Why self care is not selfish but essential

How to overcome the guilt of putting your self first.

Self care (c) KarinSieger.com

Self care is essential for our wellbeing. Yet why can the idea of putting ourselves first fill us with guilt and shame? Why may we struggle with self care and how can we improve things for our self?

The idea of self care is common and popular. Yet, caring for ourselves also means putting ourselves first. And that can be easier said than done. Because when we do that, we may feel guilt and shame.

1. Self Care Guilt: Our Values

Depending on your age, social, religious background and values, putting others first can form an important corner stone of your culture. I am not taking issue with that. I, too, was brought up that way. There is a lot to be said for selflessness and a social conscience.

But on reflection, what I missed out on was learning the skill and responsibility of self care.

I was too busy caring for others, including many who did not need my help, that I overlooked my own needs.

Somehow I felt reassured, that the social code I was following implied others would look after me, too. Sadly that was not so.

Neither did it mean, that a good person will be treated well in turn. As naive as it may sound now, that penny dropped much later in my life.

If that is you, then you may know the discomfort and disdain we can feel for putting ourselves first. Why? Because we may be judged as selfish, arrogant and anti-social.

Therefore, putting ourselves first can make us feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, guilty and shy.

2. What we do for love

Depending on our upbringing we may have also developed the belief that receiving love, praise and recognition is linked to the care we show for others.

And often, despite all the care we show, we still don’t get the love we crave and deserve. So we try harder. And still, it’s not good enough (apparently!).

And so we can take putting others first to extremes. Then, consciously or unconsciously, love and positive regard get linked to conditions – set by others and ourselves: “If you do ‘x’ you will get love.” But it never works.

Because real love is unconditional.

The reality is, we all are loveable. Sadly, often we are let to believe that this is not so.

The belief that we are unlovable is one of the most damaging un-truths to blight our lives.

That’s why many of us find it easier to pay compliments than to receive them.

3. The moment of awakening

In the long-run, too much care for others at the expense of our own needs can leave us disappointed, embittered, resentful – and unwell!

And at some point in our lives we will wake up and realise how one-sided this business with care has become.

And then we also need to realise, that we have been complicit (for the best of reasons, and with the best of intentions – but it takes at least two).

If we always do things for others, then when will they learn to become independent? When will they realise that some change in their attitude towards us and inter-personal relationships is asked for?

4. Making self care happen: change and conflict

We may also fear, indeed, we may have experienced, that self care can lead to conflict with others, especially with those who are used to us putting them first.

If we withdraw attention, time and resources from others, then they are bound to notice and respond. I would, wouldn’t you?

But I hope I would
  • ask for an explanation and reflect on it;
  • not immediately judge and blame and call the other selfish;
  • be supportive of the other’s needs. Perhaps with a little sulk and grumble.
But I would survive and say “Good on you. Look after your self, for a change!”

5. The skill of looking after your self

Learning to put yourself first, means learning to:

  • Say no.
  • Be consistent.
  • Delegate.
  • Ask others for help.
  • Let others take on responsibilities for their own lives.

If we are not used to looking after ourselves, it may take a little while to get used to tuning into our body, mind and feelings, which will let us know, what we need.

It may take a little time to learn to trust your intuition and judgment.

That is because we will have under-utilised this beautiful, complex and so very wise internal mechanism that provides guidance.

Don’t be disheartened, if it takes a little while. Nothing is a waste, everything will benefit you.

6. And finally: It’s not about competition

There can be an important and fine line between caring for your self and another. One should not exclude the other. A healthy balance needs to be achieved.

And there may be moments when we may choose to sacrifice our own needs over those of another. But this cannot be a permanent state of affairs.

Self care is not selfish. It is being responsible towards ourselves and others.

Without understanding and honouring this responsibility, your life will have less vibrancy, colour, energy, potential, balance, possibilities, love and peace.

Listen to my talk on YouTube about self care and how to get there HERE

Originally published by Positively Positive.

Image courtesy of Natalie_Corot


  1. Karin,

    I really needed to read this. As a mother, I often find that I put my daughter first, sometimes neglecting my own needs. Truth be told, it’s sometimes important to put one’s own needs first. After all, we are no good to anybody if we are not practicing self-care. Excellent post.

  2. This is so true and something I have gone through for years. I took care of everyone else until I fell apart…emotionally, physically and mentally. I have lost all of my family, many furbabies and friends through death in the last 13 years and now am alone. And I am having to learn to take care of myself and yet it doesn’t come easy. I work o it every day. Reading your article made me feel better…thank you.

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