Self care Is NOT selfish


A recurrent theme for me over the last week is how much we focus on giving to others at the expense of what we want. The idea that focusing on our own needs is selfish seems very pervasive. In this blog I’d like to draw a distinction between self care and being selfish.

To me, self care means strengthening your own inner resources in a way that make you feel better, which in the process make you more able to help other people. If you give yourself the sleep, nutrition, pleasure, rest, exercise, mental stimulation, positive relationships and so on that nourish you, you’ll have so much more to give than when you’re tired, stressed, rushing from one thing to the next and generally depleted. What’s selfish about that?

An analogy that’s often used is that you need to fit your own oxygen mask before assisting others. I remember when I first heard that, thinking it sounded a bit selfish! But then I realised that if you pass out while fitting a mask onto a child, you’re both going to be in trouble! Selfish is taking what you want to the detriment of others. It’s not selfish to make yourself better able to assist others.

Most of us are blessed with a life that is, in theory, incredibly free. We can say, do and think pretty much whatever we want. We can go anywhere in the world, eat any kind of food, we have the whole world’s music at our fingertips and an incredible amount of information, events, and opportunities to learn.

And yet many of us live under a kind of tyranny. Other people in other places and times have had to face the tyranny of slavery, dictatorship, class/caste systems and so on. What many people I know, including myself face, is the tyranny of “I should”.  I should be being productive, I should meet up with so and so, I should make more money, I should make more time for friends and family, I should stay in my relationship, I should help them, I should give them what they want… They  are all shoulds that we’re doing for someone else, at the expense of what we really want to do, which might be having a bath, reading, a book, chilling out, spending time with a good friend, or whatever.

What I’ve realised is that when my main driver for doing something is that I should do it, I’ll either struggle to get started, or do it with very little enthusiasm which means that I and anyone else involved don’t get much from it. No one wins. When I do something because I want to do it, or even better, because I’m excited about doing it, I give more of myself to it, which means I enjoy it more and the other people involved feel the benefit of that. Everyone wins.

If everyone looked after their own needs, and did what they loved doing, I think it would solve a lot of the world’s problems. I don’t think that anyone, deep down, loves doing harm to others or the planet. If we  get in touch with our deepest desires and follow them, we serve ourselves and each other. I’ll end with one of my favourite quotes, which was said by civil rights leader Harold Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

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