The other day I blogged on Self-Centeredness, and was asked a very good question in response: to describe the difference between self-care and self-centeredness. The asker wanted to know how she could take care of herself without being self-centered. Great question!
Here it is in a nutshell. When I’m being self-centered, it means I’m not focusing on anyone but myself. I’m acting selfishly. Self-centeredness can be considered the verbal form of the adjective “selfish.” I’m acting out my selfishness by focusing only on me.
Self-care means putting myself first so that I can have the resources needed to be of maximum service to those who need me. My clients need me, so I need to say no sometimes to get enough sleep. My friends need me, so sometimes I must say no to my parents’ request for my time. My parents need me, so sometimes I need to say no to my friends’ request for my time.
I need time alone, just for me, to recharge, so sometimes I need to say no to everyone. I need to be simply unavailable.
When I’m taking care of me first, it means when I am available to others, I’ll be more effective in helping them. It may seem to be a self-centered, selfish position, but it really isn’t. It means I’m recognizing that I have limited mental, emotional and physical resources, and that I need to spend them wisely to be at my best. To do otherwise would be unfair to everyone, INCLUDING MYSELF!
I am important. Not more important than you, but I am certainly as important as you are. I am not less important than you. If I put you first, then I’m saying your needs are more important than mine. If I put mine first because I’m only ever thinking about myself, then I’m saying my needs are more important than yours. But if I’m putting my needs first because I value you and want to be able to be there for you as much as is reasonable, then that’s self-care.
I do self-care by trying to take 2 days off work every day, 2 days where I don’t “have to” do anything. Of course, this doesn’t always work out, but I try. I try to get regular massages. I get my hair cut regularly. I go to the gym regularly. I run in the evenings when weather permits. And I go for long walks with my dog as much as I can.
This all takes away from time with others, but I need it so that my time with others can be most effective. I want to be able to help others to be the best they can be, and that requires effort and resources. I can’t be burned out from burning the candle at both ends. If I do that, I’ll be no good to anyone.
So, do you take care of yourself, or do you put others’ needs before yours? If you’re busy taking care of others, then let me ask you this: who’s taking care of you? The right answer is YOU need to be taking care of you. Just like others need to be taking care of themselves, not relying on you to take care of them.
Unless, of course, we’re talking about children, the elderly, or pets and such. These types rely on us for the necessities of life. We must set aside time for them, and sometimes they must come before we do. But even then, we need to ensure we’re getting adequate down-time to look after ourselves.
Bottom line: we shouldn’t be doing for others what they can do for themselves. That’s the test we need to take in all our relationships.
I often see too many people doing exactly this: doing for others what they can do for themselves. If I do that, I make the other person’s failure to be able to take care of themselves permanent. I also risk burning myself out.
Watch out for people who may appear to be unable to take care of themselves, yet really could if they were forced to. The depressed person who won’t do anything to try and improve their condition. The alcoholic/drug addict/gambling addict who won’t seek treatment for their problem. Anyone who could improve their lot in life, but won’t: to take care of them is to enable them in their selfish behaviour. And that’s bad for us.
I’m a life coach in Mississauga and the GTA. I also do personal training and weight loss coaching, both in-person and online. If you’d like to learn more about how I can help you practice self-care without becoming selfish or self-centered, I’d love to help. Please call me at 647-677-6025, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember: take care of yourself FIRST, and you’ll be better able to take care of those who really need you. Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves, and practice boundary-setting where necessary. “No” is a complete sentence. If you don’t want to do something, simply say no, don’t feel you need to explain yourself, and move on.
This might be a foreign concept to you, and people might be taken aback by your “new” behaviour once you start practicing it. Just keep it going, and they’ll eventually figure it out. Soon everyone will know that, while you’re always willing to lend a hand, you’ll no longer be at everyone’s beck-and-call.
Try it for a whole month, and see what happens. I think you might be pleasantly surprised!
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