Sunday, July 20, 2008

Selflessness

Our society values and encourages selflessness. We think about self-sacrifice and putting others before ourselves as virtuous qualities. To be selfless means, "having no regard to self". Although we may choose to act selflessly at times (which can be a wonderful thing), we cannot completely disregard ourselves. Remember the Zen-Buddhist saying, "Wherever you go, there you are".

I watched a TV program about a man who ran a monkey sanctuary in Africa. He had only this ancient, rickety truck to transport supplies, rescue monkeys, and get from one place to another. The truck was an essential tool for carrying on his work at the sanctuary. Every morning he had to spend some time taking care of the truck; making minor repairs and preparing it to withstand the bumpy, unpaved roads he would be navigating. The truck was precious to him because he could not afford to replace it.

Like the truck, your body and mind are precious tools that need care and protection. If you allow yourself to be used up or completely worn out, you will no longer be able to carry out the good work you do with your family and friends, on the job, or in the community. Unlike the truck, you are irreplaceable. There is only one of you and your self is essential to your doing good things for the universe.

What are the caring things you need to do for yourself so that you will be ready for the bumpy roads ahead? Of course you need the basics like good nourishment, adequate sleep, and exercise. Often these are the first things to be neglected when we are very focused on others needs. Human beings also need time to recharge which may include things like relaxation, pursuit of hobbies, or socializing. This means everyone has to say "no" sometimes in order to make time for ourselves. Setting limits is showing regard for yourself and helps others understand how to better relate to you.

One problem with being overly selfless is that we have to make assumptions about what other people want and need so that we can give it to them. Sometimes our assumptions are wrong and we end up intruding on or complicating things for them. Do you find yourself inevitably feeling resentful in your relationships? Do you feel like you give and give and never receive? It is important to honestly examine your intentions and determine whether your giving is truly altruistic, or are you hoping to receive something in return. The better course of action is to ask for what you want and need directly.

Another problem with being overly selfless is that relationships work best when they are reciprocal. Other people in your life want to feel they have something to offer you and it is good to let them give sometimes. It can be boring to your friends and partners to have no work to do in the relationship. For children, it is an unfortunate lesson to teach them that they are entitled to all the benefits of a relationship with no effort required on their part. You can send the wrong message to others in your life when you give too much. They may come to expect it from you and believe it is what makes you happiest. They may also become frustrated and give up trying to reciprocate if you've made it hard for them to do so.

Remember, it is your responsibility to take care of yourself which involves committing a little time each day to self care activities, setting limits, and sometimes saying "no". If you take good care of yourself you will be better prepared to care for others.

For more resources relating to self care and other mental health concerns, please visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/.