Selfish Versus Self Care

Working out whether you are being selfish or merely self caring can be confusing and something that causes many some angst.  This is a challenge for all of us but especially those in a marriage or relationship.  And that is made even more difficult if there are dependent children in the mix.

“Selfishness” is acting in my own self-interest, believing that I am entitled to behave in a certain way —and who cares about others?   Self-care” is recognizing my self- worth enough to take care of my personal needs while considering and respecting the needs of those around me.

It seems when I was a child I was never taught about self care or to want things. Whenever I wanted something, I was accused of being selfish.  It didn’t matter if I was tired or just not wanting to do chores. I heard it so much and so often and didn’t want to think I was anything bad like that, I stopped taking care of myself in many different ways. If taking care of me was selfish , than taking care of and pleasing others was unselfish . And I’d much rather be unselfish. I suspect many people . . . are taught this self-defeating, unloving attitude.   (From: Empowering women to be the star of their own story)

When I think of how to take better care of myself, one of the things I think of is the mindfulness that I bring to my relationships, both with myself and with others.

But how does that kind of self-care reflect back to the others in our lives? What’s the quality of the relationship we’re building with ourselves going to reflect back to them?  How will they see and find themselves, if we’re so busy taking care of them and not tending to ourselves?

When we step back and pause to reflect on our self-care, instead of thinking of it as a selfish act, instead consider the notion that it is an act of love. It’s love towards ourselves and therefore, it becomes what we reflect onto others in our relationships with them.  (From: Nourishing Thoughts: Self-Care Isn’t Selfish  By: Jeanette Bronee, Path for Life)

We can’t expect others to respect us and help us if we don’t respect our selves. Part of self respect is self care.

Many people on ILIASM struggle mightily with the feeling that they are "selfish" if their needs conflict with those of their spouse.   For all of us there will be times in our lives when our own needs must come second, because at that time, someone else's needs must take priority.   But when one spouse's needs to trump those of the other long term, then it is the one whose needs are being met who is selfish.  And it is certainly NOT selfish for the other spouse to believe that she/he has a right to having his/her needs met as well.

If your self image is bound up in being "unselfish", then taking care of yourself does not come naturally.  It goes against the grain of what you believe to be "true" about yourself (i.e. that you are an unselfish person).  But in fact, caring for yourself does NOT make you "selfish" - these are two separate concepts.   If taking care of yourself results in another person feeling disadvantaged, then it is important to see that your behaviour is NOT unreasonable.  In a healthy and strong relationship, both people can take care of themselves without detracting from the needs of the other spouse.  If your spouse needs you to give up your needs in order that his/her needs are met, then that is an unhealthy dynamic.

Children are the innocents here.  And this is not the place to discuss the many issues that are connected with "staying for the kids".  (Endless hours and millions of words have been expended on this topic here on ILIASM.)  But in essence, this sums up the value of self care:
"To love yourself and maintain healthy boundaries is the most selfless thing that you can do. It means you have more to give, sustainably."  (Linked-In Authenticity Forum)

For those of you struggling to decide if you are being "selfish" I encourage you to read about "self care" and become quite clear about the distinction between the two concepts.  






enna30 enna30
56-60, F
7 Responses Feb 5, 2013

Thank you for the post! Some things to ponder -

What a fantastic post! Thank you for this.

What do all the airlines tell us in case of emergency? Put on our own oxygen masks first and then assist those in our care.

My bestie thinks I would have ended up killing myself had I remained in my marriage.
I take a buttload of happy pills, and when things are going well I STILL think about offing myself at least once or twice a week... so he's likely right.
She also helped re-wreck my self-esteem, controlled me, bullied me...

...All that does not change the fact that I feel selfish for divorcing. Really selfish, and shallow, and...worthless and weak.
At the end of the day I'm turning my back on an obligation that I agreed to undertake, and there's simply no real justification for it.

Hylie, please listen to Smithy - she makes a world of good sense.

<p>Thank you for this, Enna. It fits well with my newer way of looking at this, which is kind of the Siamese Twin of Baz. My theory is that it's only "we" thinking, on the part of one or both spouses, and no me thinking at all. </p><p>For example: A spouse's identity is defined as husband and father, but any further elements of individuality have been sacrificed in support of a greater "mutual" endeavor. For someone in this situation (I'd warrant most of us in this group), the notion of seeing a lawyer is paralyzing. One might as well make an appointment to erase ones entire sense of being, when it depends on the marriage.</p><p>Self care and differentiation become a pre-requisite to embarking on any external change, unless such change is foisted externally by crossing a sacred line.</p>

This is a full brother to the necessary "me" thinking that needs to replace the "we" thinking engaged in when in a dysfunctional relationship where there actually is no "we".

"Me" thinking is NOT a ticket to just blast off and do whatever you like whenever you like. Far from it.
"Me" thinking in this context is making choices that are in your longer term best interests. This may well involve you making a choice today that is unpleasant (and a choice you'd rather not have to make) on the basis of a future pay off.

It may be that your longer term best interests are going to be served by getting out of a shithole marriage. But that is going to mean that you need to go and see a lawyer today to get the process started.

So a "me" thinker makes the choice to go with the unpleasant option (going to see the lawyer) on the basis of their longer term benefit.
In the same circumstance, a selfish person makes the choice that is going to give the most immediate pay off - not going to see the lawyer, thus avoiding this unpleasant experience.

"Me" thinking, is most definitely NOT all sweetness and light. It is ******* hard work actually, especially to get started on it.

"Selfish" thinking carries with it negative connotations of hurting other people unecessarily - and that is true to a large extent - but of more import, is when selfish thinking hurts YOU, when the short term choice works at odds with your longer term best interests.

Tread your own path.

Having an emotional response to this story, Enna. Grateful for the clarity you give to those of us in the mire.