In a group therapy session, a woman was asked what she enjoyed doing. Her name was Maria, who shared: “There is not anything I enjoyed doing. My whole life was taking care of my husband. I wanted to do what he desired. I was always there for him no matter how I felt. I listened for hours on end to his problems. I really lived for him. And now I have no life.”
“De-selfing.” It’s a term coined by author Harriet Lerner in The Dance of Anger, which is eventually adopted as a clinical concept in mental health. It refers to a state of under-functioning or over-functioning because too much of one’s self or basic integrity – thoughts, feelings, behaviors, ambitions etc – are compromised or harmed under pressure from a relationship. A common result of “de-selfing” is a host of mental and emotional disorders or symptoms, such as depression, addiction, personality disorder, obsessive compulsion, suicidal ideation, among others.
Maria, based on her story, had a long-standing habit of “de-selfing.” She lived through her husband and failed to care for her self. She ignored, neglected, or minimized her own needs in order to be what she misperceived a good wife is. She missed essential self-nurturing that’s vital to her own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. When she suffered a loss from her husband, she found her self empty, having “no life.”
If you are like that group therapy member Maria, who had completely replaced her own well-being with that of her husband, taking care of your self must now become a priority for you. It’s your way of rebuilding your self-esteem … your whole life as a matter of fact. You may feel discomfort at first while you’re changing this life-damaging “de-selfing” habit, but it should gradually lessen over time.
Treating your self well is not selfish, as you may have been taught or conditioned to believe. Rather it is basic self-respect – a nurturance of life that is so foundational to your total health, well being, and relationships.