THE VALUE OF SELF-CARE:

 PERSONALLY, PROFESSIONALLY AND IN RELATIONSHIPS

 

Amy:  I am finally getting it—that it is important to look kindly at ourselves rather than seeing our actions as punishable failures or expressions of our limitations.  Judgments of self-hatred, shame and guilt are not very effective motivators.  Instead, it is enough to let change be stimulated by a clear desire to enrich lives for ourselves and for those who contribute to our lives. 

 

Brent:  How can you be happy with yourself if you don’t know what you are feeling and needing?  I know for myself, whenever I’m feeling down, I go to my room where I can have some peace and be alone.  I then slow myself down, think of what’s going on and look at the bigger picture and what my needs are, then go from there. 

 

Some think that the youth of today are too selfish and self-centered and that we should return to old-fashioned virtues.  Here’s why I think this “me-first attitude” is valuable for both society and the individual.  Identifying inner values and finding the courage to live by them is based on self-understanding, self-respect, and self-care.

 

There is a shift in the underlying paradigm in the U.S. and in the world—from kings to democracy; from the common distrust of people’s basic nature to a wider acceptance that the core motivation of humans is to meet needs we all share, as proposed by Maslow; from an emphasis on obedience to one of cooperation. 

 

Perhaps a contributing factor was the explorations of consciousness and the movements for social justice in the 1960s.  (Full disclosure: I was in college in the early 60s, so I am partial to attributing long-term consequences to the youthful efforts of my generation!  J)

 

I believe that when individuals are seriously committed to becoming familiar with and meeting their own needs, they become responsible people.  Knowing one’s own needs leads directly to a deeper understanding of the needs of others.  When one becomes more aware of the value of creating situations wherein everyone's needs are being met, one is on the road to conflict resolution. 

 

This is known as enlightened self-interest.  It is also the basis of a democracy.

 

Today’s youth—at least those I meet at Champlain College—report learning at home the value of thinking for themselves, and the willingness to question any authority.  They are developing an internal value system to weigh their actions.  I hope readers will be patient with them and/or yourselves through the awkward moments in this transition.  Moving from a system of power over and power under into a system of power sharing, is difficult—both personally and for our society. 

 

We are all cultivating the skills we will need tomorrow, and we are still in training today.

 

sun 

If it is not fun,

why do it?

--Ben & Jerry’s slogan

 

 

How would self-care help us professionally?

 

CAREER CHOICE

 

Sam:  Students need to be exposed at a young age to the questions of what are your feelings and needs.  The idea of focusing on one’s own needs and aspirations is most important in order to make it clear that no one should dictate what you should or shouldn’t do with your life, for example, making a student attend a 4-year college right out of high school even if it’s not truly what they need at the time. 

 

Today’s culture often encourages people to believe that their deepest needs can be met by owning many things.  This message permeates most media channels.  Unless they are reminded to pay attention to their own interests, many college students make the earning of a lot of money their highest priority.  Unfortunately this choice will likely postpone making their own vital connection with their life energy, their vision, their calling, and their needs.  They may miss the deep satisfaction of spending forty hours a week in a job they love. 

 

ENERGY ON THE JOB

 

Kiki:  In our group of social work students, we were able to come up with many ways in which self-care is essential to a successful career.  As a social worker, we will be in regular need of self-evaluation and check-ins with ourselves.  Our clients will be dealing with heavy issues that could easily find their ways into our daily lives.  Working with people who need help and being the type of person who wants happiness for everyone, it may become difficult to see clients I care about stumble and fall.  I need to make sure I

re-center regularly.

 

If a person focuses on caring for others and neglects to take care of their own needs, they are less effective in their caring—professionally as well as personally.  They are candidates for burnout.  This is especially true in careers where one works with people having difficulties in their lives.

 

Clear communication on the job

 

Laurel:  I had requested of my supervisor to add an agenda item about a mail procedure to our meeting coming up.  My supervisor replied, “We can talk about it, but my answer is not going to change.”  After thinking more about this interaction, I decided to practice using OFNR steps.  When I approached her again, I said, “I would feel more encouraged attending this meeting, if you waited until after the meeting to make your final decision.  Would you be willing to postpone your decision?”

 

Abby:  By showing us how to focus on what we truly want rather than on what is wrong with either others or ourselves, Nonviolent Communication gives us the tools to create better understanding with others on the job as well as at home.

 

Most jobs include working with co-workers, even if you are not working with the public.  Job satisfaction and effectiveness are often based on how well co-workers communicate.  When employers talk to colleges about training their graduates for on-the-job skills, their number one request is for better communication skills!

I thought relationships are about giving to someone else.  Self-care in a close personal relationship sounds really selfish to me.

 

Jay:  I decided to break up with my girlfriend.  She thought she loved me and maybe she did, but she would barely give me any time for myself.  She told me it was hard for her to leave me alone because she liked me so much and she felt safe and happy with me.  This was one of the nicest things I have ever heard.  Every time she was afraid, she called and I talked her through it.  I tried hard to be there for her, but I was getting more and more emotionally drained. 

 

I found myself biting my tongue often when I was feeling irritated at her.  She said she would try harder to give me more room, but she said the same things two months ago and she hasn’t changed her actions.  I could not figure out how to get my space.  This frustrated me so badly I realized the only way to fix the problem was to break up with her, even though I did not want to hurt her feelings. 

 

Sarah:  I would really like some time for myself, to not be running around all the time trying to complete tasks for everyone else.  I think this is harder for women.  Women naturally want to help everyone they care about and to be there for them.  They often forget to take care of themselves.  Last night I wanted to stay home and work on this paper, but my boyfriend wanted my attention and I couldn’t say “No.”  I am now up this morning typing my heart out with my coffee at my side.

 

It is very hard to maintain personal relationships if you prioritize taking care of the other person.  Many people find that when they start with noticing their own needs and then the other person’s needs, they are more likely to find outcomes that work for everyone.  Both Jay and Sarah reflect how poorly their own needs were met when they put their entire focus on their partner. 

 

Perhaps when Sarah looked inside, she would have found two honorable needs in apparent conflict—her need for connection and her need for achievement.  “I could spend the evening hanging out with my boyfriend or I could write my paper.”  At this point she might choose to put both of these needs on the table and tell her boyfriend what is happening inside for her and find out what her boyfriend is feeling and wanting.  “I am feeling torn.  I would love to spend the evening talking—that is important to me.  And I am also concerned about getting my paper written for class tomorrow afternoon.”  If he does not even know about her conflicting choices, he misses the opportunity of supporting her in her scholastic endeavors.  She misses knowing about his support. 

 

And they miss the chance of weighing together whether the urgency he feels to share this evening is more important than doing the paper.  Looking together at all the needs, people have a better chance of working out ways to respect all of the needs.  If one party makes the decision without consulting the other person, they lose a valuable chance to connect, to strengthen their relationship. 

 

This section of the book will help you clarify what is or is not bringing you satisfaction, health, energy, and connection.  Students are not the only ones who often rush through their days without taking the time to do any examination of the quality of their life.  The upcoming chapters are full of invitations to become more self-aware and more self-nurturing.  With a clearer picture of what you want and need, it will become easier to figure out what actions would start moving you toward your goal.  Making deliberate choices will enhance your life, both personally and professionally.