For some of my clients, “selfish” is a four-letter word.
In our first session together, I get a feel for my clients’ approach to rest and rejuvenation. I learn what boundaries they have in place so they can protect their energy. I listen to what their day looks like and all the little time and energy sucks they have like the impromptu hallway meetings (that happen on the way to other meetings).
Some people have a good understanding of when their energy dips during the day, and when they should close the laptop. A lot of people already know that they should look after their own needs first, set up better times to meet their clients, or when they should start and end their day.
People have a good idea what they “should” be doing to help themselves have better energy through the day.
But their “shoulds” are negotiable. And often what they know they should do gets pushed aside by someone else’s needs. And when I ask why they aren’t giving themselves the time and attention they know would help them, just about everyone says the same thing.
“I can’t do that. People will think I’m selfish.”
And I totally understand. When we go from paying very little attention to ourselves, giving to others first, always being there for other people whenever they need us…to paying even the slightest bit of attention to our own needs…it feels excessive.
The action of giving yourself time and attention first feels like a huge move.
It feels indulgent.
It feels like the only way to pay attention to yourself is to actively shut out others.
Naturally, we think that other people see our new behavior as a huge change and feel shut out by us. We believe that other people will be offended, turned off or disappointed because we’re no longer giving them attention.
Only that’s not at all what happens.
Does taking care of your needs mean that you’re all of a sudden obsessed with yourself and no longer care about the rest of the world?
Does giving yourself 10 minutes of quiet time in your office before the next meeting mean you’re constantly shutting out other people?
Will switching the usual afternoon client to the morning create an ego-driven monster who no longer cares about anything other than themselves?
Does saying “no, thank you” to a dinner invitation mean you can never spend time with that person again?
Of course not.
But when you call yourself selfish simply because you want to pay a little more attention to yourself, you’re believing that you will turn into this horrible person. You’re also convincing yourself that everyone else will think the same thing.
This can be because of how we were raised, what someone has said to you, or looking at that one person you know that’s a selfish jerk and never wanting to be like them.
Believing we’ll be selfish stops us from fully committing to ourselves and our health.
Because we’ve bullied ourselves into not changing.
I did the same thing when I made big life changes that required me to take more time for myself. I was worried that the world’s eyes were on me, judging me, even laughing at me for being ridiculous.
“Going public” with my new self-care changes scared me and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.
What if they think I’m all about myself?
If I’m not there for them like I used to be, will they think I don’t care about them?
Will my boss and coworkers think they can’t count on me anymore? Will they think I’m lazy?
Those worries stopped me from making any change for a long time. And when I did finally inch towards self-care?
No one really noticed.
This wasn’t the blaring change I thought it was. People were fine with it. No one said much as I kept putting more strategies in place.
If there was one thing I did notice, it was that people cheered me on.
Paying attention to your own health in a super loving way isn’t the norm. That’s why it feels so strange and like you’re sticking out of the crowd. But the truth is, most people want to take better care of themselves and don’t. So most of the time they don’t think you’re selfish at all. They’re envious of self-care and good boundaries.
Plus it’s none of our business what they think, anyway. Their feels are their issues.
Give yourself a break. Try putting a few new boundaries in place and see how it feels.
As you do that, you’ll most likely realize your moral compass doesn’t change. You don’t become this jerk all of a sudden. What I found was taking care of myself was actually more in line with my care-taking values than ignoring myself.
The bottom line to all of this?
Worrying about being selfish proves you’re not selfish.
The only way to test it is to try. Make one small change that allows you to pay more attention to yourself and see how that feels. My guess?
It feels pretty good.
I want to hear from you in the comments below! Do you worry that giving yourself more attention will make others believe you’re selfish?