I was first introduced to the concept of selfish care by Toby when we trained together. The wording of the term jarred, but as he elaborated, it just made such great sense. As he described it, if each person in that room was to take care of (or responsibility for) their own physical safety, their financial security, their health and well-being, the supply of food, water, warmth and somewhere to sleep, then no-one else would be needed to take care of us. Put that way, it just sounded like being a grown-up, an adult, albeit a self-sufficient one. So, what’s wrong with that? Why don’t we all do this? Why don’t we leave the caring resources for the children as they grow up, for the elderly as they reach the end of their days, for those with physical or mental needs that mean they are unable to achieve or maintain self-sufficiency?
Search me! Can it be as simple as having a problem with the word “selfish”? Let’s look at a dictionary definition: ‘manifesting concern or care only for oneself’. There’s just one word in that sentence which causes a problem: ‘only’. Who could pick a fight with every individual ‘manifesting concern or care for oneself’? But maybe that’s the point, the term selfish is being used to spark a discussion, to force us to look at those occasions when placing oneself first isn’t a bad thing.
We’re all familiar with the instruction to put our own oxygen mask on first in case of aircraft de-compression, then moving on to help those who need it. What if you see someone electrocuted, do you rush to give aid, or do you call specialist help? You see a car crash, do you cross the lanes on the motorway, or do you call the emergency services. The emergency services will tell you to do the latter – every single time. But our wonderful media heaps praise and acolades onto heroes – on to the ones who survived to tell the tale anyway. So our instinct is to rush in; instead of applying self-care and self-responsibility – perhaps it would be best to stop and think, are you just creating the opportunity for two bodies instead of one?
Dr Margaret Paul in her Huffington Post blog details the differences between selfishness and self-responsibility – its a good read. She also makes it clear how when the two are confused, its generally the result of selfish intent on the one hand and conditioning on the other.
Taking good care of ourselves, without doing harm to another, is self-responsible. Even – perhaps especially – those working in the caring industry need to ensure they are emotionally and physically well, strong and energised. To do so is an act of self-responsibility; allowing themselves to become burnt out from overwork, is not.
So what about those of us in every day life? Unless we are in one of those vulnerable groups mentioned above, we need to make our emotional and physical well-being our priority. We need to teach our children how to be self-responsible – how to achieve and maintain good health, how to care for themselves when ill, how to study and work hard, how – in due course – to feed, house and clothe themselves, how to handle and value money, how to be honest and to have integrity, how to be kind – to ourselves as well as others. We do this best by setting them a clear example – by being self-responsible ourselves and demonstrating self-care.
Self-responsibility and self-care don’t mean that you can’t turn outwards for support. That’s part of the process of self-responsibility: to identify where and when external assistance is required, to value yourselves sufficiently to seek it, to find the financial resource to fund it. You won’t do those things if you don’t consider your own care a priority. There will always be something or someone else which needs the time, the funding, or the support more than you do – a decision which will only result in an unhealthy and unhappy you.
Be self-responsible, make self-care your priority – you’ll be a better person for it.
© 2015 Caring Coaching
originally posted 27th May 2015