If you are in a profession that’s focused around caring for others, it’s more important than ever to make the time for your own self-care. There’s nothing selfish about it.
Not many years ago, I found myself at a crossroads. I was working at a job that was highly fulfilling and meaningful, but also grueling, exhausting, and crisis-oriented. I wanted badly to continue doing important work, but found my own health and self-care failing as I tried to keep up.
If I was to remain in that position, it would mean making physical, emotional, and financial sacrifices over time, and truly letting go of my own needs in the process.
So I went rogue. I picked myself.
For those who are in helping professions, including health providers, therapists, educators, and social workers, there is a common guilt that comes up when you choose yourself.
This is probably why, so often, you don’t – you are oriented to serve by putting others first and yourself last.
Work 14 hours to attend to a crisis? No problem.
Fill in for a sick colleague on your only day off? Of course.
Place your own safety in jeopardy to keep everyone else safe? OK.
To put it bluntly, this is an unsustainable way to do work…or to do life, for that matter.
You cannot be a caretaker for others 100% of the time, and expect your own emotional and physical health to keep up.
So where do you begin to change this pervasive mindset that serving others means sacrificing yourself?
1. It’s not “selfish” to take care of yourself.
You first need to challenge, in a significant way, this idea that it is somehow “selfish” to take care of yourself, or even to put yourself before others. The word “selfish” comes up all of the time in therapy to describe incredibly benign acts –
“I selfishly took a day off from work when I was sick.”
“I was selfish and said ‘no’ to working when I was on vacation.”
However, here’s the actual dictionary definition of ‘selfish’: “Lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”
That description does not in any way describe a person whose profession is to serve and help others. When it comes to describing self-care, let’s get rid of the use of this unhelpful, inaccurate descriptor.
2. It’s not an either/or proposition.
You do not need to pick from either being a helpful, compassionate, loving person, or being a self-centered, greedy, unkind person. There’s a whole lot of grey in there. In fact, you can choose to be a mixture of lovely things from the grey column that both support others and yourself.
For instance, you can choose to practice good boundaries by saying ‘no’ often, being thoughtful, and helping out when you are able. You can choose to financially prioritize yourself and your family, and be generous with a certain percentage of your earnings.
You can choose to opt out of an optional meeting if it means sacrificing your ability to work out and have a good breakfast. You can choose to spend less (or no) time with people that bring you down emotionally. There are so many choices – and not one of them makes you a bad person.
3. You are no good to others when you’re a mess yourself.
If you’re still not convinced, let’s appeal to your other-oriented nature and confirm that you truly are less able to serve others to your best ability when you are worn out, sick, tired, unfulfilled, depressed, and anxious.
The airline rule of the adult putting on their own face mask before attending to their child’s is true – if you can’t breathe, you can’t help anybody else breathe, either.
You must justify caring for yourself simply because you deserve it and it’s worthwhile. At a minimum, you must agree that if you want to do the best job possible, you need to sleep, eat nutritious food, and keep yourself mentally well enough to avoid a nervous breakdown.
Remember, you are allowed to consider your needs and wants as you decide how you’d like to move forward in life. You are not selfish – you are bravely taking steps to love yourself through self-care, which is just as worthwhile a mission as helping others.
Why choose one or the other, when you can do both.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: TRENT SZMOLNIK
Dana Belletiere, LICSW, MSEd, is a licensed therapist serving clients in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, in person and virtually. In her practice, she focuses on helping clients to shape their own narratives, accept and love all parts of themselves, and cultivate an authentic and meaningful life. When she’s not with clients, you can find her writing or reading in a local coffee shop. Learn more about Dana’s work and visit her at www.DanaLICSW.com.