3 Steps to Strike a Balance Between Self-Care and Selfishness

by Natalie Shay | Follow on Twitter

Practical advice for how you can stop feeling guilty about putting yourself first.

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IT’S HARD ENOUGH finding space to nurture yourself in today’s busy world full of commitments. Still, more often than not, self-nurturing turns sour with feelings of guilt and self-judgement for having taken the time and attention away from something (or someone) else.

Whether it is 30 seconds to do some deep breathing or 3 hours for a coffee date with a close friend, most women struggle to justify even the most rudimentary acts of self-kindness.

Recent research shows that women today are less happy than they have been over the past 40 years and, while the causes are numerous, many point to a severe lack of free time. In a survey of 2,000 women, 51 percent reported that they regularly go whole weeks without spending a single minute relaxing on their own and an alarming 55 percent said that one of the biggest highlights of their week was the chance to catch their favorite soap operas and television programs undisturbed. That’s hardly high quality self-nurturing, but when you’re running on empty, every little bit counts.

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In fact, women working in and outside the home often find themselves in the perfect storm of emotional confusion and causes so many wonderful women to feel damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

“My whole body is tired and I could really use some yoga today – but what about time with my children?”

“This project I’m working on needs my full attention – but will my husband be willing to pick up the slack?”

“Everything feels out of balance, I’d love just one night away to clear my head – but that’s terribly selfish of me, what about everyone else’s needs?”

Women around the world, including many of the ladies I work with, struggle to strike a healthy balance between self-care and selfishness and allow themselves a little time off the clock to recharge and refocus.

Learning to prioritize self-care and shake off that guilty conscious is a lifelong process that simply doesn’t come naturally in our society and the hard truth is that no one else is going to give you permission to do what is right for you – it has to come from within.

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Step 1: Take Notice

All change begins with awareness and taking note of how you feel.

When someone makes a request for your time and energy, check in with yourself to see what feelings arise for you.

How do you really feel about doing what you’re being asked to do?

What sensations does it cause in your body – do you feel restricted and weighed down or filled with positive anticipation?

If you find that your mind is full of chatter about obligations, judgements, or fear, try to tune out that noise and tune into your body and heart – they are often much better barometers of what’s helpful or harmful to you. Sometimes the most generous, kindest act you can do is to say no to someone else so that you can say yes to taking care of yourself.

Step 2: Be Aware of Boundaries

When you allow someone to cross your boundaries and rob you of your own needs, you turn them into a thief without their consent – and you turn your back on yourself in the process.

Whenever you are faced with a decision – what to do, how to spend your time, whether or not to participate, etc. – try to evaluate your motives and discern whether or not you’re crossing your own boundaries.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my gut telling me to do?
  • What do I lose and gain by saying yes or no?
  • Whose needs am I saying yes to – someone else’s or my own?
  • Am I doing this to look good to others even if it comes at the expense of my feelings and myself?

Step 3: Keep an Eye Out for Cheap Replacements

Every person alive today has needs – in fact, everyone has the same needs just in different quantities. We all have needs for:

  1. Certainty
  2. Variety
  3. Significance
  4. Love/ connection
  5. Growth
  6. Contribution

These are the 6 human needs that drive everything we think, do, and feel and at the end of the day we always meet our needs one way or another, but if we’re not on the lookout we could pay a big price for cheap replacements.

When we constantly put others first, we put ourselves second and find unhealthy ways to get our needs met. These needs can come out in anxiety, food issues, drinking, drugs and any other way we self-medicate. It’s a dangerous tradeoff to make and certainly something to keep in mind the next time you deny yourself a healthy form of self-care.

Because women so often err on the side of self-sacrifice rather than self-care, chances are that the majority of the time you’re not being selfish – you’re being kind. Still, in order to rid yourself of the guilt, you’ll need to start practicing these 3 steps and gently shifting how you think and feel about the situations that arise in your life. Keyword here: be gentle. Treat yourself as you would treat someone you love.

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In case you’re still not convinced that you deserve to rank high on your own priority list, listen to what the first lady has to say about the issue. During an interview with Barbara Walters in 2011, Michelle Obama was asked if making herself a priority could be seen as selfish, here is what she had to say:

“It’s practical… a lot of times we slip pretty low on our own priority list because we’re so busy caring for everyone else. One of the things that I want to model for my girls is investing in themselves as much as they invest in others.”

About the Author
Natalie Shay

Natalie Shay is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach specializing in emotional eating. She struggled with her own weight for 20 years. She finally learned to stop dieting and lost 75 lbs. In 2007 she became a Registered Psychotherapist to help emotional eaters stop turning to food for comfort and lose weight without dieting. She helps support her clients and guides them to meet their goals to stop dieting and start living. **Want to support your clients to get off the diet roller coaster, stop eating emotionally, and lose weight? Get them to sign up for my Emotional Eating Toolkit.