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Self-Care or Selfishness?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC

“Self-care” has become a buzzword, and for good reason. Many people have discovered that practicing self-care benefits their physical and mental health. As a therapist, I often encounter people who fear that their self-care practices might be “selfish.” Many clinicians will say that self-care is never selfish, but I don’t think it’s that easy. There can be overlap between these two concepts, and it’s important to explore whether your own practices of self-care align with your own values.

It’s common to question whether your self-care is selfish. Latoya, a mother of five, is hesitant to take daily walks in the mornings before work. Her wife has encouraged her to take these walks. Yet, Latoya stated, “I feel guilty. I should be helping my children get up and ready for school. It’s not easy with five kids and I shouldn’t be relying on my wife. I’m being selfish.”

Let’s explore the definitions of these words. The Oxford Dictionary describes self-care as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” This same dictionary describes selfishness as “(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.” The main difference between the definitions consists in the difference between the concepts of well-being and personal profit/pleasure to the exclusion of any consideration for the interests of others. Self-care is more focused on your well-being, while selfishness is focused on your pleasure and/or personal gain at the expense of others.

In order to clarify whether your practices are more geared toward self-care or selfishness, consider these factors: 

What’s your intention? 

What is the point of your self-care practices? What are you hoping to ultimately get out of your self-care practice? Answering these questions may help you distinguish self-care from selfishness. If your intention is to benefit your wellbeing, this may be self-care. If your intention is to gain personal profit or pleasure at the expense of others, this is selfishness. Notice that pleasure is associated with both self-care and selfishness. This can be confusing.

Latoya explored her intention in taking morning walks. “I want to start my day off right. Walking helps me to get in the right state of mind. Also, it’s my favorite part of the day.” Latoya’s intention is to promote her well-being and to experience pleasure, not to take advantage of her wife or to neglect her children. Latoya’s intention is geared towards self-care.

Who Benefits?

Who benefits from your self-care practices? Hopefully, you do, but you might not be the only one. Many people could directly or indirectly benefit from your self-care. Take some time to think about others who may also benefit from your self-care practices, such as colleagues, friends, family, neighbors, children, pets, and strangers. If other people benefit from your self-care, then your self-care may not be as selfish as you fear. Also, you can consider who may be harmed by your self-care practices which might indicated selfishness.

Latoya considered who benefits from her morning walks. “My colleagues because I’m in a much better mood at work. I tend to be more productive on those days so my boss and my company benefit. Also, perhaps my family as well because I’m more successful at work and happier in the mornings.” Latoya then spoke to her wife, and her wife informed her that her family benefited much more than she had thought. “My partner told me that my mood and energy positively impacts everyone in the home in the mornings that I’ve had my walk; I didn’t realize that.” It can be difficult to identify those who benefit from your practices of self-care. When in doubt, ask the people in your life whether they benefit and, if so, how.

Is it self-care or selfishness? Explore this by considering the definitions of these concepts, your intentions, and the people who benefit from your self-care. If you need help practicing self-care, you may benefit from working with a therapist at Symmetry Counseling. Contact us to get connected with counselor in Chicago today.

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