It’s OK to be selfish

Sharon Stoffel, MS, LCSW, LPC
Man relaxing with book

I have found myself telling people many times in the last few months that it is OK to be selfish. It’s OK to conserve your energy and do only what is within your power to do during your time of grief. 

So what does it mean to be selfish during grief, especially during the intense first two years? It means that we can say “no” to people. It means we can think of ourselves first and ask, “Is this what I want to do with the precious little energy I have?” 

There were days after my dad died that I didn’t feel that I was going to get through the day, and do the basics of eating and showering, much less go to work and be productive. I didn’t feel that I had the right to ask myself, “Do I really want to do this or that?” We wouldn’t think twice if someone who had a knee replacement didn’t run a marathon six weeks or even six months after the operation. Why do we expect that we should carry on the month after our loved one died as if nothing has changed and we are completely healed? It is unrealistic. The healing that must be done is just as crucial, time consuming and necessary after a death as it is after a major operation. 

It can be especially hard for women to take the time to heal and to be selfish with energy. We feel that we must always be caring for someone else and put others’ needs before our own. This is a time in our lives when we must at least be 10 percent, 20 percent or 50 percent more selfish with our time and energy. It is also hard for parents to grieve and give themselves the time they need to heal because they have to take care of children. This is a difficult balancing act. So we must be realistic.

Start by giving yourself five minutes every day to just be with yourself, to be selfish with your energy. We have to start small or else we will never start. You might take five minutes to just breathe and rest, to allow some emotions to surface and be expelled. You might take five minutes to write in a journal, to read a book, to watch some mindless TV, to listen to music or to take a walk. Just FIVE minutes. We all deserve five minutes. It’s amazing how quickly five minutes turns to 10, then 15 and maybe 20. But if it just stays at five minutes, that’s OK too. That is 35 minutes in a week that we have devoted just to ourselves and our healing. 

So take five minutes today and then tomorrow and the next day to help yourself heal after the death of a loved one. It is not just nice thing to do; it is an essential thing to do for healing.

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