The Selfishness of Self-Care

Self-care is so much more than just a buzzword in the mental health community.  It’s a way of life.  I like to define self-care as actions that one engages in to preserve their own mental and physical health while prioritizing their wellbeing.  Self-care encompasses your diet/nutrition, physical fitness, environmental factors (how you live), appearance (grooming & being kempt), social habits, socioeconomic factors, hygiene, ability to set healthy boundaries, relationship choices and every decision that you make regarding yourself. 

Practicing self-care is very essential to your own wellbeing.  Although practicing self-care is deemed as a good thing, it might not always feel like it.  Self-care often requires you to step out of your comfort zone, set-boundaries and be honest with yourself and others about your own personal needs.  That’s right.  Self-care can be a bit selfish. 

I know that the idea of selfishness does not sit right with some of you.  I often get a lot of pushback from clients, when I encourage selfishness.  Especially those of you who have been taught that being selfish is bad and those of you who have been shamed or berated for making selfish-decisions in the past. 

Now, I am not saying that all selfishness is good or even required in order to engage in self-care.  I am a firm believer in “there is a time and a place for everything.”  There is a time for selfishness and a time for selfless acts and only you can determine the appropriateness of each act based on your own personal goals.  Self-care requires balance (correct proportions) and consideration about all aspects of your life.

Take for example the person who decides to sacrifice some of their usual time spent with their friends or partners to focus on their own personal growth and development.  If this decision is made while still creating some time for the other things and people that are important to them, this is an act of self-care.  Take for another example, the parent/caregiver who tells their child, “I am going to spend some time in my room, please don’t knock on my door or call me for the next hour unless it is urgent.”  Not only are you modeling and setting healthy boundaries with your child, you are also practicing self-care and allowing yourself the time that you need to be an individual in your parent-child relationship.  

And yes, the people in your life might feel slighted by your self-care and even decide to act out or rebel.  And, if you completely neglect your relationships, then that part of your life will eventually be lacking and require your attention.  So once again, balance and consideration are important.  It may be beneficial to your relationships to be transparent about why you need to practice your acts of self-care.  It can make a difference in how your behavior is interpreted and may reduce the risk of someone feeling less important in your life. If you are able to share with your partner that you feel very irritable when you are tired and that your daily nap allows you to be more patient with them and the kids, they may be more supportive of the nap once they realize that they also benefit from your act of self-care.  However, remember that you cannot control the way another adult feels and you are not responsible for their feelings. 

Because self-care can be selfish, it is often hard to practice self-care and manage your relationships.  We were all taught that there is no room for selfishness when you are in a relationship.  Well, I am here to challenge that idea.  It is very easy to lose your sense of self while you are in a relationship, and by relationships, I mean any relationship-the parent-child relationship, the employee-employer relationship, intimate partner relationships, friendships, etc…

While self-care can be selfish, it is not inconsiderate.  Being considerate of others while you practice self-care means letting the people in your life who matter know that you will not be available to them as usual, so that they can then make decisions for themselves about how to proceed.  It may even require a bit of planning together so that each person can practice self-care and rely on their additional support systems if necessary.  Take for example, if a wife is traveling out-of-town for a few days.  The husband will be left to manage the house, the children, the dog etc…  It might be a good idea to talk to your partner about who they can rely on while your away (you can call my mom for help with the kids and also remember your friend, who babysat for us the last time we traveled) and help them explore any other options that might be helpful for them in your absence. 

Self-care is very relational.  It’s a win-win for everyone involved in the relationship.  Although it might not always feel like it.  The better care that you take of yourself, the better you’ll be able to show up in your relationships.  And this goes for all of your relationships.  If you are able to take your midday nap, it might mean showing up with a better attitude at dinner time and having more energy for intimacy with your partner in the evenings. 

If we all understood the benefits of self-care, not only would we practice self-care, we would encourage our loved ones to practice self-care more often knowing that it benefits everyone around them.



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