We are naturally wired to be self-centered. Think about it, survival instincts are to first save ourselves. If we are hungry, we want food. For ourselves. If we are tired, we want to go to sleep. Whatever we want, our brain tells us to get it. That is how we survive, it is a natural response.
When we have a diagnosis of mental illness, it can also be important to put our needs first. Especially if we are just learning about it and what helps us to be healthy. If we also have an addiction and we are learning how to recover, we need to make sure that our physical and emotional needs are addressed in order for us to stay healthy.
There is unusual power in thinking about other people, though. When we consider other people’s needs, we become compassionate. And when we show compassion, it actually helps us feel better, too. So although we need to remember ourselves and prioritize ourselves, we do need to prioritize compassion for others, too. It is all about finding a balance.
Self-centered vs. Self-Care
As you have already learned, self-care is very important. Getting good sleep, eating well, getting exercise, seeing doctors and therapists regularly and following their care are our lifelines. There are also things that help us decompress, make us happy, or just keep us sane, like hobbies, time with friends, sports, art, reading, etc. All of these things fall under the category of self-care.
The difference between managing our self-care and being self-centered is when we do things at the expense of others. For example, expecting everyone to work around our schedule or to sacrifice their own self-care, work, or other obligations so that we can have our needs met in our own time and way. Yes, we need to do things to keep us healthy. But when we can do those things in a cooperative way, considering others’ needs at the same time, then we still get what we need and so do they.
It is difficult to see things from someone else’s perspective. But one of the biggest problems is when we don’t try to look. Our perspective can be filled with our own needs, or we can stop to think about the needs of those around us. Whether it be family or roommates or friends, we can still take care of the things we need without ignoring everyone else’s needs. For example, if we needed a ride to a doctor appointment, before scheduling, we could text our parents or whomever we want to drive us and ask for their availability. If we were to schedule it during an important work meeting for them, it is unfair for us to expect them to put their job in jeopardy for us to make one appointment. Especially when there are many appointments available. When we practice our self-care with compassion for others, then the healing powers of self-care extend to others beyond ourselves.
Showing Compassion without Losing Ourselves
Obviously, we cannot wait for everyone’s permission to brush our teeth or read a book or something. We do not need to bend over backwards to make everyone happy. Sometimes we do have to be a little selfish to keep up with the things that will keep us healthy and happy. However, we can definitely show compassion for others. Like if listening to or playing music is one of the things we do for our own sanity, we can still be thoughtful about when and where we do this. Playing music late at night near where others are sleeping is self-centered. But us playing music while everyone is awake and being conscientious about the volume is being compassionate. It is a matter of being true to ourselves and our needs, while still showing an awareness of and also honoring the needs of others.
Finding the Balance
Co-existing with other people can be challenging. And when we have struggled with mental health and possibly substance use, it can be easy to focus only on ourselves. When we consider other people’s needs, though, we do not need to lose our own identity in the process. It is about finding the balance between focusing on ourselves and focusing on others. And it is tricky, because if we focus too much on ourselves, we lose out in our relationships and might even offend or harm other people. But if we focus too much on other people, we lose our own sanity and the ability to take care of ourselves, let alone anyone else. It can be hard to balance, but a good test is to ask ourselves each day how we are doing, kind of a mental check-in. Then be sure that we check in with our family, friends, and roommates regularly, too. By communicating, we can find the balance.
If you can learn this skill, of balancing between remembering yourself and still thinking of the other people in your life, then you will have done something that most adults have no idea how to do. You can take care of yourself, while still being aware of the needs of others. This builds on everything you have learned about your mental health, and will be a blessing to you and everyone around you. Remember me, consider you.
You are ready to live a healthy and compassionate life because of all of the work you have done. Embark Behavioral Health can be a reference point of mental health for you. For questions call 1-855-809-0409.