The Lost Art of Self-care

If you don't take care of yourself, who will?

Posted Oct 11, 2011

You've heard it said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you..."  But in the over-busyness of so many of our lives, I say to you, "Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you."  Sometimes we have to be reminded of the lost art of self-care.

We resist the art of self-care, perhaps because we get it confused with being selfish.  As children, many of us were taught that selfishness is a bad thing and we ought to put others first.  There's great value in that, of course.  Concern for others is something that our mothers need to teach us, to help us grow out of the self-centeredness of childhood into the give-and-take of mature adulthood.  We have to be taught to share, to be generous, to make sacrifices for the needs of others.

But sometimes we take this too far and don't place a high enough value on taking care of our own needs.  We hope that if we take care of the needs of others that the "others" will feel so grateful or so guilty that they will turn around and take care of our needs.  When they don't, we get to feeling mighty resentful and mighty empty.

So, it turns out that we also need to be taught how to take care of ourselves.  We need to invest in nourishing our whole selves, and do so regularly.  We need to make time and space for relaxing the mind.  For stretching the body.  For opening the soul.

I find that this kind of self-care is harder to learn than it might seem at first.   But I think that if we can make a distinction between selfishness and self-care, we are well on our way to learning this life-giving lesson.

My favorite analogy is offered at 35,000 feet high by your friendly flight attendant.   He or she gives some really helpful guidance.  If there is a sudden drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from overhead compartments.  If you are caring for a child or someone else who needs your assistance, put your oxygen mask on first.  Then, since you will be alive and alert, you will have the capacity to help someone else.

It is not selfish to tend and care for your own life.  If you do take good care of yourself, everyone wins.  And if you don't, who will?

Copyright 2011 Jennifer L. Kunst, Ph.D.

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