Are You Being “Selfish"?

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          Inside the dark envelope that surrounds you, it’s warm, peaceful, and almost blissful. You are sleeping soundly, the slow rhythm of the night has found its way into your very breath, relaxing and soothing you after the day before that left you sapped, drained, done. It’s the only time your body and mind have to turn off even for just a few hours. Well, somewhat anyway. You could relish this for at least a few more hours, totally unaware and uncaring in this moment of what calls to you from the rest of this new day. That list of things that always seems to be waiting, and sometimes wailing, for attention. In this brief escape, you are relaxed and unburdened by the weight of this brand new day.

            Rudely, sharply, you are awakened. You struggle to will your eyelids to separate. Your arm, still protesting leaving behind the warm blanket that drapes over it, flails in an attempt to find the “off” button.

 It’s over.

            The serenity you found flees swiftly out of your grasp as your mind races from one to-do to another until it scans the list in a whopping and overwhelming 0.2 seconds.

            There is so much to do, and the list of what needs to be accomplished today seems endless. But, it must all get done. You, in fact, promise yourself to get it all done so tomorrow, yes tomorrow, it will be a better day. Today is the day you will finally get it all done. Today is the day you will conquer all that beckons for your time and attention. You bid farewell to that soft, warm, oh-just-so-right bed that was your refuge. The bed that serves you without complaint or expectation. You silently curse the morning sun for finding you so soon.

            Your list contains endless, unrelenting must-dos and possibilities. A quick shower. Get dressed. Prep yourself for work. Wake the kids. Feed everyone. Make sure everyone has what they need for the day ahead. The house pleads to be cleaned. The dog walked and fed. The refrigerator and pantry lay bare waiting to be filled. Laundry lies in a heap. Calls need to be returned. You must get your child to that dentist appointment, and plan the grandest of grand birthday parties for your friend. Someone calls to you to you for help with something that “will only take a few minutes”. The only problem is there are ten “someones”.  And, nothing ever takes a few minutes. And, your time allotment is already in a deficit for the things you must get done. But, if you refuse them, it will only mean you are uncaring, or selfish, or just plain rude. So, you do it. All of it.

            You scramble through your day, like the eggs from this morning that found themselves in a swirling pool inside the pan. Mentally, you check things off your list trying to keep as unscrambled as you can. You find yourself in the fortunate position to find two minutes to use the bathroom. Ah, the bathroom. Along with your bed, your other best friend. The one place you can finally be alone. Your solace. Your peace. Your….wait, there’s knocking at the door. A voice reaches out to ask you if you can pick something up for them later. Screaming voices come from the other room where the kids are playing. The crashing sound of your grandmother’s vase hitting the floor as the dog runs past makes you jump up. The phone is ringing and three people have just sent you texts that need answers...now. Put aside are those other hundred things you haven’t been able to do…yet.

            You open the bathroom door and assume your “manager’s face”. That face you wear while you are frantically managing all these other things you not only have to do for yourself and your family but those ten other “someones” as well. These things – these endless, time-consuming, energy-sucking “things”!

            You want to rest, to stop, to “smell the flowers” as they say. Whoever “they” are. Whoever was lucky enough to have time to water the flowers so they could smell one. Right now, you would settle for having three minutes to gulp down a cup of tea while it’s still warm. Instead, you have to grab your keys and drop your youngest off at his friend’s house, go to the store, pay the bills, and will you ever have time to change out of your work clothes???

            Now I’ll tell you. You are not alone.

            I have worked with countless people who have come to me stressed, exhausted, anxious and empty. I have heard repeated to me how vacant they felt. They don’t understand. They went from being able to handle it all to being irritable, unable, or distressed about doing “one more thing”. And no one around them understands it either. Aren’t they just being overly dramatic?

            They fight to get through the day. The stress that overtakes them weighs on them like the hundred year old oak tree that has finally succumbed to the fierceness and unrelenting battle of the storm. It now sits on its side, after crashing down through the roof, inside a once peaceful home. It leaves the house totally uninhabitable. The house sits vacant except for that tree. And, their bodies feel like that house. Broken, shattered, exposed, and they feel physically, mentally and spiritually desolate.

            They sit across from me, some with tears cascading down their faces. Other times, they are simply too tired to cry. They feel ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated, and “weak”. You may think they are weak too. After all, you can do it all. You haven’t broken down…yet. This is the key. These people are no different than most of us who try to do it all. And for those that don’t try and have it all, life in this society has become about doing it better, faster, harder. Push, and then push a little more. They sit stunned. After all, they could always manage the kids, work full-time, run the house, pay the bills, and even wash the car.

