Putting 'self' before certain words seems to change them for many
Humans are naturally compassionate, empathetic and loving of others and, if not unique in the mammal world, there is no doubt that we have developed and honed these skills more than any other creature that we know.
These processes are normally referred to when we are talking about what one person does to another. However, these processes must also work in reverse and be directed inwardly.
In other words, we must be self-compassionate, self-empathetic and self-loving also.
I believe that this does not come to us easily especially as we develop into adults and then adults who become carers. The reason is that as children we were nurtured (hopefully) and were always told we were loved and made to believe that we were a fabulous human being (which of course we are).
We eventually moved away from a self-focus in childhood, which is the norm when we are children, to another-focus so that we could start to reach out and build all kinds of different relationships with others. In order to do this we needed to become empathetic, compassionate and understanding of others and as our whole life is mediated by relationships we become very good at this.
To do this for ourselves we need to reverse these processes and this is where we might run into significant
difficulties. Apart from the effort and time that this requires, it is sometimes like asking a person to drive their car home from work in reverse. Yes, I’m sure you could do that but it would take a lot of skill, time and effort. And when it comes to caregivers, in many instances, we do not have the required time and energy to adequately care for ourselves, as we give most of these precious commodities to others.
"One thing I've come to learn about myself is that I have to keep going." - Andrew Mason -
Here’s a question for you. Do we ever love ourselves as much as we love the ones that are closest to us? Or are the people that we care for in our work and the ones we love most in our lives always the greater priority?
For example, in an emergency whose life would you save first – your own life, your partner’s or your children’s lives? Well my immediate answer to that is always to say I would save my loved ones first. So, if this is the case what we are saying here is that our partner and children are more important than we are.
Then when we enter the workplace, the focus changes to the people that we are caring for and they are now our number one priority and our personal life is put to the side while we are in work.
When we eventually get home we prioritise again our time towards our loved ones. So what we are consistently telling our brains as a result of these interactions is that we are a lower priority and this is the automatic process that is active within us for most of our lives.
Of course we know that we are important and we are as important as everyone else who comes into our lives. However, when it comes to our unconscious life, which is the part of our life that is activating the majority of our everyday processes, this does not seem to be the case and we immediately, as carers, put others before ourselves.
Yes, we are human and have only so much energy; so when it comes to thinking about ourselves and what our care needs are, the effort that is needed from an already depleted energy supply makes this task so much harder.
If you have any comments on the above please contact me as shown below.
Thanks for reading
Dr Dermot Casey
Counselling Psychologist, Cork, Ireland.