Were you brought up to believe that taking care of yourself is selfish?Most of us were, or at least internalized that belief somewhere along our journey of growing up. Instead, we learned to believe that in order to be a good person, you need to be “selfless,” and take care of others … sometimes at the expense of personal well-being.
Here are a few more questions: Were you led to believe that ignoring your own needs and taking care of others’ needs would lead to happiness and fulfillment? Were you taught that if you give yourself up to take care of others, they will then take care of you and give you the love you need?
If you answered yes to any of these, now I have one more question: has this worked out?
In my many years of working with clients, I’ve seen over and over that caretaking others leads to feeling alone, empty, angry, depressed and resentful. There is a good reason for this.
When we ignore our own feelings and needs, we are basically abandoning ourselves. Interestingly, we can visualize how painful this is when we think about it in terms of abandoning another person. But really, the dynamic is the same.
For example, imagine that you have a child, and instead of giving love and attention to him/her, you turn away. Instead, you choose to give love and attention to the child next door. Wouldn’t your child feel alone, depressed, angry and resentful about this?
Well, the brewing of these negative emotions is what happens to your own inner child (we all have one) when you choose to prioritize taking care of others over yourself. And what most of us learn eventually is that these emotions inevitably rear their heads. In short, being “selfless” isn’t a simple end unto itself. There’s a price to pay.
Actually, taking loving care of yourself is the opposite of being selfish. In fact, it’s being responsible. When you learn to take care of yourself, to recognize your own feelings and needs and deal with them in the present moment, you feel full of love and good energy inside. That’s why you can then share love with others. As a result, this kind of love is authentic, and sustainable. It is not born out of a desire to be recognized as “good” or to get love and approval. It is love without a gripping sense of expectation. Self-love ultimately brings about this kind of emotional freedom.
Also, when you take care of yourself rather than doing for others what they need to be doing for themselves, you give them the opportunity to learn to take loving care of themselves. Other than babies and toddlers, or old or sick people who cannot take care of themselves, caretaking others is often disempowering. On some level, it gives others the message that they are incapable of taking care of themselves. This occurs often with “helicopter” parents who are constantly hovering over their children, and do so much for them, that the children grow up feeling inadequate to cope with life.
If you have been in the habit of caretaking for others rather than caring for yourself, people around you may not like it if you start to care about yourself. They are used to you giving yourself up for them. But just because they don’t like it, doesn’t mean that your self-responsibility isn’t loving to them in the long-term.
When you love yourself by taking responsibility for your feelings, you give others the opportunity to learn to take responsibility for themselves. Whether or not they will step up to the plate is not something that is under your control, but at least you are no longer enabling them in abandoning themselves.
Just because others may get angry or blame you or pout when you start to take loving care of yourself doesn’t mean that your self-responsible behavior isn’t loving (to you and to them).Remember: those who truly love you and want you to be happy will applaud your self-loving behavior, and those people who, perhaps unconsciously, have been using you, will be upset with you.
It takes courage to shift your intent from care taking others (which often involves a desire to control others) to loving yourself. Then and only then will you be able to share your love with those people who are also available to share love. I hope you have this courage.