By and large, our society does not look fondly upon introspection. In many ways we are encouraged to identify with our social identities first and foremost. This includes our commitments to family and friends, our public responsibilities, and social mores in general.
When we make any kind of effort to turn inward and nurture ourselves – to uncover our own sense of truth as distinct from society’s concept of truth – we are often given the message (in subtle, as well as not-so-subtle ways) that we’re being selfish.
We are often judged for withdrawing from other people. Sometimes, however, withdrawal is necessary if we want to care for ourselves properly. If our own mental and emotional stores are depleted then we can’t really be present and responsive to others anyway.
If we ignore our own inner-warning signs and push ourselves beyond our natural limits, then we’re likely to end up with scattered and/or confused thinking, an overall sense of frustration, and a short emotional fuse.
Ultimately, we aren’t serving anyone when we sacrifice ourselves and neglect our own needs. Whose suffering do we spare by punishing ourselves? If we believe that self-care is selfish, then we may give to others without consideration for our own limitations, but we won’t be giving wholeheartedly.
We might be giving out of guilt, which – energetically speaking – is vastly different. Or we may go through the motions of fulfilling all of our responsibilities while some parts of us are seething with resentment. When we provide ourselves with much-needed self-care, however, we feel rejuvenated and able to do things for others in a heartfelt way.
Some people are well aware of the power of guilt, and they use it to cajole others into behaving in ways that are more to their liking. This sort of behavior is prompted by inner need and the mistaken idea that the only way to feel whole is to draw energy from others. Such people do not know how to give themselves self-care, so they resent the signs of it in others. They’re likely to be the first to call it selfish.
Providing ourselves with adequate self-care often involves limiting other people’s claims on our time and energy. The truth is that any reactions that others may have in response to us aren’t really our doing.
They’re experiencing feelings that they’ve already been carrying around inside – most likely pain and/or fear.
We can’t alleviate these feelings because they don’t belong to us. We can only work through our own emotional reality. If we don’t provide ourselves with good self-care, because we believe that doing so is selfish, then our sacrifice ultimately deprives us without benefiting anyone else.