Wondering about the difference between self-care and being selfish? They aren’t the same at all! Here is what real self-care looks like.
I’ll admit that I’ve always struggled with the idea that self-care means I’m being selfish. While the peak of this ideology for me was when my kids were young. (Who can do any sort of self-care while taking care of a preschooler and a newborn?) The idea that self-care = selfish is cultural. It’s something I’ve always believed to some extent.
I’m not going to go into the attachment and boundaries beliefs that led me to equate self-care with selfishness. However, I am going to share how I came to realize that they aren’t linked in any way.
Self-care means doing what you need to take care of your physical and mental health. It is about meeting your needs. And it really doesn’t involve other people’s needs.
- It means healthy eating.
- Following through on health care needs.
- Taking time for relaxation, exercise, and socializing.
- It is setting boundaries. Saying “this is what I need to feel well.”
Selfish is when you are interested in yourself and your own personal pleasure, without any regard for other people. People are selfish when they take from others to maximize their own pleasure. It doesn’t matter if it’s to the detriment of others.
I like to think of selfishness as a boundary issue. Someone is being selfish when they disregard others’ boundaries to fulfill their own wants.
- Stealing and cheating are obvious examples of selfishness, but it can be more subtle.
- Valuing your opinion over all others.
- Taking more than your share of a treat.
- Ignoring or not recognizing the needs of others.*
- Manipulating circumstances to benefit yourself at a cost to others.
How to juggle your needs and others’ needs
I wanted to elaborate on how to deal with your own needs in the face of others’ needs because this was where I got confused about self-care.
As a good employee, a mother with young children, and an engaged member of my community, I assumed that the needs of others came before my needs. Taking care of others was something I did automatically. Even if I didn’t have the time or energy. (Is anyone else an over-volunteer?)
What I have learned is that self-care means putting on your own oxygen mask before you help someone else. Because trying to meet someone else’s needs when you haven’t been able to meet your own, doesn’t work. If you’re stressed and tired how are you possibly going to help someone else deal with their problems?
- When you take care of your own needs, you don’t accidentally make other people responsible for your needs.
- It gives you the energy and enthusiasm to engage with other people.
- You’ll have the emotional and physical resources to help other people.
A few examples of self-care versus selfish
Taking care of your needs is not the same thing as completely disregarding the needs of others. Self-care doesn’t harm others or deplete other people’s resources.
Here are a few concrete examples of self-care versus selfishness:
- Self-care: taking a break when you need it. Selfish: expecting others to do work for you when they don’t have time.
- Self-care: taking time to deal with difficult emotions. Selfish: holding someone else responsible for your feelings.
- Self-care: acknowledging when you don’t have enough time to do a project. Selfish: demanding that someone else do the project for you.
- Self-care: enjoying dinner out with your friends. Selfish: expecting other people to pay your share of the bill.
- Self-care: avoiding controversial topics with family members who don’t agree with you. Selfish: making fun of anyone who disagrees with you.
Looking for ways to care for yourself? Here are 10 ways to improve mental wellness.