The “Selfish” Mentality

We are almost two weeks into the new year, and for me, that is both an exciting and scary thought!

On the one hand, I have already accomplished so much of my writing tasks for the month of January, but I also have a long way to go. Who knew that the publication process was so long and difficult?

…Well, I did, but despite the hardships, I am still ecstatic about the progress I have made and the journey ahead.

For others, however, this year might not be starting the way they have anticipated. There can always be unseen difficulties, surprises, and afflictions that sneak up behind us. It can be very difficult to deal with that when we see others displaying their success on social media. We might feel conflicted when we start a new year without someone we lost. It can feel impossible to celebrate when we do not feel happy, or not feeling like ourselves.

The past six months have been such a wild ride for me on that account. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Kindness versus Self, I have a difficult time allowing myself the time and energy to work on my mental health and things that make me happy. With my constant battle to fight for kindness, it is complicated to convince myself that I need to care for myself before others, and I still feel uncomfortable with that idea even today. My body and mind have rejected that notion for years, and I am practicing the need for self-care, but it has not been easy.

I am sure that many others also struggle with this, too.

During the month of December, as the new year approached, I began to see an increase in self-care posts, things for which I usually applaud and advocate, but one of the most popular statements I saw on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest was “2020 is going to be a selfish year.”

This statement is a description of the New Year’s Resolution to spend more time investing in oneself, improving, and growing into a better people. I totally understand why this statement was made, and I want to acknowledge that I do appreciate this mentality to take care of oneself.

It is very important, and as someone who struggles with that, I want to let everyone know that I think those who are working on putting themselves first are so strong. This cannot be overstated.

That being said, I do have a few critiques about this statement.

Taking care of your mental health is not selfish.

This is something that may seem hypocritical based on my own struggles with taking care of my mental health and how often I preach kindness, so I will clarify that my argument has two parts.

1. We are in charge of ourselves first and foremost.

We are responsible for how we treat others and how we act towards situations, but our emotions are never completely in our control.

Sometimes we feel things we wish we would not, such as jealousy, envy, and exhaustion. We have these emotions, and we all have different ways of coping with them. We are responsible for our own mental health, so that mentality should not be seen as “selfish.”

It is a necessity.

We are thrown so many obstacles in life, and while it is our attitude and perspectives that change our situations sometimes, everyone interprets emotions differently. We have to allow each other to grow in our own time without judgment, without making someone feel selfish for wanting to care for themselves.

It can be easy to misunderstand when this change when we associate someone with selflessness. To others, this may seem as though the person has become selfish and uncaring, but since we all have limits, we need to respect our peers’ boundaries as well as our own. It is difficult to advocate for oneself, especially when others make one feel unimportant or unkind for doing so.

2. Self-Care is kind.

Self-Care is a difficult subject for me, but I have come to the conclusion that it is, in fact, kind.

This kindness is not seen in the normal realm of kindness, though.

I believe there are many pieces that make up “kindness” as a whole. Kindness is more than smiles and laughter; kindness is also more than sunshine and rainbows.

Kindness is about sitting with others on stormy days, speaking gently and deliberately, and practicing empathy and self-awareness. Kindness is defined differently across individuals, but it has a universal impact, so I think there are many ways to interpret acts of kindness.

Even though it may seem like a selfish act to pull away from others to care for oneself, especially if one’s friends and family often feel like a constant pressure to please, it is not saying that you care less for them than you have before.

Care and kindness do not just disappear.

The Difference Between Self-Care and Selfishness.

Putting ourselves first is very important in stabilizing our mental health and providing healthy relationships with others, but there is a fine line that needs to be addressed.

Saying that “2020 will be a selfish year” is not only implying that mental health is selfish, but it is saying that the true act of being selfish is acceptable.

We need to care for ourselves, but self-care should never be an excuse to be mean or make other people feel bad about themselves. It should never be used as a shield from understanding others.

There are examples of specific environments where this could be negotiable, but the “selfish” mentality is not a reason to put others who may be struggling on the back-burner.

In our individualistic society, we often find ourselves saying, “I don’t care what other people think of me,” or “I don’t care if others disagree with what I stand for or what I do.” That in itself is not a bad thing to say, but it can be when that mentality endorses behavior that is harmful to others.

Your self-care should not step on someone else’s self-worth because they should not even be in the same equation.

However, some people use “self-care” as a band-aid for when they hurt others, explaining that their self-care is more important than empathizing with others or owning up to the hurtful words they may speak.

By saying that “2020 is a selfish year”, we are validating unkindness and the very idea of selfishness.

Of course, there will always be times that we inadvertently hurt others, and this can especially happen in miscommunications concerning self-care. When situations like these happen, remember to practice empathy, understanding that others may be trying to find their way, too.

There is a difference between saying, “I hurt/upset you because I need to care for myself, and you just need to deal with that,” and saying, “I am sorry that I hurt/upset you. I am trying to practice self-care, and I am working on balance,” and explaining your side if the situation warrants it.

“Be kind to yourself, and then let your kindness fill the world.” -Pema Chödrön

I have attended counseling for the past few months to grapple with my own emotions and sense of self; a lot of what I talk about is my need for kindness.

My counselor has helped me work out so many of my inner battles, and I want to share this one that has really stuck with me. It has drastically improved my relationship with self-care.

I have stressed to my counselor time and time again that I really need to take care of others, that I feel the need to always be kind, even when it means I am hurting myself. I find it very difficult to allow myself a space to feel validated, a space in which I am not feeling kind towards other people, such as staying home when my friends want to go out.

Author 43One time, as I told her that I hate feeling unkind, even for just a second, that I feel like an impostor when I need to do things for myself, she stopped me and asked, “Why does caring for yourself need to be unkind?”

“It doesn’t need to be unkind, but when I am putting others before myself, it seems like I am losing my kindness, like it is slipping away from me,” I said.

My counselor gave me a smile and said, “What if you looked at it like you weren’t losing any kindness, but just pointing it in a different direction? Just because you are directing kindness at yourself does not make you an unkind person. If anything, it means you are supplying yourself with more kindness than before as you empathize with yourself and realize what you need.”

I told her that even though I understood what she was saying, it still felt selfish to me.

“You are not an unkind person and showing yourself kindness means that you are kinder than ever before. Just because you are showing yourself kindness does not mean you are stealing it away from anyone else. If you had a friend in the same situation as you, I know you would help her out as much as possible and validate her feelings, so why don’t you show yourself some kindness? Everyone needs some; even you.”

I still deal with my conflicting emotions today, but her words changed me. It made me realize that being kind to myself is not selfishness corrupting me; I am learning more about how to be kind.

Just because I care for myself does not mean that the love for my family and friends is dying, nor does it mean that I will no longer spread kindness to as many people as I can.  It does not mean I am losing the kindness I hold dear.

So, it is inaccurate to say that self-care is selfish, when it can be quite the opposite.

We always need to treat ourselves, and of course, others, with love, respect, and kindness.

And remember that everyone needs kindness; even you.

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