Should I Take Care of Myself or Others?

An anonymous reader left the following comment:

one’s love for oneself should always be central to one’s life

This is exactly what I am struggling with, I realise it on a rational level, but I can’t make myself believe in it, because it is completely against my cultural values and against how I was brought up. In my upbringing the main thing was to take care of others, never oneself (and if you did, that was considered completely and totally selfish).

So if at some point you feel like writing about how you came to this conclusion and how you started believing in it, that would be very much appreciated.

This is a very good question. I suggest that you start thinking of this issue in terms of what I call “the airplane strategy.” Do you know how flight attendants always say, “In case of an emergency, put on your own mask before helping anybody else”? The reason why you are told that is that in order to be useful to other people you first need to take care of yourself.

It’s great to want to take care of others but will you really be able to do much for the people you love if you are overworked, exhausted, and miserable? Wouldn’t the people in your life benefit a lot more from having you happy, content, full of energy and, well-rested?

Serafim Sarovsky, one of the greatest Christian thinkers that ever lived, said, “Save yourself and thousands will be saved around you.”

How To Stop Caring About What People Think

People say, “You keep insisting that one shouldn’t be influenced by what others say or think like it’s so easy but it isn’t.”

Of course, it isn’t easy and don’t I know that. I grew up in a culture that places the appearance of women under great scrutiny. It is also completely normal for people to make nasty comments even to complete strangers.

“Look at that fat cow in her horrible coat. Doesn’t she realize how stupid she looks?”

“I’m sorry where did you buy this jacket? Because it looks absolutely hideous on you. I’m just shocked that anybody could pay money for such an ugly piece of clothing.”

“Excuse me, you don’t know me but I can’t keep silent. I can see that you have a huge problem and I want to help. I have this really great diet that I want to recommend. Maybe it will help you.”

As a result of growing up in this environment, I often felt terrified to leave the house. I never felt that I looked flawless enough to show myself in public. Once, I spent three days, three whole days trying to get dressed to go to school and failing completely. If the outfit was good, the makeup didn’t match it. Or the shoes would not be ideal. Or the accessories.

And then I got fed up. I just heard this voice in my head, screaming, “Enough already!” The worry about what people might think or say was consuming my life to the point where I had no life of my own left. And it wasn’t just about appearance. It was about things I liked to do, my opinions, my tastes, my preferences. I decided to stop living this miserable passive voice life.

So I picked a ratty outfit (which would be considered quite fancy here in North America but was ratty for my appearance-obsessed compatriots), put on no makeup, grabbed a handbag that everybody ridiculed but that I loved and set out on a walk around the city. It wasn’t easy to show my imperfect face and body outside but I kept thinking that having people think I look stupid is a lot better than being stupid and castrating my existence for the sake of somebody’s opinions.

It took some effort but, eventually, I got to the point where I think that people who have negative opinions about my life, my choices, my appearance should just all go and stick a carrot up their noses. Because that’s the only thing they can do even to make me notice their sad existences.

And, you know, it feels great not to put oneself at the mercy of somebody else’s expectations. No matter who that somebody else is.

St. Valentine’s Day

Of course, I will be celebrating St. Valentine’s Day. I’m Ukrainian and if there is one thing we know how to do well it is to celebrate. Celebrations and feasts are central to a person’s psychological health, which is why I use any opportunity to celebrate. Often, N. and I have celebrations for things like “The First Tuesday This Week” or “The Last February This Year.” And you don’t need a lot to celebrate. You don’t really need company or money. One can celebrate perfectly well over a baked potato (but it has to be baked well, of course. No foil!).

This is why people who begrudge themselves an opportunity to enjoy a festive occasion seem weird to me. Who cares that the holiday “has been commercialized” (the dreaded passive voice again)? If you have problems with commerce, then don’t buy anything. There are many great gifts that can be offered (both to others and to oneself) with no money outlay.

And if you have had a really horrible day, that’s all the more reason to celebrate. Celebrate that this bad day is finally over and that you have managed to get through it. If you don’t have a partner on St. Valentine’s Day, then celebrate that you are not in a bad relationship and have your options open to meet somebody great or to enjoy a perfectly happy single existence.

The idea that St. Valentine’s Day “makes single people feel incomplete” sounds completely bizarre to me. If you don’t feel incomplete, nobody can make you feel so. Nobody can make you feel anything because your feelings come from inside you. I always celebrated this holiday when I was single and loved it. I gave myself flowers and cute little gifts because one’s love for oneself should always be central to one’s life.

Now that I’m not single any more, I also have not experienced being “pressured to be a certain way” by this holiday. Seriously, if you are past the age of 14 and you can still be pressured by cheesy chocolate commercials to be or not to be a certain way, then you have issues that are far more serious than any single holiday. What can be more fun than creating one’s own traditions with one’s partner and celebrating things in a way that is unique to you?

A holiday is what you make it. And depriving yourself of a chance to celebrate because of what some strangers you haven’t even met do or don’t do is extremely weird.

Have a happy St. Valentine’s Day and a very happy first Tuesday this week!