How to Stop Feeling Guilty about Practicing Self-Care
One of the biggest — if not the biggest — barrier to practicing self-care is guilt. Women, in particular, feel incredibly guilty for tending to their needs.
And it’s not surprising. According to Ashley Eder, LPC, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colo., “We are surrounded by overt and covert messages that encourage us to minimize our own needs and feel guilty when we engage in self-care.”
Food and relaxation are prime examples. “Think how many times a day you see some kind of reference to a woman ‘indulging,’ ‘splurging,’ or ‘sinning’ because she meets a basic need like eating food she enjoys or taking time to relax.”
There’s also the belief that taking care of yourself leaves less time and energy for others. But, as Rachel W. Cole, a life coach and retreat leader, said, “self-care is other care.” In other words, practicing self-care helps us help others more effectively. Below, Cole and Eder share other powerful ideas to consider if the palpable guilt appears.
“We can move through self-care guilt by deciding that a big part of our service to the world is being exquisitely self-centered,” Cole said. But this has nothing to do with being selfish or narcissistic. Cole defines self-centered as someone who is “centered deeply within themselves,” as she writes in this post. She further explains:
Self-centered women are not easily blown over by the gusts of other people’s opinions, agendas, or problems coming their way. Their strong center keeps them steady. […]
Self-centered women don’t put others before themselves to the point that they have nothing left. In turn, they have more to give to everyone. […]
Self-centered women are their own compass. Their own north-stars. They navigate these choppy waters as an eye in the storm. This is why we so often take refuge in their work, words, and presence.
They are lighthouses for the rest of us because they are lighthouses for themselves.
Self-Care as Finite
“Think of care as a finite resource, like money in the bank,” Eder said. “You can’t give more than you have without bankrupting yourself. You also can’t invest your money in making more money if you give it all away. Having the resources to share with others depends on conservation and renewal of your own supply.”
When you’re tempted to do or give too much because of guilt, Eder said, remind yourself of the risks of resentment. Think about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a resentful giver, she said. This person “generously helps you out… and then reminds you of it with loud sighs and indirect comments about how much they sacrificed.” And this never feels good — for either person.
But when we over-do or over-give, bitter sentiments are a natural result. “Giving more than you can spare ultimately leaves you resentful and spent,” Eder said.
Self-care actually turns out to be a powerful way to care for others. According to Eder, “One of the most loving things you can do for people in your life — your kids, partner, friends, colleagues — is not put them in a place of future resentment.” This kind of care nurtures both you and your relationships, she said.
Ultimately, remember that self-care is essential and non-negotiable. It’s not the same as pampering. (But, on some days, it could be.) When we confound the two, we make self-care into an indulgence or a someday activity. It’s neither.
Self-care is a fundamental piece of our lives. As Cole said, “we’re part of the fabric of life and we, ourselves, are our little patch to take care of.”
Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). How to Stop Feeling Guilty about Practicing Self-Care. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-stop-feeling-guilty-about-practicing-self-care/