            Ah, the car! That wonderful invention, that magical machine that is great, usually, at taking us where we need to go. And they help save us an abundance of time! Imagine if we still had to ride horseback and get to that conference on time and pick up Johnny within five minutes of each other across town! Cars ask, for the most part, so little of us. Some gas. An oil change. A tune-up here and there. If we take regular care of them, fill up the gas tanks, we are good to go for miles. They can go and go and go, by following a few rules of maintenance.

            So, this brings me to the big question. When was the last time you filled up your gas tank?

            No, I am not talking about your car. Although that would probably be easier to answer. I’m talking about you. And, how often do you “fill ‘er up”?

            If I told you I wanted you to use your car for one month straight, drive it every minute you are awake during the day, and not fill up the gas tank in that time….wait, what? You are asking if I am crazy? No, I’m serious.

            What I am getting at is probably getting a bit more obvious now. It’s a simple fact that our bodies are machines. Biological machines. And as such, we are comprised of different components. The main purpose of food is to fuel us physically. How long could we go without eating a single thing? We also drink to stay hydrated. How long can we go without a single sip of water? We sleep to feel refreshed. Can you function for long without a single wink of shut eye? We neglect the fact that our other components need attention too. We are not limited to our physical being. We are one solid unit made up of various components. Neglect one and the others suffer. Neglect them for too long and the machine stops until it gets fuel. We forget about our mental and spiritual components.

            Now if I asked you to put oil in your car’s gas tank instead of gas, would you get very far? No. Why? Because different parts of the engine have different requirements. We may try to soothe our mental component with food, but we know where that lands us. Eventually we end up feeling worse because now we are physically unfit and still stressed to our seams!

            This does not just apply to those whose personal gas tanks have hit empty. This applies to all of us who continue to keep going and going and going and never take the time to refuel. We are racking up the mileage on a diminishing tank. Never mind any tune-ups!

            When I suggest to my counseling clients that we must also fuel ourselves mentally, they often look back at me as if I have started speaking in a strange, new, alien language. They truly do not understand. So I will explain it to them as I am explaining it to you now.

           Sometimes, we refuel by eating a big, lovely meal. Other times, we grab a quick snack and go. It depends on our time, our needs, and our wants. In the same respect, we can feed ourselves mentally with a big, hearty dose of nourishment or grab a little 5 minute break to keep ourselves moving.

            This about what fuels you mentally. What makes you feel like, well, you! What inspires you, nurtures you, soothes you? It may be going for a long, leisurely walk, reading a book, having a cup of hot tea and soaking in the tub, taking in the latest art exhibit, or simply sitting and appreciating the sounds of nature from your window. Other times, it may be something more. It may be spending the weekend at a luxurious spa, going on a well-deserved vacation, or sitting and writing that novel you always wanted to get to even if it is just a few pages at a time. Whatever it is, you need it.

            This is where many of us get caught though. We start to do these things. We want to do these things. But, we feel guilty because there are so many other things yet to do on that never-ending list. Let me let you in on a little secret; there’s a reason we refer to it as a never-ending list. It isn’t going anywhere. It can wait just five minutes while you refuel. Trust me. I’ve tried it. It won’t leave. I’ve begged.

             Many of my counseling clients report they will often not do things for themselves because they feel selfish.

Whether it comes from within their own minds or they are told that, they often feel guilty taking the time to do the things that inspire and nurture them. But there is a difference. Selfishness is stepping over the wounded person on the street because you need to get your nails done without bothering to ask them if they need assistance. Nurturing and feeding yourself mentally is about being the best you you can be so you can be better to those around you.

            Think about it this way. If you nurture your mind and spirit, you can be that great wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend you always wanted to be but were just too tired. By taking care of you, you are, in fact, taking care of them.

            Let’s go back to that car. With the needle on “E”, you just have to drive one more mile. How far will you get? When you run out of gas, where will you be? And, what happens to the rest of your journey of things to do?

            So, go ahead. Nourish your mind and spirit. And the next time someone accuses you of being selfish, you can look them in the eye and honestly say, “This is my gift to you”.

If you are wanting to make sustainable change, to learn to nurture ad nourish yourself emotionally and mentally, please reach out to us to set up a counseling appointment. We have so many skills we can share with you.

Wishing you peace,

Beth