“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?”
Hillel, Jewish Sage
As women, most of us have been taught the value of being there for others. We are taught that to be a truly good woman, others’ needs should always come before our own. Our in-born human inclinations to love, care for and nurture others also move us toward the roles prescribed to us by culture and society. In addition to caring for our spouses, children and elderly parents, we may also find ourselves drawn into very giving professions, such as counseling, nursing, and teaching. Caring about others and taking care of them becomes a way of life and it is an important part of what it means to be fully human.
Self-care and self-love have a bad rap in women’s lives. Considering ourselves, setting limits on how much we do for others, and pursuing our own goals and interests is labeled selfish—and being told we are selfish is probably one of the most powerful accusations others can throw at us. If we believe ourselves to be selfish, we struggle with feelings of shame, guilt and the conviction that we are a bad person. Therefore, we give and give and give and often find ourselves becoming tired, resentful and burned out.
We may wake up at 45, 55, or 65 and wonder who we are and what happened to that curious, energetic girl we used to be—the girl who had her own hopes, dreams, and talents? Now our children are grown, our careers are winding down and we may feel utterly lost and confused about who we are and what we want and need for ourselves. The challenge of putting ourselves first and actualizing our own potential falls to us and us alone. There will always be part of us that will take care of and give to others, but we are the only ones who can decide to take our own desires and needs seriously and become fulfilled in our lives. To quote Hillel, “If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? And if not now, when?”
Questions to Consider:
1) Is there a difference between being selfish and self-caring? If so, how are they different?
2) Have you been successful in balancing your focus on yourself and your focus on others despite the culture’s persistent messages to always put others first?
3) Where do you derive your feelings of self-worth? Can you get some of these from your own activities and accomplishments or is your self-worth solely tied to what you do for others?
4) Are you currently satisfied with the balance of self-care and caring for others in your life?
5) If you are still waiting to begin putting your own life first, what is holding you back? What are you waiting for? Describe your first step toward this new vision.