean to imply that I do NOTHING to help and serve others, just that my primary focus is on practicing the practical self care necessary for a healthier life for myself. In turn, I tend to have more of the energy, self awareness, self direction, and fortitude necessary to support, lift up, and serve others.
I was taught as a child and teenager, that self care was a symptom of selfishness and that was to be avoided at most any cost; That self soothing activities were of less value and importance than public or community service; and that self denial was a personality trait to be desired and nurtured. I cannot exclusively follow these (questionable) guiding principles at this juncture in my life. That is a recipe for disaster for me. I need to find a balance of self care and service to others that both promotes my personal mental, spiritual, and physical health... and allows me to fulfill some of the social and community obligations that were drummed into my very consciousness as a young woman.
So, yes, I may come across as rather selfish at times. But sometimes it is all I can do to get up, shower, and get dressed (and walk the dog... that is a basic necessity!). On those days self care and the healthier self soothing practices I have learned in the past 10 years need to take precedence. So that on my better days I can be a positive emotional, and spiritual influence.
I am getting too long-winded here, so I will stop babbling here... wherever you are in the world I hope you have a marvelous day!! And take care of yourself!