Recently I read an obituary of a well known woman. As obits go, her many achievements were shared as well as personal family related history. Her many friends expressed their grief and sadness at the loss. I read on and noted the special gift she had that so many valued; she gave to others without any thought of her self. They spoke of how she always put herself last to ensure the needs of others were met. Her associates spoke as if this were her crowning star, putting others first.
As a child I often heard the word “selfish” bantered about. It was used to demean, to accuse and as pressure to put one on the path to “being good.” It would ensure that others will like you. I was told to give, to share, to put others first. I was told I would get my reward for being good to others. As a young first grader the word “selfish” was given to me by my teacher when I refused to share my halloween costume with a child who had forgotten to bring one. The teacher had requested that I give the little girl my mask since I had the costume piece. As a 6 year old I knew the value of having my costume in its entirety and refused. Selfish haunted me throughout childhood. Being a loner and a creative, it was used when I refused or had no desire to play with others. It was used when I felt the need to be alone, to gather my thoughts. Coming out of a big extended family, it was used when I needed to escape the madness and just breathe, alone. Of course it made me question myself and to think of selfish as something negative. As I have matured, I have come to understand the need to be selfish. I like to call it self preservation.
Society hails us for putting ourselves last, taking one for the collective. We are expected to follow the rules, play the game and be a productive member all while being a good team player. In my time as a hospice nurse, I learned the value of the caretaker taking care of themselves. Any one who has ever cared for a sick parent or child knows how physically and emotionally draining it can be. Often times when we are caring for those we love, we forget ourselves. Heaven forbid, we can’t be seen as selfish. Some of us equate how much we love someone with how much we suffer. I have seen loved ones sitting round the clock at bedsides of the dying refusing to eat, bathe or practice other self care. To be available for others, we have to be available for ourselves. We have to protect our time and our own physical and mental state and we have to be selfish. Healthy boundaries and the ability to say no does not make us selfish, it helps us to be whole. Take care.