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Is Self-Care, Selfish?

In response to society’s unconscious pressures, the self-prioritising nature of self-care might be the most sensible defence we have

 Reflection and giving ourselves time to think are activities that can be seen as selfishness.

Sarah Stein Lubrano, The School of Life


Before the stereotype of entitlement maligned our generation of millennials, the journalist Tom Wolfe coined the phrase ‘The Me Decade’ to describe the self-interested pursuits of baby boomers in America. In the disillusioned wake of the post-Nixon years, a new generation of American youth were lost to a new introspective brand of narcissism. This was the era of the ‘Guru rush’, psychedelic experimentation, Timothy Leary, and the mounting anxiety to excavate the hidden depths of the self. To conservative commentators, this was society’s vulgar id on overdrive; the rise of a  generation lost to “new narcissism” and the “cult of I gains”, as journalist William K. Stevens puts it. 

Today, the modern self is once again in crisis – emotionally overwhelmed, overpressured and burned out. We are the inheritors of a world where personhood is traded for profit and internet relevancy, where self-driven optimisation is the hallmark of value, and where it is our sober legacy to find solutions to a planet driven to the brink of its existence. In this optimisation based economy, the beleaguered spirit of our millennial generation is exposed and exploited-  a troubled catalogue of compounding anxieties and misanthropic apathy. 


It is no coincidence that the self-care movement has latched so avariciously onto the psyche of our generation. From apps, sound baths, yoni eggs, and mystic healers, the connection between the messaging of ‘wellness’ to the profound sense of self-lessness is undeniable. In reaction to our inescapable sense of helplessness and crumbling visions of the future, there is a comfort found in rooting about one’s sense of identity and personhood. Or as Wolfe put it, letting the ““alchemical dream” play in the remaking, remodelling, elevating and polishing one’s very self”.

On the surface, by nature of its self-interested appeal, self-care speaks to a narcissistic strain of human behaviour. But as an emotional practice, constructive self-care is structural, strategic and relies on a specific set of principles that are focused on developing healthy coping mechanisms. Meditation, journaling, digital detoxes, and sleep hygiene are all self-care tools aimed to leave you better equipped to serve yourself and the world around you. In light of  recent conversations concerning mental awareness, self-care has also answered the urgent need for self-reclamation, invention and acceptance in these modern times.

“People can put all kinds of unreasonable pressures on themselves in ways that are actually counterproductive,” says Sarah Stein Lubrano from the London based psychotherapy centre The School of Life. “Reflection and allowing our mind to combine unconscious feelings and intuitions with thoughts and logical processing is really important for us in the long run so that we’re steering and we’re not just on autopilot.”  By incorporating practices that encourage a return to the self, we can reclaim a coherence within the frenzied pace of our lives. With this in mind, it is possible that the potential of self- centering is the first step towards creating a meaningful reality. 

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The School of Life

Sarah Stein Lubrano is the Head of Content at The School of Life. The School of Life is a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence. They apply psychology, philosophy and culture to everyday life. With branches around the world The School of Life spreads their teachings through classes, talks, psychotherapy, online resources and working with businesses. Visit their site here for more information.

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