Why self-care is not selfish

You may have heard that self-care is not selfish yet still be uncertain as to why focusing on yourself isn’t selfish. It’s totally natural to…


You may have heard that self-care is not selfish yet still be uncertain as to why focusing on yourself isn’t selfish. It’s totally natural to feel confused as to why self-care isn’t selfish. After all, with self-care, you are fundamentally focused on yourself instead of other people.

But the truth is this: Self-care is not selfish. In fact, self-care is one of the most loving things you can do for other people.

Before going deeper, do you relate to any of the following statements?

  • People need, and expect, too much from me.
  • I have a never-ending to-do list.
  • I “forget” to eat or drink water.
  • It’s important to me to keep the people in my life happy.
  • I feel guilty saying “no.”
  • I want to but I never have the time and/or energy to exercise.
  • I feel guilty about being tired and distracted when I’m with others.
  • I sometimes feel like the people in my life couldn’t survive without me.
  • I resent the people in my life sometimes for being so needy.
  • Other people need to get it together and then I can have some time for what I want.
  • I should be able to do it all. It looks like other people can.
  • I’m proud of how much I can do, and how little sleep I need.
  • I eat whatever’s around. I don’t have time to think about healthy foods.
  • I feel guilty doing something nice for myself.
  • Self-care is selfish.
  • I don’t ever get enough sleep.
  • I get angry when people talk about self-care. Don’t they know my problem is that I already have too much to do.
  • Self-care is a luxury that I can’t afford.

If you relate to any of these statements, you may be quite overwhelmed and exhausted. Furthermore, your relationships with others may be suffering.

Choosing not to self-care hurts your relationships

While completely understandable why you may relate to anyone, or more, of these statements, these are signs of codependency.

Related: The meaning of codependency and how to find healing

Fundamentally, codependency is the process in which a person provides most, if not all, of their attention and care towards other people in the hopes for approval and validation. Yet, this is an exhausting, disempowering, and painful way to live.

It also hurts our relationships because, naturally, when we feel like our needs are not met by someone, we resent them.

Healthy relationships require self-care

The truth is that healthy relationships require a balance of caring for other people with the care we provide to ourselves. This balanced experience of self-care with other care is interdependency.

Healthy relationships are interdependent. We can support one another while having fun, meaningful experiences within the relationship. Yet, each person knows they are responsible for their own self-care and self-soothing.

You hurt others if you don’t self-care

In healthy, interdependent relationships, people feel respected and safe. Yet, without self-care, this is not possible. If you spend much of your time, energy, and money on others, you will start to resent the people in your life.

You will start to blame your loved ones – or your colleagues – for why you are exhausted. If you don’t self-care, you will make up that you don’t have time because they are too needy. You may even feel entitled to be critical, or argue, with loved ones out of sense they don’t love, or respect you enough.

Already, you may have noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep, drink enough water, or eat frequently enough, you are irritable. These feelings of anger only intensify when you blame others for your lack of self-care.

Self-care allows you to show up fully for others

When you neglect your basic needs, you will naturally be depleted. This becomes a vicious cycle in which you are too exhausted to be present for your loved ones. You may find that you tune them out and are not really there when you’re together since you’re so tired. This is not loving.

Furthermore, you will never fully love, trust, and respect yourself if you neglect yourself. And without complete self-love, your relationships will suffer.

After all, we can only love people to the degree to which we love ourselves.

Related: How self-love affects relationships

Self-care can be a simple practice

Self-care is the practice of prioritizing your own care with healthy, consistent activities which make you feel better in mind, body, and/or spirit. These activities include taking a bath, journaling, or playing a game. These things add joy to our life.

Yet, if you are not in the habit of self-caring, you may want to start simply by honoring your basic needs. These include your need for hydration, movement (exercise), nutrition and sleep as well as rest. When you care for your basic needs, you feel both mentally and physically better.

Self-care activities enhance your relationships as they leave your feel calmer, lighter, and more refreshed. This self-care naturally increase your ability to be more grounded and present with your loved ones. As a relationship therapist, I have discovered that our mindful presence with others such as truly listening to them, is the best gift we can give.

Related: How to take care of yourself – 6 simple self-care strategies

Finding the time to self-care

To self-care you must set limits around how much time you give away to others. Remember, you are doing this to protect your relationships by preventing resentment.

Self-care also can take very little time.

