Is Self-Care Selfish?

What does “Self-Care” actually mean?  It seems like a simple concept, but like many things – the devil is in the details.

  • In the 1980’s, the term self-care was used to describe activities that directly related to improving the state of one’s physical health.
  • By 2008, psychologists and New Age practitioners broadened the term.  It became the focus for altering one’s behavior so they had more time for themselves, apart from the demands of work and family obligations.
  • More recently it has gained political significance.  Activists call on self-care as a rallying cry for self-preservation in a world of oppression.

Maybe the meaning rests more in how we apply it.  There’s an old saying about the world containing two kinds of people:  Givers and Takers.

We already know all about the Takers – Narcissists by their very nature generate lots of attention.   These folks certainly have no issues with practicing “Self-Care”.

Which is kind of ironic.  Selfish people hide acts of pure self-indulgence under the guise of self-care and are then applauded by their peers for putting themselves first, over and above all others.  It’s a crazy world.

But what about the Givers?  We don’t hear too much about them.

Within the classification of ‘Givers’, there are those of us who – for a variety of reasons – give so wholeheartedly, we run ourselves ragged caring for everyone and everything within our personal scope of the world.

I did this for decades, sometimes out of a sense of responsibility, other times out of empathy and love.  I gave until I bled – for family, close friends, The Job – all of which is important … but I gave exclusively, over and above, to the point of exhaustion; until I finally crashed and burned.

And that’s what happens when we don’t achieve balance within our lives.

Givers must also be Takers.  This can be a hard lesson for someone who can’t grasp the importance of this simple truth.


When my husband, after being struck down by a drunk driver, lay in the Shock Trauma Ward, hooked to every imaginable life support system known to man, the nurses repeatedly told me to go home, take care of myself, because the road ahead was going to be long and hard.

I looked at them like they were crazy.

Go home?  While my husband lay there fighting for his life? Uh huh.  Wild horses couldn’t drag me from that room.  Not even after days turned into weeks, and then into months.

It would be years later, when the wisdom of those words would finally sink into my consciousness.  I had pushed myself to the point where my own health and sense of well-being was now in jeopardy.  The choice was mine.

Take care of myself?  Or keep giving until I drew my last breath.  So simple, yet so profound.

I feared it was too late.  Could I still turn the tide, and alter a course of behavior inherent to my very soul?  I knew I owed it to myself to try.  So for the first time in my life “Self-Care” became my mantra.

Except — I had one, teeny, tiny problem.  How?  I couldn’t even define the term.  “Self” had always come in last.

Self-care…  It sounded silly to my ears.  And the very idea of putting myself “first” felt – selfish.  Until I remembered part of the standard, airline stewardess’ pre-flight instruction.  In the event of crisis, one must FIRST apply the oxygen mask to SELF, before attempting to help others – including your own child.

This seemed a perfect analogy for my situation, because if you incapacitate yourself – by failing to take care of SELF first – then you are useless in helping others.

It took due diligence and perseverance, but eventually – with loving support from my husband and a few good friends – I not only regained my health, I had learned how to be nice to myself.

These days I treat “ME” no better and no worse than I would my truest friend.  It’s a sentiment I use as a type of barometer to keep myself in check – a cautionary measure – so that I don’t slide back into old habits, where I only think about the needs and desires of others, thereby sacrificing “self” for no sound reason.

Brightest blessings can indeed be found, even in the midst of our darkest times.



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