How Can You Be So Selfish!

Old habits are hard to break.  Even harder around the holidays.  Tight schedules at work, financial pressures, crowded spaces around town, and let’s face it – family dynamics, especially extended family dynamics – can get us off center.  Triggers that we normally breathe through can feel more potent, or hair-like.  These triggers can be instantaneous and obvious, but they can also be like the slow churn of lava, a building pressure that can soon no longer be contained.  We’re uncertain of the origin, or why such a “minute” incident could spark such an explosive reaction.  The only common factor in these scenarios is, well, you.  While we can put forth our best laid plans and effort, the reality is that control is an illusion.  The minute we believe “I’ve got this,” the unforeseen can come in and paint over our canvass of expectation.  The change of scenery can stun us – instantly disillusioned.  So how can one prepare to be disillusioned?  The answer is we can’t, nor does that even sound appealing!  What we can do is learn to care for ourselves in such a way that when inevitable disillusionment arrives, we are available to lean into the discomfort and respond without losing ourselves or hurting others.  How?

  • Honor Boundaries – Boundaries are essential for self-care.  Boundaries are knowing where I end and you begin.  Brene Brown calls this B.I.G. – “What Boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my Integrity and make the most Generous assumptions about you?” (  Without boundaries, empathy and compassion, the very threads that enhance and strengthen relationships, become frail.  “Boundaries are not fake walls, they’re not separation, they’re not even division.  They are respect.  They are – Here’s what’s ok for me and what’s not.”  Without well-defined boundaries, we are vulnerable to becoming bitter and resentful.
  • Regard Triggers – Triggers are inherently tied to individual experiences.  What causes a rise or reaction in me may not even register on your radar of thought and emotion.  Enter self-care and compassion.  Not only do we need to check in with ourselves and explore the story our reactions are trying to tell, we need to make generous assumptions about other’s reactions without becoming defensive, knowing that their reactions are a mixture of current and past experiences, some of which we know nothing about.
  • STOP actions – My therapist calls this “Stop. Breathe. Believe.”  In those “kicked in the gut” moments, the unexpected ones that stun us, sometimes the best form of self-care is to stop a knee jerk reaction.  Breathe through the moment.  Say to yourself an affirmation that is true for you.  Mine is “Peace, be still!”  Sometimes one pass is good, other times may require 100.  Amazing how such a simple response can drastically change the course of conversation.
  • Mindfulness – I tend to ruminate.  When I first heard about mindfulness, I thought, “That’s exactly where I don’t want to be.”  Mindfulness, however, is a skill that can dislodge the rumination, or whatever your “moment” is, and reset your attention and energy.  A simple self-care tip is the acronym, BE THIS.  In less than 10 minutes, simply Breathe deeply, identify the Emotion without judging it, Touch by rubbing your hands together and placing them over your eyes or temples, stop for a minute and name the sounds you Hear around you.  Intentionally stretch for a minute, then take a minute to name what you can See/Smell.  When our physiological system is calm, our cognitive system thinks more logically, and so can those around us.

While these may be different forms of self-care than we would automatically think, they are helpful to practice so they become more habitual.  Self-care does not come naturally for most, but is a certain necessity.  I liken it to the flight attendant’s reminder to put your own oxygen mask on before helping your child or the person sitting next to you.  Self-care is not selfish.  It is, in fact, the very path to becoming more loving.  With quality self-care, the disruptions in life can potentially become the ones that create the most beauty – and the deepest connections.

PageLines- Laura180xx180.jpgLaura Westbrook is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern supervised by Christy Graham, M.A., LPC-S, RPT-S at Acorn Counseling Education Services in Corinth, TX (  She is currently accepting new clients, and enjoys working with couples, individuals, and children of all ages.  To schedule an appointment, find her on, or click here.

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