Often when we think of love, we focus on our love for others. Especially, if we are a caregiver, we focus on our love for the person for whom we are caring. Yet, how much more love we have to give if we remember to love ourselves, too. I don’t mean we should have a narcissistic love where we put ourselves and our needs above all else. I do mean that we would be a better caregiver, and a better person, if we remembered to love ourselves, to show compassion for ourselves.
The ancient Greeks spoke of several types of love. One was philautia, or love of the self. According to Roman Krznaric, in his article in the December 2013 edition of Yes!magazine: “The idea was that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others (as is reflected in the Buddhist-inspired concept of “self-compassion”). Or, as Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.””
I know in caregiving for my husband, Michael, I often felt guilty if I took time to show myself some self-love. Gradually, however, I found that when I did, I had more love and energy to give to Michael. Some of what I did was just small stuff. For example, during Michael’s frequent stays in the hospital, when I could take a break from being at his bedside, I would go to the cafeteria and relax with a latté. My decaf, soy latté became my reward. I might have only ten or fifteen minutes for myself, but those few minutes were enough to recharge my batteries.
Occasionally when Michael was able to be home alone, I would spend time with a friend, going to a movie or taking a walk. Sure, Michael felt some resentment, but he came to realize that these times were important to me and beneficial to him, too. Gradually, I learned not to feel guilty for these taking-care-of-myself times. I always made sure he was covered and that he could reach me by phone at any time. That freed me to have some time for myself.
I believe love and compassion aren’t just for others, they’re for ourselves, too. We do our due diligence as a caregiver; we need to be a care-receiver, too.