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Self-care is Learning to Give, and Receive

Yes, yes, I know you don’t need me to state the obvious.

You and I both know that self-care is unlikely to be top of your or my list or even in our vocabulary when we’re depressed. Trouble is, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve neglected self-care, though, is it?

I bet that word or the concept of self-care hasn’t been on your radar for so long you’ve forgotten what it’s like to think about yourself. I bet this could be one of the reasons why some people become depressed in the first place.

Now don’t get me wrong: that isn’t a criticism, just an observation. I know when I’ve struggled with unhealthy emotions, self-care has been difficult. Yet I’ve purposefully made a point of continually engaging in the things I know will nourish me even when I don’t feel like it. However, I’ve also seen the flipside: I’ve worked with thousands of people who have been absolutely terrible at self-care, and I mean terrible.

One of the things that’s been pretty clear to me over my years of working in mental health is that the majority of people who become depressed are the type of people who are extremely diligent, loyal, hardworking, conscientious and self-sacrificing, but to the point of self-damage. And it’s this general life view that can lead to burnout, overload, unhealthy thinking and behavior, confusion, self-flagellation and then depression. Not for all, but for many.

“So why is self-care important? Isn’t that just being selfish?”

Self-care absolutely is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness is lacking any consideration about others and profiting by this. Self-care is about making sure that we are well and healthy so that we are more available to help others. They are polar opposites, in my view.

If I am going to be giving of myself, my time and my energy to an endeavor that helps others grow, then I need to make sure I’m available to take that journey with them. If I’m burned out and depressed, I’m no good to anyone and I’ll be the one who ultimately suffers.

But that’s me. The question is, why should self-care be important to you?

I think it’s admirable that the people I’ve met who struggle with depression, on the whole, have been givers. That’s a wonderful trait, but to truly embrace self-care I want you to consider that there is another aspect to giving that is very, very, important: receiving.

If you are a giver, you’ll need to learn to allow others to give you help and support. Otherwise, it’s all one-way, and that isn’t healthy or particularly fair. We all have an individual responsibility to grow and be responsible for ourselves. I also believe we have a responsibility to help others grow in their lives too; however, that doesn’t mean you neglect your needs and always take the position of feeder. You also need to feed.

It’s all too easy to get our sense of worth from doing for others. I spent a good deal of my life doing just that, because giving feels good. But I challenge you to learn that part of your self-care is to let others give to you. This may be a tough lesson, but it’s one that’s important for your personal growth, and will potentially help you battle or stave off depression in a healthier way.

We need to remember that when we are nourished physically, emotionally, and spiritually, then we are better able to help others from a stronger foundation of giving and receiving.

You may find you are resistant to this concept. You may even think that people around you cannot give or are unwilling to give to you, and that may be true. However, there is nothing to stop you seeking out others who are willing to give. Getting a professional massage is a great way to receive some self-care from another person. Going out to dinner and allowing another to feed you also is healthy. Maybe take a yoga class or do another type of movement class. That can be very nourishing.

You may not see it now, but this self-care cycle isn’t just about doing something for yourself. Self-care is allowing others to do something for you. Learning that it’s OK to accept this gift may be one of the most important lessons you can learn to help you become healthier. And once you have received this gift, then you will be in a better place to help yourself and others.

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