A stack of stones on top of moss.

GriefSPEAK: Selfish? Or practicing self-care? – Mari Nardolillo Dias

By: Mari Nardolillo Dias 

In a despairing yet angry tone, Diana launched out of her chair in my office and paced, muttering repeatedly, “How can I be so selfish!” Here I am trying to BETTER MYSELF and get through the pain of losing my husband! What right do I have to try to find solace and peace, to move forward?! ! I have no right to be here in therapy – it is a joke! I am so, so selfish!” 

Dianna felt guilty because she had the opportunity to heal. Her husband did not. Plagued with mental health issues resulting in suicide, Jack was unable to find solace and peace. Dianna felt selfish enough that she wanted to terminate grief counseling. “I don’t deserve therapy!” Was this a way for Dianna to continue to punish herself? The word selfish has a negative connotation. When we refer to someone in this manner, we believe that they think only of themselves and have no empathy or understanding for others. Most importantly, they do not care about anyone but themselves.  

In my world, the term self-care is bandied about hundreds of times, on a daily basis. This is needed, as many with whom I work are selfless and only care about others. They consider themselves at the bottom of their priority ladder. I encourage self-care because we are not very good for others if we do not take care of ourselves first. I often use the analogy of the passenger with children on an airplane. When the plan drops precipitously the air bags drop to help us breathe. Why do the flight attendants tell us to put our air bags on before our children? You know the answer. We need to be able to breathe before we can help our children. Just like self-care.  

I think the terms are generational in their orientation. In my generation, it was bad to be selfish. It was a criticism. When we were resistant to sharing as kids, we would be admonished with: “Don’t be selfish.” As teenagers, we were characterized as selfish when we put our needs ahead of someone else. In today’s world, selfishness, or spotlight on oneself is encouraged. Perhaps my “selfish generation” morphed into parents who recognized how detrimental it was to always put others first and raise our children to take care of themselves. To “self-care.” 

Like many, Diana felt that despite her efforts, Jack was unable to breathe. She thought she had done everything possible to give him air. However, she could not. Life for Jack became far too painful. He wanted to stop the pain. And he did. Diana’s thinking was if Jack could not, why should she? She felt that donning the metaphorical air bag was a selfish act. She interpreted my suggestion of therapy as “self-care” as selfish. What about her quality of life going forward? Her relationships with her children and grandchildren?  My question to Diana and to all readers is: “To what end?” How will terminating efforts to take care of yourself play out in your life?   


To read more articles for RINewsToday by Mari Nardolillo Dias, go here:

Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief. Dias is a Certified death doula, and has a Certificate in Psychological Autopsy.

She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to:


Dias is the author of GriefSPEAK, Vols. I and II

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