Self-Care Is Not Selfish


Hello dear friends!

I know this is going to be a topic that many of you have a hard time with (which is why I wanted to write about it so early on!) and while this won’t be the only blog post about it, I wanted to introduce this idea of self-care. Because we as humans have so many nuanced investments in our perceptions of “the self”, discussing anything surrounding our internalized worth or our place on the priority scale tends to make us a little twitchy. It tends to be one of those fiercely dividing topics, mostly because it is so heavily entwined with everything else in our culture: economics, politics, sociological norms, gender roles and identity, and much more. After all, it is through our “self” that we experience these things, and every one of our perspectives is different.

To me, the concept of “self-care” shouldn’t be one fraught with guilt or shame, but sadly it often is. To unabashedly put yourself first (even if it’s only for an hour or two) is generally looked down upon by the general public, and that can become a heavy stressor for those of us with chronic health challenges. Especially if you are a woman, there is a special cultural expectation that you should be selfless and nurturing- putting others’ needs above your own. In history, the women who practiced radical self-care were painted as selfish, cold, vain, indulgent, lazy, and spoiled. What’s worse is that we still use those qualifiers today and throw them around without hesitation or empathy for the actual human being we are talking about.

All of us need times when we focus on ourselves and nurture our own bodies and minds- in my opinion it’s necessary for a healthy, balanced life and certainly non-negotiable when recovering from any kind of illness or trauma. To allow ourselves the time for self-care is an important step towards our holistic wellness- that is, of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves. It is curative, it is nourishing, it is vital. And to deny yourself those regular opportunities to sink in and heal is a sad step on the way to deep-set exhaustion and truckloads of resentment.

There are two types of self-care in my book: the basic daily maintenance that allows you to function in the world, and the intensive deliberate kind. Brushing your teeth, eating regularly, and taking the occasional shower fall under the basic ruminations of average adulthood, and the vast majority of people make time for these things without even batting an eye. But the profound kind of self-care (what some might call radical self-care) is where the real magic happens- when we set aside time, money, or effort to better ourselves…without guilt or shame. If you embark on a wellness activity with a heart heavy with guilt, let me just tell you- no healing will take place. In the worst-case scenario, it can even create more damage (especially emotionally) and can start to poison our interactions with our loved ones and tarnish our perceptions of ourselves. So to get to the root of the issue, we need to release that guilt and reinforce our self-worth!

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation.
— Audre Lorde

Self-care is not selfish. Say it with me. Self-care is not selfish.

  • Asking for a day off when your symptoms are flaring and you feel frazzled. Is not selfish.
  • Shelling out money for organic vegetables because green juice makes you feel better. Is not selfish.
  • Canceling a night out with friends because you’d rather curl up on the couch and watch TV. Is not selfish.
  • Saying no to your coworker’s request because it would push you too hard. Is not selfish.
  • Spending three hours in a bubble bath with candles and magazines. Is not selfish.
  • Sleeping in until 10am because you overexerted yourself the previous day. Is not selfish.
  • Always keeping your physical boundaries in mind when making plans. Is not selfish.
  • Going to bed at 7pm even if your partner wants you to stay up later. Is not selfish.
  • Asking your roommate to do the dishes this time because you’re feeling weak and achy. Is not selfish.
  • Budgeting in a monthly yoga membership because it’s the one place you feel safe and nourished. Is not selfish.
  • Turning down a good job opportunity because they don’t offer health benefits or good sick leave. Is not selfish.
  • Cutting a friend out of your life because she constantly questions the validity of your illness. Is not selfish.
  • Postponing a lunch date in order to keep your therapy appointment instead. Is not selfish.
  • Asking your houseguests to go home because it’s four hours past your usual bedtime and you’re exhausted. Is not selfish.
  • Dropping your kids off at daycare and staying at home in your sweatpants all day. Is not selfish.
  • Taking a mid-afternoon nap when the house is still dirty. Is not selfish.
  • Breaking up with your doctor because they weren’t taking you seriously. Is not selfish.

Being respectful and yet firm when communicating your needs to your friends, family, and work associates is key- this is not about making demands, being unreasonable, or expecting others to bend to your every whim. That is not self-care. That’s just being a jerk.

If you’re feeling hesitant to stand up for yourself, try talking to the people in your life one on one and explaining your health struggles and what things help you to feel as well as you can. Most people are understanding and willing to be flexible once they grasp the challenges you’re dealing with. Granted, if you have an invisible illness, this requires “coming out of the closet” (which is a whole other blog topic!), so perhaps narrow down a few individuals who you trust and know will stand up for you if necessary.

Recruit your partner or a friend to help you stay accountable for your self-care. This can even be someone online. Having another human being that values you and wants you to take care of yourself can be a steadying force on the road to wellness. I know that I am lucky to have a partner who has seen me at my very best and my very worst and doesn’t give me grief when I ask for some me time. I’m aware that most people are not so fortunate.

So, one more time for good measure: self-care is not selfish!

Do you struggle with feelings of guilt when you make time for yourself? Have you been called “selfish” or other mean names when you practice radical self-care?

Tell me your experiences! And as always…

~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~