Is Self-Care Selfish?
One of the most controversial issues I think people struggle with is that of self-care. Most people I talk with would describe it as being selfish or self-centered – only thinking about you and not thinking about anyone else. But is this what self-care really is? If it is something different, then how do you distinguish self-care from selfishness? I would like to answer those questions here.
What is Self-Care
If you look at the word “self-care”, you see two connected but separate words. “Care” means taking care of or nurturing. We often use the word when discussing children: “childcare” or “caring for my kids” are common phrases. The other word defines who is being cared for – in this case, it is self. So, put together, we have a phrase that means “taking care of or nurturing yourself.” Hopefully you can begin to see the true meaning and how different this is from selfishness.
What is Selfishness
Nonetheless, I would still like to further distinguish self-care from selfishness. Someone who takes care of himself/herself is said to be doing self-care; someone who lives and pursues taking care of self above all else can be considered selfish. One designates an activity or behavior while the other describes a lifestyle. Self-care is more of a habit; selfishness is an attitude which results in similar behaviors.
Now that we’ve differentiated self-care from selfishness, let’s talk for a moment about why it is important to take care of yourself. We can start by identifying consequences of not taking good care of yourself, such as tiredness or moodiness, fatigue, lack of motivation, medical issues, issues with your weight (overweight or fluctuating weight), stress/anxiety, depression, relational withdrawal or isolation, feeling unsatisfied or discontent, anger, and addictions. All of these problems can arise simply from not taking good care of yourself.
The reason why it’s important to self-care is that you have needs – we all have them, actually. They are important needs, not just wishes or desires. Contrary to most advertisements, a new car or the latest fashionable shoes are not needs. Needs are our most basic human functions that require regular fulfillment. When they are not met, we turn somewhere else to find satisfaction for them – often to unhealthy and destructive replacements. So taking care of yourself is a way of staying or getting healthy, maintaining balance and equilibrium, and avoiding unhealthy behaviors or habits.
How To Self-Care
The main principle underlying self-care is priority – you must prioritize caring for yourself above other demands so that you can properly fulfill those other demands. Remember, we’re not saying “only think about yourself” and “forget everyone else” – that would be selfishness. Instead, the message here is that in order to have healthy relationships and be effective in your life, you must first be a healthy individual (self).
With that in mind, here are some basic areas of life that are often prioritized as less important, thus becoming neglected or at the very least devalued.
- Personal growth and development
- Spiritual formation/growth
Who Self-Care Is For
The obvious first answer is that self-care is for me. But again, if that were the only person that benefited, we would be talking about selfishness. I think most of us want to be in relationships and we enjoy others. Many of us get a great deal of joy out of helping others. So the second answer (maybe even the real answer) is that self-care is for others. In order for us to be able to give our best to others, we must first be healthy and whole ourselves. For our employers, friends and family, spouses, and children to reap our greatest strengths, talents, gifts, and abilities, we must first be taken care of. Then and only then can we effectively give to others without becoming a drain on them.
This does not mean that we cannot have relational needs for support or ask others for help, but it does mean that we approach those requests from a place of stability rather than instability and neediness. There’s a difference between being in need and being needy; self-care can help us stay on the far side of being needy.
Finally, it’s important to realize that nobody else can self-care for you. Even that sentence sounds odd and doesn’t really make sense! Self-care is self-referential; it refers to you taking care of you. If you do not take care of you in the most basic ways listed above, nobody else will. Please don’t interpret more than this; I am not saying that you cannot trust others or that you have to be your own independent hero (picture any modern action film with a Hollywood movie star). All this means is that you are ultimately responsible for taking good care of your mind, your body, and your soul. When you step up and take hold of this responsibility, you will find a greater sense of satisfaction in life, increased self-esteem, improved relationships, better boundaries (including time management), and greater skill at overcoming not just life’s demands but even life’s struggles.
I hope this convinces you that self-care is an important part of life as a healthy individual and for healthy relationships, and that it is not selfish to do. I also hope that I have inspired you to take a look at your life and consider making some positive changes that will free you from frustrations, annoyances, and drains that have been keeping you from achieving the life and goals you have been putting off. Please consider making a plan and taking steps to toward better self-care as soon as possible. I would be happy to help you do this. If you would like to request an appointment, please send me an email and we can get started on changing your life together!