3 Surprising Reasons Why Self-Care is NOT Selfish

We are individuals and in community with each other...it is both.

To thrive nowadays…to free ourselves from the tyranny of stress and overwhelm…to live with a sense of purpose and healthy relationship – we must drop the either/or, black or white dualistic thinking of old. I will say upfront – no, self-care is not selfish. In fact, when we care for our body, our mind and our spirit – our emotions and well-being – we are more likely – not less likely – to have the energy, compassion, and the desire to connect in community. I recently noticed a new dogmatic argument developing between ‘self-care and community’. Why do they have to be mutually exclusive? The apparently surprising answer for many is – they don’t!

The fact is, stress and lack of self-care are killing us. Stress is the basic core root reason for 90-95% of all disease, particularly chronic disease, which is crushing our country right now. Symptoms of low energy, low libido and chronic weight gain is typically associated with stress at a root cause level in some form as a medical condition. If we don’t learn how to manage and self-regulate how we perceive and deal with stress, if we don’t make room to unwind our own mind and nurture with compassion our own needs, we will continue to drive ourselves into sickness and disconnection from others, frankly.

Self-care is not selfish; it is the path of wisdom. Once we are in a better place mentally, emotionally and spiritually, we can be in a better place emotionally and have the clarity and energy to participate in the community in tangible and healthy ways instead of constantly seeking attention and validation from outside sources – like social media or by distracting our pain and feelings of isolation with drugs or busyness.

Where does this belief that to care for yourself is selfish coming from? The short answer is conditioning. We are conditioned to believe that we are supposed to self-sacrifice, that humility means ‘self-deprecation’, that we are supposed to focus exclusively on the happiness of others even to our own detriment. We are unconsciously taught that we are supposed to work ‘hard’ and worry about what others think of us if we are to be socially acceptable and ‘normal’. This conditioning is one reason why stress and the cult of busyness are so out of control. We are so external focused, we don’t know who we are, what we really want from our heart and soul, and what we value.

Therefore we live and breathe in survival mode. Too tired to sleep and too busy to think about how we are making ourselves ill in mind, body, and spirit. Yet, now that the clarion call is starting to go out regarding the majority (greater than 50%) of individuals in our society are suffering from such conditions as depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, obesity, chronic disease, insomnia, loneliness…on and on..and there is now a growing focus for ‘self-care’ to help people to take care of their self. Suddenly also, I’m starting to notice that there is a growing conversation that ‘self-care equals selfish’. This is just not true.

Why is self-care not selfish?

  1. Self-care helps us to stop the vicious circle of imbalance and have more heart space for others – doing too much and not giving yourself a break, some quiet time, some nurturing – will only continue to feed the cycle of chronic anxiety and stress which is coming from our need to ‘survive’ which is really only a perception and separates us from others psychologically. We tend to feel isolated.
  2. Self-care can turn off this chronic stimulation of the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response that contributes not only to chronic disease development but also to narcissism and self-centeredness due to insecurity, just the opposite effect of healthy self-care.
  3. It is the chronic fatigue and poor diet, lack of sleep and lack of self-care lifestyle that actually make us mentally and emotionally unstable and less likely to seek support and community than when our soul is nourished and rested. Self-care is personally and societally healing.

I submit that one of the driver’s of this wildly growing trend in poor health of mind and body is because we are so externally focused – on others, work, technology and media – that:

  • We neglect our sleep and struggle with fatigue and anxiety
  • We work too much and are too distracted by the external call to ‘do more’
  • We don’t have time/make time to learn the truth about food and lifestyle and how important all this really is – we eat ‘fast food’
  • We feel chronic insecurity because the truth is – we don’t love/accept our self in general – hence we over do things to constantly prove our self-worth
  • We never make time for reflection and introspection – we are too busy striving and focusing on others to our own detriment
  • We become so needy due to this lack of self-awareness and neglect – that we actually do become more selfish due to our chronic competitiveness, anxiety and craving attention from others
  • We are disconnected from our soul because of all this

In fact, some people are so busy ‘serving’ to get love, security and self-esteem from external sources that they are damaging their adrenal, hormonal and digestive balance – and prematurely aging themselves. Hence, what looks on the surface like altruism is actually lack of self-compassion and workaholism to cover emotional pain of some form or to gain approval.

Then when we burnout, wake up, and attempt to find more life balance and joy for ourselves so that we can be more engaged with our own lives and feel the connection to others without worrying about what we will get out of it – when we try to take care of ourselves AS we are taking care of others – here comes the finger-pointing and shaming with the label ‘selfish’. When are we going to learn that it is a both/and proposition in order to thrive?

We can BOTH care for ourselves AND care for others. In fact, I know for sure that as I stopped overdriving myself professionally and from being a pleaser or seeking validation, I learned how to value sleep, recreation, took the time to relearn how to use food as medicine and more holistic natural approaches, dealt with my fears, anxieties and compulsive behaviors – and lo and behold, I started having better relationships!

I stopped being so focused on survival and being self-centered, feeling tired and getting mental fatigue or unfocused easily by twisting myself into a knot to fit into ‘the box’ and instead I got in contact with my own unique heart and soul expression. I found my voice…one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn, even if it didn’t look that way to others. And, I connect with those that I feel a connection with and show them support for all the ‘right’ reasons. And, I definitely give myself some of this care also.

We can learn how to BOTH take care of our self AND take care of others. It doesn’t have to be either/or, black or white. That is the old way of thinking. Self-care is ‘personal lifestyle care’.

We are in a world that lacks joy and connection because we are so tired and burnt out, there is not enough energy to be present to the person in front of us. Instead, we seek to feel good by seeking attention, ‘likes’ on social media, and become easily distracted and addicted to our devices. We have forgotten how to ‘love the one you’re with’ as the old song goes. Frankly, this state of mind sounds more stressed and selfish to me. Making time for self-care for me has been lifesaving from a health perspective and has given me the focus, confidence, and energy to create healthy relationships and boundaries.

To attempt to shame people into submission by continuing to push them to serve others and institutions outside of their self without consideration for their own needs is ‘business as usual’.

Don’t expect to reduce the rise in chronic disease until people start to respect their own health needs for rest and restoration. Our bodies need a chance to slow down and heal. Our mind needs some silence. Our hearts need space to heal from our inner emotional wounds. Yes, we need more self-care and in doing so, we are more likely to heal our soul and thus our body, in the process…and ultimately restore healthy social bonds and community. Stressed, sick people create a stressed, sick society.

As we heal ourselves, we are in a better place to be a healing inspiration for others and also to have the time and energy to participate again in community with others.

We can learn to do this as an integrated lifestyle. As we care for our self, we also can shift the pattern of seeking attention from others and looking for love in all the wrong places. Instead, we can give it to ourselves. And as we love and care for ourselves, we make more room in our hearts to give to others. It’s just the way our mind and body works,

For those who wish to continue to neglect their own self-care, that is a personal choice as well. I do not judge this. The question I have is, can we stop interfering with the personal choices of others who are on a different path than ourselves? In so doing, maybe we can make the world less stressful and self-centered in the thinking of the collective mind. To each his/her own. Let’s us all find our own way, in our own time. Then maybe there will be more room for peace and for people to reach their own authentic expression, healthy mind and body, and their own authentic greater potential.

What are your thoughts about stress and self-care? I’d be curious to know.

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