Wright Foundation | June 8, 2022

Be More Self (Care)-Ish: It’s Good for Everyone

We hear a lot about the importance of self-care these days, but what does it really mean, and why is it so important that we CARE about ourselves?

A woman sholding a mug of tea, looking out the window with a slight smile on her face. Text overlay reads "Be More Self(Care) Ish: Self-Compassion is Good For Everyone" with the Wright Foundation logo

Being selfish feels wrong somehow, am I right?

For many of us, we’ve been told to work hard, be busy, take care of others, achieve at all costs… If we put attention on ourselves, we’re selfish, or self-centered, or… If we aren’t working or busy or productive, then we’re lazy or unmotivated. This teaches us NOT to care about ourselves for most of our lives. We’ve been told NOT to put our well-being first.

But I’m here to say, “Do it! Care about yourself first!”

Why? Because:

  1. If we don’t, no one else will either.
  2. When we’re healthier, everyone around us becomes healthier.
  3. Burn-out is serious, especially with everything going on in the world right now.
  4. Self-care also means honoring commitments we make to ourselves, creating great personal power.

“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

– Paulo Coelho

What Does Self-Compassion Have to Do with Feeling Safe?

Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion, confirms that one of the biggest reasons we aren’t more self-compassionate is that we’re afraid we’ll become self-indulgent. We’re worried we’ll get soft or lazy. We believe that self-criticism keeps us in line and at the top of our game.

But what do we do then when we feel afraid or hurt or angry or sad? True self-care means letting ourselves have our feelings. ALL of them. Especially the ones that make us uncomfortable—and we know which ones they are! Feelings don’t make us soft. They make us human.

Let’s explore fear. As humans, we all long to feel secure from the time we are born. First, we look to our parents to feel safe. Then we try to bring a sense of security into our lives by understanding our environment, seeking what is familiar, and predicting outcomes.

As we grow up, we learn that certainty equals security.

So when our world feels a little shaky, we begin to feel afraid, and we start doing everything we can NOT to feel that. We ignore it. We pretend it’s not real. We numb ourselves.

One of the first things we tell our students at Wright is that when our feelings feel like too much, we can use the term coined by Dan Siegel and “name it to tame it.” Neuroscience research shows that when we name our emotions, they often feel less confusing and overwhelming. There are many articles on this – here’s a particularly powerful one.

Think about small children. When they have a terrible moment, they let it out immediately. And they immediately feel better. It’s not a coincidence. The emotions we don’t let out and express will always eat us up and make us feel miserable.

And that’s when our soft addictions, those seemingly harmless habits that so often disguise themselves as self-care, start throwing a party. Literally and figuratively.

Why Binge-Watching Netflix is NOT Self-Care

One of the reasons soft addictions are such an easy way to feel like we’re nourishing ourselves is that they offer immediate gratification.

How simple is it to drive through and grab a triple-shot-non-fat-light-on-the-extra-whip-decaf-espresso? How easy is it to go online and shop ‘til we drop? We instantly feel a little rush, like we’re somehow making the moment special, and don’t we all deserve that?

We do! And that’s what makes soft addictions so sneaky.

Is there anything more satisfying than hitting the “watch next episode” button on Netflix or Hulu or whatever you’re zoning out to?

Yes, there is! And though the satisfaction is not immediate, it’s sustaining.

Don’t get me wrong. I love donuts and chocolate as much as the next person. And watching a movie with my husband can be fabulous. And anyone who knows me knows I love to shop!

But now, I try to do these things while understanding the yearning underneath them that I am trying to satisfy. Yearnings are the deepest longing of our hearts, and they are universal: to love and be loved, to touch and be touched, to connect, to create, to be seen, to be heard, and as I said earlier, to feel safe and secure.

When we know the yearning beneath the want, we can turn the soft addiction into an act of self-care.

So if I know that I’m yearning to connect, I’ll communicate to my husband BEFORE I snuggle up next to him for a movie. When I do that, I’m honoring my own heart. I’m being present with myself AND with him. And when the movie ends, I’ll know my yearning to connect is just beginning.

You Can’t Please Everyone, So…

What happens when we don’t practice a life of deep self-care?

What happens when we choose to ignore our yearnings and focus instead on external things? We can end up living an inauthentic life.

When we spend all our precious days simply trying to please others, we often end up facing the end of our lives with regrets and resentments.

Here are the top four regrets that people have on their deathbed:

  1.     I wish I dared to be my real self and not how others wanted me to be.
  2.     I wish I had lived a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.
  3.     I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
  4.     I wish I had faced my fear of change and let myself be happier.

All four of those wishes encompass self-compassion. They each express the desire to acknowledge our feelings and say them out loud. And that they each question the social norm, especially when it goes against our joy.

“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”

– Rupi Kaur

Of course, I’m not saying to ignore the needs of others. Living a life of self-compassion includes living a life of compassion. But the truth is, when we know how to show kindness to ourselves, we’re far more likely to know how to show compassion to others.

What’s the first thing the flight attendants instruct us to do before the plane takes off? To put on our own oxygen masks first. Because if we run out of oxygen, we can’t help anyone.

Self-care and self-compassion are the oxygen masks we must put on each day. We can show up as our best selves, physically and emotionally, when we do.

We can meet the world and whatever it’s offering at the moment, with our whole and authentic selves.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation’s performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.