Is self-care selfish?
Self-care: ‘the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.’ Oxford Dictionary
Selfish: ‘lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.’ Oxford Dictionary
Looking at these definitions I can see why these two can get confused but there are subtle differences which I’ll explore shortly.
I often hear from clients: ‘I feel selfish for taking time for myself.’
My usual response is ‘if you’re not ok then you can’t help others,’ and this really allows clients to take stock. A realisation that without them being 100% it means that they can’t support another human. I think society has evolved for us to just keep going, to just keep working, to carry on regardless and then we wonder how it all got so complicated and such a mess when we finally fall ill, have mental health concerns or experience burnout.
Let’s look at the definitions again:
Self-care: ‘the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.’
Selfish: ‘lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.’
If you’re physically ill and struggling and require time to recuperate, to build yourself back up, to take on solids again and to sleep, do you take the time to do so?
Is this a pleasurable task- getting better and healthy again?
It can be arduous, long and tiring trying to get better- would you classify an ill person as selfish for trying to be healthy again?
If you were drained, exhausted, were stuck in overwhelm, struggling with negative thoughts, unable to sleep for more than 3 hours a night or found yourself trying to constantly predict the future and felt 100 miles away from ‘normal,’ then would trying to feel better be classed as selfish here? Or self-care?
I do find the language we use fascinating when we try to work through what our issue(s) may be. I find selfish a really loaded term and for me it brings up:
- Ignorance of others,
- Solely concerned with the self,
- Lacking in charity and empathy, and
Self-care brings up:
- Responsibility for self,
- Dedication to health in all its forms,
- Compassion for the self,
- Kindness to the self,
- Awareness, and
- Working within limits.
Many problems begin from working beyond our limits or capacity and energy. Practicing self-care can allow you to divide up your energy so that you have more of a balance.
It’s ok to say no it you aren’t feeling up to something.
It’s ok to say yes to things you really want to do that support your wellbeing.
It’s about achieving a balance so that you don’t ever empty completely. If someone drains you from offloading, then you’ll be half empty. If you then go for a nap, read your favourite book or take some time for yourself to do something that brings joy then you’ll feel full again.
This animation shows it perfectly:
Remember this animation next time you agree to something that you don’t want to do or if you find yourself taking on too much. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s key.
Click here for more tips on self-care
Click here for more tips on setting healthy boundaries