Selfish or Self-care?

Written by: Madeline Redetzky, M.S.
Selfish or Self-care?

People in our society often prioritize work, school or other people over their own health and well-being. When they come to therapy and are challenged about it, they state they do not want to be selfish. I have heard this over and over in therapy sessions with teens and adults.

Our culture promotes competition and success. This often leaves many people tired, overworked, and overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of life. We are then still expected to take care of others and leave whatever is left for ourselves. So why are we still so concerned about coming across as selfish if our health and wellbeing are at risk?

Selfish is defined by the lack of caring for others. This definition of the word has a negative connotation. We picture a person who walks over everyone else, has no time to listen to or even care about others. It is not surprising that no one wants to be seen as selfish. Another definition of selfish could be defined as mainly concerned with one’s own profit or pleasure. This is interesting since workplace and social are both important areas of self-care.

We know that self-care is all about preserving or improving one’s own health. I then challenge the first definition of the word selfish. A person can be mainly concerned with their own health and still be caring for others.

Taking care of yourself is vital for taking care of others. My favorite analogy is that of the oxygen masks on a plane. Parents are told to put on their mask prior to putting on the masks of the children. This is not seen as selfish because if the parent is unable to breath, they cannot help their child. So why is our society telling us not to participate in self-care because it is selfish? It is because selfish is viewed as a negative word. Sometimes it is okay and important to be selfish. Society, your boss or your children are not going to look at you and tell you to focus more on yourself. You may need to say it to yourself. I encourage you to look at all the areas of your life (workplace/school, social, mental/emotional, physical and anywhere else) and decide where you will allow yourself to be a little bit more selfish.