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Living a Healthy Lifestyle: An Act of Selfishness?

Posted Feb 26 2012 1:34pm

SelflessnessRecently, at Be Healthy Boston , I was confronted with a viewpoint that being healthy equates with selfishness. Terri Trespicio – cover girl of Boston Magazine and former senior editor of Whole Living – was our opening keynote. She was prepping the audience to get excited and inspired to start their weekend at our first urban wellness retreat. To help attendees frame the weekend for themselves, she posed some great questions, such as “What do you want to get out of the weekend?” and “Why are you here?” When we opened the session to questions, an attendee (let’s call her Jane) stood up and stated that her recent life changes to become healthy has required her to become very selfish. As tears welled up in her eyes, she passionately argued that it is selfish to be healthy, and that her family resents her selfishness. She was obviously profoundly conflicted. My heart broke for her.

Many people, especially women, fall into the trap of thinking that self-care means that they are selfish. They believe that instead, they should put everyone’s needs before their own, often neglecting their own health and wellbeing in the process. This belief system is very dangerous and harmful. And, if you are responsible for the welfare of others, this belief system harms not only you, but can be detrimental to the very people who depend on you. Is a matter of fact, I’d argue that the act of neglecting your health in order to “take care of others” is MORE selfish than the act of self-care.

If you are a caretaker in any form or fashion, YOUR health is what people depend on. YOUR wellbeing is vital to your ability to take care of them effectively. YOUR ability to get up every day and be there for them is what they value. Without your health, their wellbeing is potentially in jeopardy.

Once Jane was done speaking, I turned to her and said, “Jane, you are not being selfish. You are being less selfless.” This made her think.

Selflessness, as defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “having no concern for self.” If you ask me, selflessness, which is often deemed a virtuous quality, is just as bad as selfishness. If you have no concern for yourself, you are doing yourself, your family, and even society a disservice.

  1. Selflessness and You: Self-care is important to your feeling your best so that you can take advantage of all that life has to offer. You’ll have the energy you need for what life demands, as well as the mental health to keep your outlook positive. Selflessness, however, can lead to chronic illness, depression, fatigue and many other health issues, robbing you of your ability to live your own life to the fullest.
  2. Selflessness and Loved Ones: If you neglect yourself, you can’t be your best for others. A good analogy to this is our approach with airplane safety procedures in regards to oxygen. We are told to put on our own oxygen mask first before assisting our child with theirs. The reasoning is if you lose consciousness due to a lack of oxygen, you can’t help your child, putting both of you at risk of dying. However, if you can breath properly, you’ll be able to effectively help your child to breath too, most likely saving both of your lives. So, if a family member or loved one depends on you, your health and wellbeing must be in place so that you can effectively take care of their health and wellbeing.
  3. Selflessness and Society: When individuals neglect themselves and don’t practice self-care, they put a strain on our health care system. Many diseases are preventable through making good lifestyle choices, and when we don’t, health care costs rise for everyone…not just the person making bad choices, or practicing “selflessness.”

Do you struggle with this concept of selfishness around being healthy?

Take our Poll here: http://www.sheerbalance.com/polls/is-being-healthy-an-act-of-selfishness/

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