Becoming Steph-Centered: Finding a Balance Between Self-Care and Caretaking
So I did something today I never do: I got a manicure and pedicure.
While there, I asked the amazing woman who did my nails why exactly people get pedicures. She said, “For two reasons: to make themselves prettier and to clean their feet. And (Bonus reason) it is relaxing…let someone take care of you.” I had to sit with that for a moment. Let someone take care of you. You see, I am a consummate caregiver, the kind who at times loses herself in the whole-hearted pursuit of loving others. I am deeply empathetic and sensitive to suffering. It physically overwhelms me when my grandmother cannot remember things I said moments ago and when she moans in pain, it breaks my heart. While my sensitivity is useful to me as a therapist, it can be quite problematic to me as a person. Airlines tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before attempting to help others in an emergency…but no one tells you that caregiving is a daily balance of comfort and crisis management. You carry your loved ones through sickness and hardships, and can’t fully rest because the world feels a bit heavier on your shoulders. You may not have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the suffering is real and your stress is perpetual. At times, choosing your sanity over soothing relentless pain of others can summon more guilt than peace may appear to be worth. As a therapist, I too tell clients to take time for themselves so there can be enough of them to go around. But as a caregiver, I also know how impossible that can seem in the face of our family members’ suffering. So you give a little more of yourself, because you couldn’t imagine giving any less. While I love the virtue of selflessness, I had to let go of the idea so I could have a self to serve others effectively. Selfishness can be defined as the promotion of one’s own interest at the expense of that of others. Centering of the self is a practice of grounding one’s experience in awareness, compassion, and acceptance. Dedicating time to yourself in the grand scheme of care taking may seem counter intuitive or productive. But what I have noticed is this: when I prioritize my wellbeing, I can give from a place of generosity instead of deficit. When I am self-centered, I do my best, most altruistic work. My clients benefit from me being more fully engaged, my grandmother benefits from me being deeply present, and I get to show up for people whole-heartedly…starting with me.
Here is my invitation for you to join me.