Several weeks ago I was talking with a client about the need to focus on oneself in order to have the physical and emotional wherewithal to support others.
In all her wisdom, my client replied, “Of course! It’s like when you’re on an airplane and they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.” I laughed; that was the perfect metaphor for self-care.
The term ‘selfish’ has gotten a bad rap and, for the betterment of all concerned, I’d like to change the connotation of selfish (egotistical) to self-ish (concerned with the self). By adding the hyphen (thank you Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D) the meaning changes from something negative to a more positive meaning that will benefit all concerned.
This is true whether you are flying in a plane or taking care of your family or caring for elderly parents—if you burnout in the pursuit of being the ultimate care giver, you are creating more chaos in the long run and setting an example to others that it is acceptable to run yourself into the ground.
So what does it mean to be self-ish? This will vary for everyone but, essentially, it is doing the things that let you recharge your batteries. For some, this requires solitude and perhaps a warm bath with candles and essential oils. For others, it may be a rowdy night with friends.
Every person recharges differently and, when you are recharging regularly, your physical body tends to be happier, your mental and spiritual self is calmer and more able to reach out to those in need. Which is why self-ish is good for the family and the community as well as the ‘self’.
Often times when we are stressed, whether it is a long-term stress or an acute bout of stress, our brains are not very good at identifying the things that would make us feel better.
I suggest to my clients that when they are in a relaxed place that they make a list of things will recharge their energy. I ask them to avoid listing things that have a negative impact on their health, for some this means food, for others it means alcohol.
Taking a yoga class, lifting weights, or having a massage are often on the list. Being outside communing with nature renews many people. Find the things that draw you in, relax you and let your mind wander.
Keep the list somewhere handy, on the fridge for example, because when we are stressed it is much more effective to chose something from the list rather than trying to generate a list from scratch!
If you rarely allow yourself to unwind, if you care for others as part of your family responsibilities or as a career, if you watch news for hours on end — especially lately — you need to consider becoming self-ish.
If you are curious about the meaning of selfish versus self-ish, check out psychologist Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D: