Selfish. I used to fear – even dread – being called or perceived as “selfish.” Nothing seemed worse to me. The very word sent chills down my spine, made my stomach turn, and activated all sorts of defense mechanisms within me. There was a time in my life when I spent a significant amount of effort to not be perceived as selfish – in fact, to be perceived as selfless and as someone people could count on, at any time of day, for any reason, with any task or need, no matter what.
Of course, I now realize that there’s a huge difference between being of service from a selfless and empowered place versus being in servitude to the demands and expectations of others out of this misguided fear of being perceived as “selfish.”
To emphasize the point: being of service is not the same as being in servitude.
Now, after years of work on myself and all the work I do with clients – who often share the same fear – I see the word “selfish” as simply a descriptor for someone who is “self-focused.” In other words, “self-ish” = of or related to the self.
Seen this way, we all have a responsibility to be “selfish,” or to take care of the self. By taking care of ourselves, we further develop our internal resources, work through our own issues and baggage, and become more aware and present when we interact with other people. Which, at the end of the day, enables us to become more selfless. The more you work on yourself, the more you can cultivate an attitude of non-judgmental, agenda-less presence when you engage with other people in daily life.
Therefore, self-care is not only a gift to the self but a gift to everyone you meet. By attending to your own self-care, you are not only expanding your own inner resources – which can then be extended outward – but you are also setting an example for others that it’s okay to prioritize themselves.
In my own life as a highly sensitive, empathic woman (and as someone who works with highly sensitive, empathic, intuitive women), self-care has primarily consisted of learning how to say no. It seems so simple, to just say no when someone demands something from you or asks you for help in some way but you’re already overburdened.
To just say no when someone asks you to do something you really don’t want to do.
To just say no when someone suggests something that doesn’t sit right with you.
To just say no when your boss or co-worker or friend or partner asks you to take on a responsibility that really isn’t yours.
But it’s not that simple. We live in a yes-oriented culture; we are expected to say “yes” as much as possible, even if it means suppressing our own needs or getting sick in the process or always being overscheduled and stretched too thin. After all, our culture privileges movement, action, and a “strong” work ethic over stillness, passivity, and rest.
This is why self-care often involves slowing down and becoming still. This has truly been a life changer for me and the most essential way in which I engage in self-care. Saying no to something you don’t want creates space for what you do want to come through.
Saying no to an invitation or event you don’t really want to attend creates space for you to spend an evening doing exactly what you want.
Saying no to someone else’s request or demand creates space for you to explore the core values that actually matter to you. When you create space and stillness in this way, you can investigate questions like:
- What do you really want to say yes to?
- What is your purpose right now?
- Where, when, and how do you tend to put others ahead of yourself?
- Are you truly in touch with your needs?
- What makes you feel free and expansive? (Say yes to more of this.)
- What makes you feel constricted or burdened? (Say no to more of this.)
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of the transformative book Women Who Run With the Wolves (you can check out my Tarot spread inspired by this book) encourages us to cultivate stillness and to further ask ourselves:
- What needs to be eliminated from my life right now?
- What needs to be integrated or incorporated into my life?
When you neglect your own self-care and forget to incorporate restorative and self-supportive rituals into your daily life, you begin to lose touch with your own inner guidance, with the whispers and nudges of your intuition, and with the wisdom of your body.
This slowing down element of self-care – whether you slow down through meditation, prayer, daily walks, yoga, breathwork, detox baths, or any other spiritual practice – is so fundamental because it allows you to reconnect with your core Truths and with the essence of who you really are.
Armed with this knowledge, you can then go out into the world and make more aligned choices that will leave you feeling empowered and uplifted rather than drained and resentful.
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