If someone calls you selfish, they’re usually insulting you, or at the very least, making a complaint about some behavior of yours. It stings a little when your actions result in that pejorative descriptor.
On the other side of the coin, if you’re referred to as selfless, that’s generally considered a compliment. Martyrdom, especially in the service of family or work, is considered the gold standard in human behavior. To put others before ourselves is to prove that we’re morally superior.
But is that all there is to it? Can we sacrifice ourselves all day, every day, and really make it up to that moral high ground? If all we do is give, what are we really giving from? If you are too selfless, could you become less of yourself?
Consider yourself as a pitcher of water. Each of your obligations (spouse, children, friends, employer, community, volunteering, etc.) is a glass. Each day you wake up and fill the glasses with water from your pitcher. If work needs overtime, what do you do? Your pitcher is empty. If a child gets sick, what then?
You can’t fill their glasses if your pitcher is empty.
The freedom to gladly fill your pitcher is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself. Filling that pitcher is imperative for the greater good of all that you serve. If you don’t have anything to give, what you’re giving is hollow.
Consider this example. A mom can give and give and give. She can stop living her life and only exist to pour herself into her children. She can feel great about her sacrifices and her martyrdom, letting go of any notions of making herself happy or finding meaning in life outside of her family. Whether she works outside the home or in, she does everything just to serve her kids.
Sometimes this woman might resent her kids for taking her youth, her freedom, her waistline. Sometimes she wishes she could run away for a week or two, just to not be so…needed.
Cut to the day her youngest leaves for college. Where is her meaning now? What is her purpose? Check out her children. The example laid out for them is that they’re not supposed to make themselves happy, but rather, to live for their own children. Is that the message the mom meant to send to her kids?
Consider another example. Another woman, another path. She sacrifices her time with her family and friends in order to give every ounce of herself to work. She wants to be a good employee, to get that promotion and higher pay.
A workaholic, she believes that if she just achieves the next level, she’ll finally have some time to devote to her family, her friends, her own life.
She comes home every day, drained, bitter, and and in desperate need of recovery from her busy day. She can’t bring herself to cook, so she’s eating fast food picked up on the way home — again. She feels her body turning against her as the constant sitting and stressing and unhealthy eating catch up with her, but she doesn’t have time to exercise, so what’s the point?
Do either of these scenarios sound familiar? The thing these two examples have in common is the lack of self care. We have been taught our entire lives that to take care of ourselves first is narcissistic, cruel, and — let’s just say it — selfish.
In reality, the only way we can take care of others is to care for ourselves first. Self care is one of the simplest and best ways to prolong your life, get more out of your life, and — though it sounds counter intuitive — to serve others in a more meaningful way.
It’s important to understand that anything that soothes is not necessarily self care. Self care is positive time well spent with yourself. Drinking, smoking, vegging out for hours in front of the television, shopping, playing video games, and other time wasters are ways to escape, and therefore can’t really serve as self care.
Consider these examples of self care:
- Take regular nature walks.
- Take hot, soothing baths with the door locked.
- Prioritize your time and say NO more often.
- Take naps.
- Start (and keep) a journal.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Eat healthy and delicious food.
- Plant a garden.
- Read a good book.
- Sit on your porch and drink tea (or cocoa or coffee) as the sun rises or sets.
- Learn a new activity (painting, sewing, cooking).
- Practice breathing exercises.
- Try yoga classes.
Written by Jena Barber who has, at different times in her life, been BOTH of the women used in examples above (and a child of the first example).