You may practice deep breathing at a red light. Or when you wake up you may do three stretches to start your day. You may take a leisurely walk to your mailbox while just scanning for how many pretty things you can find there and back. Or you may notice you spend some time at night on your phone just zoning out, and may choose to find a book you like to read instead during this time.

Your self-care plan needs to be sustainable to protect your relationships. Therefore, please find activities you enjoy which take very little time in the beginning.

Self-care can be free

Sometimes, it can seem that self-care is selfish because it costs money. Yet, there are plenty of self-care activities that are completely free. These include taking walks, deep breathing, stretching, reading a book from the library, and getting enough sleep.

There are also plenty of self-care activities that are very low cost such as painting your own nails (hello, Dollar General nail polish), applying a face mask, or eating a healthy vegetarian meal.

It is a myth that self-care needs to be expensive and luxurious. Of course, I love a spa day as much as the next person, but this isn’t sustainable. True self-care is consistent which means it doesn’t need to take much time, energy or money.

It’s selfish to NOT self-care

Despite what you may have learned, it’s essential to focus on yourself at times for healthy relationships. In fact, it’s truly selfish to not to practice self-care consistently.

This is because all human beings have a finite amount of physical and emotional energy. If you neglect yourself, and fail to replenish your physical and emotional reserves, you will ultimately break down and burn out.

This may not be obvious for a long time, but it is a fact in life.

Human bodies have a limit

I have met many women who worked so hard to be Super Woman and really, for years, it appeared they could function at a superhuman level without consequences. And yet, one day, they crashed. Either their body, or their mind (and sometimes both), gave out.

This can look like severe exhaustion or depression in which one cannot find the motivation to even get out of bed or do basic tasks for their hygiene like showering or brushing their teeth. It also often manifests as disease from years of self-neglect.

This is so commonplace; you may have an example from your own life unfortunately. You may know someone who refused to see the doctor and by the time they finally did, they had a terminal diagnosis. Or you’ve seen an aging loved one, physically decline because they refused to stay active.

Human hearts have a limit

Other times, people who refuse to self-care hit an emotional wall. They have neglected themselves so much they resent the people in their lives to a toxic degree.

I have worked with clients who refused to honor their needs for so long, that they could no longer stay in their marriage. They ended up hating their spouse for how much they became deteriorated from a lack of self-care over the years.

I do not share any of this to alarm you. Rather, I want to honor that if you neglect your body, and your emotional needs, you will eventually break down. This will lead to relationship break downs as well.

Hopefully, this is empowering. After all, self-care can be incredibly simply – not taking more than a few minutes a day to start with – and it can prevent much emotional, relational, and physical decline.

Even though it may feel selfish to self-care, it is truly one of the most caring things you can do for the people that you love.

But the people in my life need me too much to self-care

One of the most common traps in codependency is the myth of how much we are needed by others. Sure, we can create relationship patterns with others that enable them and reinforce the illusion of dependency but, it’s just that: an illusion. The only people that are ever actually dependent on you are children (under the age of 18). Other than that, whether they act needy or not, all adults are responsible for themselves firstly.

Furthermore, you may even hurt your loved ones by trying to take care of them. You may disempower them with your “help.” For example, if you are always on call for a friend’s relationship dramas, this may prevent them from feeling motivated to break this unhealthy cycle for themselves.

Healthy relationships require intimacy

Intimacy, or “into me you see,” is the process of showing up as our whole self in a relationship while letting another person be seen fully.

In this experience, you allow other people to have their full human experience, which means learning that they must care for themselves at times, and you must do the same. This also means that all people have the right to feel the totality of their aliveness by feeling their emotions completely without you rescuing them.

Connection with human beings is an important part of interdependency yet, here we know we can support people. We do not control them or try to their emotions. With this freedom, we then can practice even more self-care.

When you stop giving others so much of your time, you also support them in learning how to be more empowered and whole as well which is truly loving.

Self-care like healthy relationships is an ongoing process

Recovery from codependency (or any other mental health concern) is a lifestyle.

To truly feel more grounded and greater wellbeing, self-care must become a way of life. Self-care will allow you to feel relief in the moment but also supports you long-term. If you take time every day to self-care, you will find because you feel so restored and revitalized, you feel like you have more time in your day. It takes up a lot of time to be overwhelmed and exhausted after all.

With less stress, a clearer mind, and more empowerment, you will be powered through your days with more ease and success. Finally, when you consistently self-care, you can show up fully for your loved ones as your best self. I can’t think of anything more loving!

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About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.

Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.

Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to krystal@confidentlyauthentic.com or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.