When I proposed the question, “Does self care ever feel selfish to you?” to a group of women on Facebook, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of vehement “No!”s I got. But there were some that acknowledged feelings of guilt for taking time for themselves. Or admitted the self care was essentially non-existent in their lives.
It is obvious to me that we have a problem prioritizing self care as a culture. This was made especially apparent by the number of views that my post about making 2017 a year of self care has gotten. I believe that women particularly struggle with making self care a part of their lives.
1. We live in a society that values putting others needs above our own, which sounds great in theory. But focus on yourself and you are being egocentric or just plain selfish. This is especially true in many religious communities, where you are encouraged to put others above yourself as a rule.
2. We are incredibly busy. We are trying to do too much and think that we have to do it all to be successful women. It’s all part of the “hustle,” after all.
3. We do the guilt thing really well. A recent study found that 96% of the women surveyed felt guilty at least once a day and others have found that women experience guilt significantly more then men. One reason why: greater sensitivity (hard wired and/or by trying to be the “good girls” society wants us to be) leads us to be thinking constantly about how our actions affect others.
4. We are conditioned as women to put the needs of others above our own. Historically, women have been believed to have the genetic disposition and cultural obligation to care for children, the home, and their husbands. These beliefs still effect the lives of many women, especially as they raise children and are expected to put their needs after those of their children in order to be “good mothers.” This caring tenacity and feeling of obligation to care for others may be partly genetically based, but is largely a result of how girls are raised and society’s expectations of women.
Here’s what some women said about the guilt they associated with self care:
“I was raised to be sure others were taken care of first. So even when I have the time for self care it feels self indulgent. I am working on reframing those thoughts. Intellectually know I am worth it and that the better I take care of me, the more I have to give to others.” –Laura
“Often I do [feel guilty]! I keep thinking first do these 10 things and then.. by then I’m either to tired or feel like I should actually be doing that load of laundry yet or something!” –Jacqueline
“I used to get skincare treatments all the time…Taking care of my skin has always been very important to me. We had a baby almost 2 years so I started doing the treatments at home (to save some money). It can take up to an hour and I feel so guilty leaving the baby with my husband for that long so I haven’t done a treatment in a long time. Same goes for exercising. I still workout but I always feel the need to ask my husband for permission (since we’ve had the baby).” –Jessica
Even some of the women who now embrace the importance of self care in their lives admitted that it wasn’t always the case. Often the discovery of the value of self care comes after scraping the very bottom of what we have left to give and finding that we are no good to anyone if we don’t take care of ourselves. Interestingly, many of the women talked about self care still in association with with their ability to care for others.
“I feel self-care is necessary. We can’t be of service to others if we’re not of service to ourselves. Everyone gets burnt out and needs time to themselves to love and cherish how they’re feeling. We deserve to feel good and get in some of that much-needed quiet time where we can relax, recover, and rest!” –Monique
“I’m a full time mama of two with a one woman company. Self care used to feel selfish, I have babes who need me. Clients who need me! Until I realized that I was not my best me because I skipped meals and showers and naps to make sure they got everything they needed. I forgot that what they need most is a mom at her best. What clients need is for their designer to be at her most creative.” –Alyssa
One woman who answered my question, Keating Bartlett, found her path to prioritizing self care when her husband was deployed for a year and the separation worsened the depression and anxiety she already struggled with. She reflects, “I was exhausted and miserable and after a while, it really made me sick. So I used that year to really focus on myself. I started going to the gym 5 days a week and started eating healthier. I completed my bachelor’s degree that year and started my career. It was literally the year of me. I loved it. By the time he came home this past August, I was feeling the best I’ve ever felt in my entire life.”
Not prioritizing your needs can led to ill effects on your health, both physical and mental. This is something I have experienced myself and as have many other women, including Keating. When her husband returned home and they moved across the country, she found herself once again struggling to make time for herself, which led to lots of stress. You can read more about why Keating thinks self care is so important in her recent blog post that was partially inspired by my question.
Keating told me: “At the end of the day, I feel that you should always put yourself first. There’s a huge difference between taking care of yourself and being selfish and I’ll never feel that self-care is selfish.” And I couldn’t agree more.
Have you every felt guilty for prioritizing self care?
Here’s some more posts I’ve written about self-care: