As a therapist, I cannot begin to tell you the frequency with which I use airplane pre-flight instructions to illustrate the need for self-care. I am sure that you remember the flight attendant saying something like…
“If you are flying with small children or others who may need assistance, please place your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.”
Somehow, people get the idea that to put themselves first, to practice good self-care, makes them selfish or narcissistic. Well, let’s look at the definitions of narcissism and selfishness from dictionary/reference.com:
Narcissism: inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.
If you eat the right foods, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and engage in one or two hobbies, does that equate to an inordinate fascination with oneself? Probably not. How about selfishness?
Selfishness: devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
The key words in this definition are – regardless of others. When someone like me makes a suggestion that you take care of yourself, there is never an implication that this should be at the exclusion or detriment of others.
I decided, 1,031 days ago, to lose weight. This meant that I began going to the gym 4-5 days per week, eating healthy and lower calorie foods, and was a lot less fun to take out for dinner. The cost, less time with my boyfriend and our dogs. The benefit, I eventually lost 80 pounds, have great blood pressure, blood sugar, and a very healthy heart. I improved my cholesterol from slightly high to normal as well. And, my medical doctor assures me that I have added 7 years to my life.
When I work out at the gym, I do preen a little – though not obnoxiously so. I may look at the muscles I am working at the time to see how pumped they are or examine my profile for areas that need work. Does this mean that I am narcissistic? I don’t think so. The first time I went to a bodybuilding show, I was a bit dismayed because I believed I was seeing a considerable amount of narcissism. However, while watching the process my friend Tammy went through as she prepared for her first show, I realized that what I thought was preening was really the competitors just trying to make sure that all of their hard work was displayed as well as possible for the few moments during which they would be judged.
So, if that is not narcissism, then certainly taking care of one’s self could not be considered selfish or over the top. In fact, if we return to the airline instructions, one might remember that the reason for putting your own mask on (taking care of you) is so that you CAN assist others, so that you can take care of others. If you are unhealthy (e.g. overweight, out of shape, poor diet, untreated medical or mental health problems, etc), you may not be around to see your child graduate, marry, spend time with your grandchildren.
If you are not sure where to start, look at the areas of life that bring you the most dissatisfaction. What are the top two or three items? Is there anything you can do about these things? If not, move down the list. If you can do something to change these items, you have a starting point.
So why not start today? After all, it is day 2 of the 365 days that make up 2013. What better time is there?