“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of suffering.” ~Helen Keller
As she made herself comfortable on the couch opposite me, a 30-something client mentioned that she had passed a tent city on her way in. “Compared to poverty and homelessness, are my concerns worth addressing?” she wondered aloud.
This is not an uncommon question—particularly, I’ve noticed, among younger folks. In a world grappling with violence, climate change, and income inequity to name a few, coming to therapy can seem like an indulgence. Some clients have told me that they fear their appointments get in the way of other people coming in—people who ostensibly need help more.
My heart aches every time I hear such concerns. On the one hand I’m glad people are invested in others’ welfare. The world would be a better place if we all cared and did more for those in need. On the other hand, believing that others are more deserving can be a way of discounting oneself. When we discount ourselves too much, no one wins.
In fact, I’ve come to believe that addressing one’s own issues is a gift to all. As my more mystical friends say, healing increases the overall vibration, which benefits the healed, yes, but others as well. Easing my own suffering not only invites others to do the same, it also provides the opportunity for me to do more good in the world.
As with so many things, the key here is balance. My clients may fear that talk therapy and life coaching could contribute to their becoming self-centered and hedonistic. In my experience, however, that almost never happens. The vast majority of people are well-intentioned and want to do what’s right for all. Good psychotherapy and coaching help us align with our true life’s purpose, unleash the spirit, uncover hidden talents, catalyze compassion, and empower us to do good for ourselves and for others.
Self-care is essential if we want to do good in the world. It’s impossible to keep going if we don’t have the energy, and good self-care helps keep our energy up.
Two of my first book’s subjects explore related themes. In Full Heart Living Mia talks about maintaining her happiness despite all the horrible things happening in the world; her faith that we are all interconnected helps. Furthermore, she does what she can to help, and when she can do nothing else, she sends out a silent wish that others will be freed of suffering. And Jenn in FHL puts it this way: “We all deserve happiness. I’m part of all.”
So even if you have to pass by a tent city, make your way to your shrink’s office. See your doctor/dentist/chiropractor/shaman/astrologist/homeopath/healer. (As for me? I’ve scheduled an overdue massage.) Talk about what ails you. Heal your wounds. Absolve yourself. Forgive—but don’t forget—others. Then go back into the world. And make it better.
TODAY’S CONVERSATION SPARKS
Have a conversation with a loved one in which both you explore the following questions. Listen deeply and speak from the heart.
- How do you attend to self-care? What forms of self-care could you use more of?
- How do you make the world a better place? Is there more you would like to do?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Tom Glaser is a Minneapolis-based psychologist, life coach, speaker, and author of Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. Biweekly visits to his own therapist help support his quest to inspire conversations that uncover meaning and purpose and bring out the best in people. He is working on a second book and video project on Resilience following Trauma.