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Selfish Versus Self-Care

Many people confuse selfishness and self-care. This mix up crops up often among dysregulated eaters. Is saying no to visiting a sick friend selfish or self-care? Is not answering your phone after a long day self-care or selfishness?
This dilemma arises often with clients because distinguishing between the two is far from clear cut. My thoughts on the subject are not meant to give you rules for making a determination between selfish and self-care, but are to get you to think before you say yes or no to anyone so that you don’t do it automatically and are making an intentional choice. My goal is to get you to stop flagellating yourself (and eating to quash misplaced guilt), when you feel selfish but are actually engaging in self-care. Knowing dysregulated eaters as well as I do, my hunch is that much of what feels selfish to you might actually fall under the category of self-care. For practice, see what you think of the scenarios below: self-care or selfishness?
Here are some scenarios to consider:
  • Your brother is at home with the flu and hasn’t been out in days. You volunteer to bring over some food but, in spite of the fact that he’s complaining of going stir crazy, you decline going inside to visit. Instead, you bring in the food and say that if he needs anything else, you’ll be glad to help out.
  • You’ve had a particularly long and stressful day at work and were on your feet a lot. With the start of a headache, you decide to relax and not answer emails, texts or phone calls. You see a call come in from a friend who’s in the midst of a divorce, but don’t feel up to hearing about her latest skirmish with her soon-to-be ex-husband.
  • A friend asks you to take him to the airport to catch an 8:20 a.m. flight which means you need to get him there by at least 7:00. You get up early for work every day in spite of not being a morning person and want to say no, but feel badly because your friend doesn’t have extra money to spend on a cab ride.
  • Your mother insists that you call her every day even though you generally argue and she talks mostly about herself, asking few questions about your life. You think speaking to her twice a week would be enough and gently tell her so.
If you’re generally a kind, giving, generous person and say a balance of yes and no to requests, you’re probably taking fine care of yourself. I don’t think you’re selfish if you want “me” time, refuse to do certain tasks, turn down requests, or that you’re selfish just because someone says or implies that you are. It’s important that you take care of yourself as well as take care of others. That’s not selfishness, that’s good mental health.