The question about whether taking care of oneself is selfish comes up a lot in therapy. When I say taking care of oneself, I mean it on a number of levels: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Everyone knows the oxygen mask theory from flying on airplanes: you can’t put the oxygen mask on a child (or anyone else) without having put yours on first. There is a lot of talk in the personal growth world about self care these days as well. I’m loving that these conversations and ideas are spreading because it is beginning to undo some outdated beliefs related to giving and self sacrifice that just don’t work when living an authentic life.
Today I want to talk about prioritizing your emotional and spiritual needs. Yes, I get it. This sounds selfish. But, hang in there for a second. This doesn’t mean “I feel like watching a movie on the couch right now instead of helping you check out that leak on the roof”. No, I’m talking about times when you are spreading yourself too thin and you end up lashing out at your child, partner, coworker or being hysterical over something trivial. Right there. You might be putting other’s needs in front of yours and it just isn’t working out.
It might be time to look at your obligations and who they are really about. I know it is hard to disappoint or upset other people by saying no. In the short run, it is easier to say yes and smile. In the long run, this is harder because you end up doing and being things you don’t want to do or be. I think we can all relate to this. The truth of it is: if we can take care of ourselves each step of the way and tolerate disappointing someone or allowing others to have their anger about when we say no, we can be at our best in all of our interactions, which is, in turn, better for the relationship. On top of that, that person has a more intimate understanding of you and the relationship you share.
I want to take this a step further. I believe this happens on a scarier and deeper level that is hard to look at. I see people at a crossroads in important relationships with their family members and their partners. The crossroads comes when a person realizes a truth about who they are, how they want to live or how they feel and this does not match the contract that was originally set up with their partner or family members. The truth comes into awareness and it can create a lot of upheaval if it comes to light in the relationship or family. So the choice is: do I honor my authentic feelings or do I stay in this the way it is set up so as to spare the other person’s feelings?
Let’s bring it into reality. What am I talking about? What about someone who is married to a partner of the opposite sex and realize they are gay and are in the wrong relationship even though they love their spouse? What about someone who feels deeply compelled to pursue a dream that would take them away from their marriage or family? What about someone who has been entrenched in alcoholic family dynamics and deep down know there is another way to live, but that this pulling away would cause a great deal of anger and chaos in the family? This short little list is just off the top of my head. I think you know what I am getting at.
Being connected to oneself, even just from time to time, you are going to encounter some deep knowing that might guide you places that you did not expect. Following and honoring what you know deep down might initially hurt, scare or disappoint important people in your life. [Of course, this is not something to do on a whim, but something that needs to be done mindfully.] When you are living in alignment with who you really are, in alignment with the deep knowing, it creates space for other people to also be more aligned with who they really are. What you do might force them into being in alignment through the pain they experience. There might be a lot of protesting on their part. But, maybe that is why they signed up to be with you in this life: you were going to push them toward who they really are by being who you really are.
On a spiritual level, each step we take toward growth and healing is a step for us all. The pain I heal in myself, gives way for the pain in your self to be healed, even if you have no clue about the internal work I am doing. The more authentic a life I live, the more space there is for you to live authentically. And vice versa. So, is that really selfish?