I will start this off by fully admitting that I can be a selfish person at times. Honestly, I think all of us can to some degree although some more than others. Over the last few years I have made a lot of changes in my life, and in some cases life alternating, and throughout this process, I found myself asking myself the same question: Am I being selfish? Were the decisions I was making for the benefit of all involved or was it all about me? Was I being selfish or were the people around me being selfish?
Looking back, I can admit to myself, and the people around me now, that I was a bit self-absorbed for a time. I spent a lot of my time so wrapped up in what was happening with me, and how I was surviving, that I left very little room for the needs of others around me. Visits with friends or social engagements were not made a priority. Trips home or connecting with my sisters went to the wayside. Work pressures were met with annoyance and bluntness. It was not that I didn’t care about the people around me or the things that they were needing from me, but rather I was too involved in my own life to see things clearly. Now, I will also admit that I was compartmentalizing, surviving and disassociating as well, but it also had an element of selfishness as well. I was expecting the people in my life to help support me while not offering them anything in return. It was unfair and doesn’t make for great relationships.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”– Leo Tolstoy
I realized that I was being selfish and that I was placing my needs before the people I had around me. The first step was admitting I had a problem and then I worked on changing it. I worked on being a better friend. A better sister and daughter. A better employee. Now, I will truly acknowledge that there is still room for improvement on all of these counts, but I started the steps to try and be less selfish.
But, I also reflected through all of this and realized something else too. Sometimes it was not selfish, it was self-care. For a lot of us, that is a hard distinction to make and I was not any different. I would want to say no to a social engagement because I didn’t have the energy or space to go, but felt bad that I was leaving my friends hanging. I was burning out at work but continuing to take on extra tasks. I was trying to put my needs first (for the first time in a very long time) and yet as I tried to create those boundaries for myself, I was met with resistance. Was I being selfish or was I taking care of myself?
So, with confusion ditacting the retorict of my desire to take care of myself, I brought it to my counsellor. This woman has been working with me for years by that point, and she is a no bullshitter which is what appeals to me. She tells me it straight and calls me out when I am being dumb. In this case, she told me that I needed to ensure that I was truly understanding the difference; the difference between self-care and selfish.
Get it? Because I didn’t at first. She went on to explain. Consider a situation. Let’s say a friend wants you to go out for drinks at the end of the week. You don’t want to go because you have worked all week long hours, been feeling under the weather and don’t have the mental capacity to handle socializing right now. Self-care or selfish? Well, your needs (physical rest, emotional decompression, sickness combatting) outweigh your friends wants for socializing and drinking. Does that mean you never go again? No. It just means for this night, you have the ability and right to say no. It is not selfish, it is self-care. And it is important to note that the word NO is a full sentence. You don’t have to explain, justify or explain your reasoning. Taking care of yourself is self-explanatory.
Damn, I thought. That’s helpful!
When that friend asks me out for a coffee because they are needing someone to talk to and going through a hard time; their needs outweigh your want to be lazy. When a visit to an old friend, or family member, triggers your previous trauma; your needs outweigh their wants. When your grandma is too afraid to go get groceries because she can’t get sick but also has no food; her needs outweigh your wants. When your job asks you to stay late because they are understaffed or have poor time management but you already worked 20 extra hours this week; your needs outweigh their wants. Gives some perspective eh?
So, that’s what I do now. I continue to try and be a better overall person and not be self-absorbed but when my gut is telling me I don’t want to do something I have to ask myself this question. Am I being selfish or is it self-care? I can only hope you will start to do the same.