Marriage and Family — 14 November 2004
Care for others begins with self

Many people, more often women are very concerned with their weight and are desirous of losing some of it. Often the emphasis is on selecting the “right” diet and being prey to the newest diet fad as the solution. Unfortunately, dieting is not the only or the most important part of losing weight. It is only one aspect of a decision making process about self-care.

Women are usually the primary caregivers and nurturers in our society, yet these recommendations equally apply to the increasing number of men who assume this role today. Just as men have been programmed to be focused and task oriented to become skilled providers for their families, women have been biologically programmed to care for others as a necessary trait for the survival of the species.

Nurturing others is a privilege. It is the ultimate giving of oneself in helping others thrive. Women nurse their babies, cuddle, caress, tend to small and large hurts and are emotionally available to their husbands, children, parents, family members and friends. Women are taught at a young age to please others and are rewarded for doing so.

Nurturing is also a liability. It demands that the caregiver defers her own needs in favor of those for whom she cares. The most admired givers are those who sacrifice themselves for the good of others. Two famous examples are Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa. These women’s capacity for extraordinary sacrifice to care for the sick and the needy rendered them a place in history and a status of sainthood, respectively.

But, it does not require international fame to earn the title of a devoted caregiver. It takes a selfless focus of mind and action toward the well being of others. You, or your neighbor, sister, mother, or daughter may be one of these women.

All women practice the self-neglecting attitude at some periods of their lives when the needs of others consume most of their energies. During those times, women abandon their own self-care and devote themselves exclusively to maintaining the well being of others. Common periods in a woman’s life that require intense self-sacrifice are after child bearing, during child rearing, when children or parents or family members are unwell and during a family crisis.

Many women report that during these periods they neglect themselves. “When my children were young I was so absorbed with their care, the house, laundry, shopping, cleaning and cooking that I neglected at times to brush my hair, bathe daily or tend to my looks,” said one mother. Other overworked and overwhelmed women have reported similar behaviors as well.

It is often during these periods that some women tend to gain weight. This event is often a by-product of rewarding oneself with food, while neglecting one’s other needs. Exercising, eating right, getting enough rest, having periods of relaxation and serenity, preparing and being available for sex, are all blocked privileges when a woman’s attention is placed exclusively on nurturing others.

The weight gain, (or illness) often awakens the woman from her self-abandonment and redirects her toward change. However, if it is not accompanied by a comprehensive reassessment of her priorities, her weight loss process will only be frustrated. In part, the reason that so many women fail at successfully lose weight and keep it off, is because they only address one symptom of a much greater syndrome: Impaired self-love.

In order to succeed, the first task of self-redefinition is for the busy nurturer to insert herself into the circle of people who benefit from her care. She must recognize herself as a valued individual who needs her own attention as well. The self-respect must come without judgment, criticism, name-calling or disdain. Motivation for change comes more easily through loving attitudes. The giver needs to assess what she requires for positive change with the same compassion and love she assesses and provides for others. She then needs to devise a greater plan for self-improvement that does not restrict her efforts to weight reduction only.

Self-care requires attending lovingly to her physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs. For those who say that they do not have the time to indulge in all of these, the answer is that it may require little actual time, but greater awareness of being worthy of her own care and kind treatment.

Unless she takes good care of herself, she is not likely to be a healthy caregiver to others. She must also become convinced that self-abandonment is not healthy-it is abusive.

Loving others is easy for a nurturer, loving herself as well is often very hard. It is seen as a “selfish” endeavor that may diminish her capacity to fully care for her family. Self-care means believing that she is equally entitled to benefiting from some of the tender concerns she has for her charges.

Once a woman accepts her worth as a person and treats herself accordingly, her ability to love others increases, her relationship flourishes and her weight is lost as an outcome of a comprehensive plan of self-love.

If you have neglected yourself while nurturing others, please consider that:

• The best caregivers are people who respect and take good care
of themselves.
• Self-care enhances nurturing others.
• Abandoning your needs is unhealthy and detrimental to you and your family.
• Losing weight is most successful within the context of a general self-improvement plan, of which self-love is the basic ingredient.
• When you take the time to serve your needs, your talents, creativity, efficiency and competence will substantially improve.
• Once you love yourself, your goals of greater health, attractiveness, sensuality and intimacy will be more easily achieved and will last to enhance you, your relationship and your family life.

November 14, 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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