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Is there a Darkside to Self-Care?

By Mary Joye, LMHC

Is it good to put all your needs above everyone else? Some find it is lonely on top of a pedestal and it is a lofty, but precarious position.

We have all been enlightened to know self-care is a good thing, but can it go to the dark side of being selfish? Yes, it can, but before your feel your guilt button getting pressed, do some introspection to see if you have a healthy balance between self-care and caring for others. Homeostasis is a medical term that means the body seeks balance, but modern psychology has proven the mind and spirit need it, too. We become imbalanced when we are completely selfish or selfless. When you are selfless, you have less of self and is just as damaging being selfish.

Before you begin to check your self-care vs. selfish balance, understand you are a trinity of a body, mind, and spirit. A trinity is a triangle, and is the strongest shape in nature, geometry, and architecture. Pyramids are built of four triangles leaning inwardly and supportively on one other and the ancient structures are standing today as a metaphor for balance. We need to be in relationships with those who hold us up while we reciprocate, and this is the ideal. However, if one side of a triangle is weak or impaired the entire structure collapses. Completely selfless people collapse, and selfish people cause everyone around them to collapse.

How the trinity of a healthy body/mind/spirit connection in the context of self-care works:

1. Body-You cannot be of service to anyone if you do not take time to exercise or care for your appearance or body. If you give until you give out or burnout your body’s immune system will be compromised. It is crucial to eat well and carve out self-care time with physical motion for stamina and wellbeing. Your emotions will thank you for it. Whether it is cardio, yoga, tai chi, or walking, do what you love or is doable, not what will make you feel like you are punishing or pushing yourself past your limits.

2. Mind-Meditation, creative visualization, journaling, novelty, traveling and any creative outlet will help you find inner balance and better able to connect with others. If you are having issues that prevent your mind from becoming clear you may have to enlist life coaches, mental health care practitioners or websites like this one to guide you. Friends and family may be too close to you to assist in life altering decisions and they will see it through their biased filter. That said, socialization is paramount to self-care, but make sure these are friendships of reciprocity and mutual respect. Give and take conversations are essential. Do a review of your relationships and see if any are out of balance with give and take.

3. Spirit-This is your internal compass and the GPS for your life. No one and nothing can take the place of being in solitude with what you believe in as the creative force in your life. Remember the triangle. It is good to lean into your personally sacred spiritual life so you can evolve and improve your wellbeing.

When self-care goes to the dark side, it is time to examine the shadow self, as introduced to us by an early pioneer of psychiatry, Carl Jung who said,

To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow, and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.

“Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology” (1959). In CW 10. Civilization in Transition.

Self-care is much more than getting massages, pedicures or going to the gym. It is about knowing yourself and taking inventory of what drains or elevates you or those around you in the trinity of yourself. Below are ways to see how you can slip into the dark side of self-care.

1. Announcing and denouncing-Telling others you are going to self-care with bravado, contempt, or resentment is not healthy; it is angry. This is a sign of burnout that causes blow-ups or melt downs with others. You do not have to shout it from the rooftops you are going to self-care. You simply ease into it in increments and make yourself less available to those who drain you. You do not have to empty anyone else out to fill up your needs.

2. Building walls vs. Setting Boundaries-Building a wall, unless there has been abuse, is not self-care, it is self-isolation. Boundaries are meant to keep you safe and in and it is all about the gate, not the fence. You are in control of who you let in and out of your life and at what time. Emotional walls put out a negative energetic vibe to others and will make you look selfish and aloof. They affect others physically and it can feel like there is a tangible wall there. If it is your desire to disconnect, then it will work, but over time it can become toxic if you keep everyone out thinking it is self-care. A Harvard study proved loneliness is dangerous and that people who are isolated die 15 years sooner than their cohorts. This is a very dark side of self-care. We punish people with solitary confinement so do not keep everyone away. You need to have some safe people in your life who allow you to be you and you do the same with them.

3. Spite vs. Right-Self-care goes to the dark side when you have negative emotion attached to it. If you are doing something for yourself out of spite to someone else instead of what is right for you, reassess what you really want not what you think will impress another.

4. Entitlement vs. Sharing-No one owes you anything really, but you owe it to yourself to share with others to enjoy a balanced life. Entitled people expect to have their needs met immediately and this sense of superiority can wreak havoc in your relationships.

5. Neglecting others-You truly are supposed to take care of some people with no expectation of return such as children or the elderly. If you neglect the helpless, your self-care has turned into being hopelessly selfish.

6. When You Overdo for You-If you go into debt with self-care, you may be over-shopping, overspending, or overextending yourself to compensate for a deficit in your life. Nice things are nice but if significant debt is created this is a sign of self-indulgence and will cause stress later down the road.

How this manifests imbalance:

Body-If you spend all your time at the gym, getting cosmetic surgery, shopping for clothes or things that make you feel better for a fleeting moment, or obsessing about outward appearance to an extent that causes self-absorption, the scales will tip to the dark side of self-care. It is great to look and feel your best, but if physical beauty is all that validates you, come back to center.

Mind-You may overthink or become a prisoner of your making if you stay in your head for too long. People who have been traumatized tend to isolate and live in a subconscious type of delusion that if they go nowhere, no one will hurt them. This type of self-care is a snare and will require socializing at progressive comfort levels to retain balance.

Spirit-You probably have heard the saying that person is so spiritual, they are of no earthly benefit. Soul searching is essential for wellbeing but can be costly. If your head is in the clouds all the time, you will not enjoy healthy relationships.

7. Codependents and Empaths-Briefly described, codependency is a loss of self, caring for others. This may not seem like the dark side, but it is. Codependents and empaths pay more attention to themselves than they do to others. They can completely neglect themselves as their compassion turns to compulsion to help others. It is a twisted system of what appears to be noble selflessness. In truth it is an attempt to appease an internal fear of abandonment or a need to be needed. I had to face this head on when I was told by a psychology professor, I was codependent. I was so consumed with caring for others, I was self-avoiding my own issues. I have since written a book about healing from this complex issue with a holistic approach.

All these things being said, sometimes you must go from one extreme to the other to find balance. When you are swinging on the pendulum of finding homeostasis with self-care you may have to go from selfish to the selfless to determine the center. Sometimes the darkest moments are when truth comes to light, so if you resonate with any of the imbalances in self-care, you can use the illumination for recentering. Human beings are wired to be a connection with themselves and each other. That is what the Best Ever You network is all about; staying connected with others to stay protected and balanced with ourselves.


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