‘Am I being selfish?’ - a much asked question in therapy
What does it mean to be selfish? Why is it a theme that occupies so much of our thoughts? Is it a useful idea to consider or is it an outdated term from childhood that got stuck and it now prevents us from being true to our own needs and desires? Is it an excuse which keeps us from doing something different? Is it tied up with our fears and preoccupation with what others might think of us?
It surprises me that in an era which has a plethora of choices in self-help materials, books, apps, TED talks and online materials, we still seem to feel that focusing upon the self can be viewed as ‘selfish’.
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of ‘selfish’ is:
Lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.
In my work as a counsellor over the last 14 years, I can truly say that it rarely occurs to me that the person with whom I am working is ‘being selfish.’ In fact, it is quite the opposite and I find myself wondering why this fear has popped up again, i.e. ‘do you think I’m being selfish?’. Whilst it is true that we tend to be egocentric and to see issues very much from our own point of view, sometimes to the detriment of others’ opinions, we are still often disabled to act in a way that would benefit us because we fear this outcome. The idea seems to be that it would be a bad idea to act in a way that brings benefit to ourself. So, we tend not to act and to stay unhappy or deny an opportunity… just in case…
Yet one of the biggest realisations for me as a 53-year-old woman and as a therapist is that self-care is one of the most influential factors in our ability to stay emotionally well and to promote resilience. When we experience challenging life events, being resilient is one of the factors that can determine how well we get through those events. Without it we can quickly cave to pernicious stress and anxiety. Hence self-care becomes paramount.
So, what is self-care? This will look different for each person. For me, self-care could include; time and space for myself, striding over the moors with my dog, being still in nature; meditation, reading, listening to music, being cooked for, spending time with friends and family or multiple episodes of a favourite series on Netflix! What I am drawn towards will depend on my state of mind but any of these things could nourish me. And for me that is what is important, ‘what nourishes me?’ Often, we don’t really know the answer to this question in the same way that we sometimes struggle to think what we do for fun or what brings joy into our life. We get so caught up in the habit of a busy mind that we rarely even stop to think whether how we are spending our time is good for us or not.
So, if self-care in whatever guise works for us, is a positive factor which promotes peace, joy, rest or nurture which then enables us to give more to our job or families which promotes general wellbeing around us, how can this be selfish?
Maybe we need to review what we mean when we use this term so that we do not deprive ourselves of the very things that enable us to cope better with what is often a busy and challenging lifestyle.