Selfish or Self-Care—What’s the Difference?
When your car is low on gas, you don’t beat on its dashboard and tell it to keep going. You acknowledge it is low on fuel and fill its gas tank (or for an electric car, you recharge it).
You don’t call your cell phone selfish for having little juice left in its battery. Instead, you immediately find the closest charger. Yet “selfish” is what you may call yourself when you need recharging.
Learning that you have personal needs which require attention and renewal is difficult for many of us. As a child, you may have heard: “Don’t be selfish” or “Let Johnny go first.” You may have taken these phrases into adulthood and confused essential self-care with selfishness.
If you have not learned how to give yourself appropriate doses of self-care, running on “empty” and resisting taking care of yourself may be common. As a result, your nerves can get frazzled, and you feel overloaded much of the time.
Exhaustion and overwhelm are fuel for the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT). Depleting your natural energy allows your Inner Persecutor to become self-critical and likely critical of others. When you finally declare, “I deserve time to myself,” the choices you make may be unwise and less than rejuvenating.
Donna discovered this danger when coaching a client about the importance of creating a self-care practice. When she asked him how he renewed his energy, he said, “I go drinking with my buddies. We get loaded at the local casino and stay out late.” Donna followed up, “Do you feel rejuvenated the next day?” He said, “No, not at all. I am hungover and feel guilty about losing money.”
Okay, that’s not self-care.
A massage, glass of wine, or a spa day can be moments of self-care. Those experiences are a good start and may briefly refresh you. However, without a clear belief that your human spirit requires recharging, those moments will fall short of the deeper yearning that your body and heart desires.
A genuine and sustaining self-care practice begins with a belief that you are worthy of caring for yourself. If, at your core, you do not believe you are deserving of a life that nurtures self-love, those “spa” moments may seem selfish.
When you look outside yourself and don’t get what you want, it is natural to think: “Nobody understands me and what I am going through. No one supports me.” Here is where you can get trapped in the DDT, feeling persecuted by other people or things “out there” that don’t satisfy you. And, if you don’t get what you think you need from others, it is so common to blame the circumstances or other people, judging them as the source of your suffering.
Sustainable self-care is an inside-out process. It is formed with a clear belief and intention to support and love yourself through the choices you make.
Here’s a question to ask yourself that will help put you on the path of self-care and away from feeling selfish. “How would I care for anything that I truly value?” The answer will give you powerful insights into how to begin and sustain your own self-care practice.
Renewing your spirit and body is a practice and it is a belief system—something you trust and know is true. It is not something to accomplish or check off your to-do list. Instead, embrace self-care as essential to nourish the worthy Creator you are.