It Isn’t Selfish, It’s Ethical: The Importance of Self-Care

By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

Self-Care
Pixabay[Heart Hand Hands Love by ArtsyBee, September 3, 2015, CC0]

“Now that we have absolute evidence of the negative consequences of compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress reactions that are too high and that your resilience can’t deal with… all of those things are unethical. It’s unethical to work with other people when you know that you’re not functioning at your best because of the need for self-care and for attending to your own particular needs.” –Dr. Charles Figley

We were all deeply engrossed in conversation within the chat pod during Dr. Figley’s captivating keynote session for the 2017 MFLN Virtual Conference when he expressed the above thought that hit me like a ton of bricks and stopped me in my tracks. I’m not being selfish, I am being unethical when I don’t take time for self-care. And, for me, unethical trumps selfish any day of the week.

When Dr. Figley first mentioned self-care, a barrage of comments started to ensue, which included far more negatively related connotations than positive ones. Here are a few that stood out:

  • “It’s easy to feel like you should be “tough enough” to not need to take time for yourself.”
  • “There is a social stigma and negative association with self-care. It is oftentimes viewed (unfortunately)as selfish and is therefore taken with a layer of guilt.”
  • “It feels selfish to make sure my oxygen mask is on before I take care of others.”
  • “Sometimes finding time for self-care is hard when so many are in so much need.”
  • Sometimes the struggle is that the needs seem so urgent… an example would be the failing health of a loved one. It’s so hard to say ‘no, I need to take care of myself”.

As Military Family Service Providers, it’s easy for all of us to have these thoughts and associations with self-care. But, isn’t it a totally different ballgame when you hear that what you are doing is unethical? Isn’t it ironic that the one reason most of us had for NOT taking time for self-care (selfishness) was actually doing more harm than good? But, if the “unethical card” isn’t enough reason for you to start practicing self-care like it was for me, here are some great responses from other participants in our chat pod who seemed to have a much more positive spin on self-care:

  • “My emotional bucket can get empty and needs a refill sometimes.”
  • “So many forget that if your emotional bank account is overdrawn, you can’t invest in anyone else… Self-care is so important, decompressing from tough cases and having your listening board to bounce thoughts off…”
  • “I learned that I have to sit with the discomfort of other people’s judgment when I take care of myself.”
  • “Encouraging helping professionals to take time for self-care and opening conversations like this one are so important! We need to continually encourage self-care as part of the culture for the profession.”

So, whether your reason for taking time for self-care is because you recognize that your glass is empty or because you know you are being unethical, you are doing yourself AND your clients a huge favor that can make all the difference in the world!

We would love for you to share your motivation for taking the time for self-care in the comments below.

This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the Social Media and Programming Coordination Specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development concentration on our websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

 

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