Selfish or Self-Care? Know The Difference.

We all know that practicing self-care is important, but do you find yourself neglecting this because you think that you are being selfish?

As mothers, mistaking the two and thinking that we are being SELFISH when all we are needing is self-care can be debilitating. When we don’t make time for ourselves, but we continue to give to others, we put ourselves at risk for exhaustion, burn-out and can easily trigger or escalate anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

Aside from childbirth, in the U.S. women are hospitalized for depression more than anything else (Karraa, Walker, 2014 – Author of “Transformed by Post-Partum Depression”). Assuming this isn’t too different in Canada, this is something important to consider. Post-Partum Depression is being spoken about more openly now, but the occurrence of it is not being reduced. Depression in mothers past the diagnosable post-partum period is so common but there is not enough support or advocacy for mothers experiencing this either.

How much of this would change if as women, we were better supported to take care of ourselves and to stand up for ourselves? Practicing self-care boosts confidence, self-esteem, and allows you to be more present for others, helping you to care for yourself and your family from a FULL cup instead of an empty one stewing in exhaustion and resentment!


Self-care can be practiced in so many different ways, and the smallest changes and efforts often make the biggest difference. There are so many things that we’d LIKE to do but can’t do very often – like havingregular massages, a nice long soak in the bath (by yourself!), or for many of us, it can be difficult for find time for doing anything that we find peaceful or relaxing on a regular basis! Karraa (2014) discusses the following more subtle ways of practicing self-care:

“Going slow, listening to internal cues, and prioritizing ones needs and values”.

This includes being honest with yourself, communicating more honestly and authentically with others, taking time to breathe.

I've always told my clients in therapy with me who have had this selfish/self-care question: If you are making your choices by prioritizing yourself with consideration of yourself and others around you, this is self-care. It is when you hastily make a decision without any care of consideration of others that you might consider this selfish. The latter is only likely to happen if you are in survival mode, extremely burnt out and don’t have any capacity for considering anyone or anything except for your immediate needs in that moment. And in that case, you need to do whatever you can to fill yourself up and restore yourself to normalcy to be able to take care of yourself before you can consider others.

But what about when you know that your “self-care” choice is going to negatively impact another person? Does this mean that your supposed self-care choice is actually you being selfish?

If you consciously make your self-care choice and consider the other people involved, you COULD end up deciding that putting yourself first is the best option; whilst knowing that the other person will/might be negatively impacted. This is just the reality of living our lives authentically. Sometimes it works well for others and sometimes it doesn’t. But the most important thing is that we are taking care of OURSELVES! I love this quote by Fritz Perls:

“I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful. If not, it can't be helped.”

If you are worried about being selfish, or about negatively impacting another person, or being viewed negatively by another person, ask yourself this:

Will you be comprising yourself or your values by doing something on account of another person? If you carefully consider the impact of practicing self-care – whatever it may look like – and choose to put yourself first, then be proud of this. Allow yourself to enjoy the time you have given yourself and soak up this moment of divine authenticity!!

If every time we faced this dilemma we chose to put others needs/wants ahead of our own, it would be very easy to build a lot of resentment and fall into passive codependent behaviours. Don’t let yourself fall into this codependant trap, it is a breeding ground for depression and anxiety.

“When stress is so severe and she [a mother] is forced to find a solution in order to maintain control of her emotions, the depression becomes an interim state of protection” (Kleiman, Karen 2014 – Author of “Therapy and the Post-Partum Woman”).

Neglecting yourself, your emotions and your needs is never worth it in the end. It is SO imperative to put yourself first to get your needs met, yes, even as a busy mother! If you are worried about letting people down around you, then taking care of yourself is the biggest gift that you can give them. When you do find yourself putting your needs or wants aside to put others first, make sure that you are able to do this without sacrificing yourself, and that you are still finding other ways to take care of yourself and get your most important needs met.

Make time for listening to your body, checking your reality & expectations, being authentic, and for feeling your feelings! This is the kind of self-care that is going to make the most noticeable and long term impact on you and your mental health!

Jen is a counsellor and psychotherapist in Calgary, Alberta. If you are interested in booking a session with her or attending one of her groups or workshops, visit The Essence of You website or Contact Jen directly.