Self-care is defined as taking an active role in protecting your well-being and happiness. When you practice self-care, you carve out time to focus on your physical and mental health.
For years, I struggled with self-care guilt. If I took time for myself, I was taking time away from everything that should matter in my life.
Deep down, I understood the value of self-care, but I still felt guilty for spending time on it. To be the best employee, mother, daughter, and partner, I chose to ignore the need.
Last year, in the middle of a pandemic, I finally had enough. Feeling drained, tired, and overwhelmed, I raised the white flag. It was time to take a different approach.
Refill Your Cup to Give More
We’ve all heard the adage; you can’t pour from an empty cup. It’s true. When we give every minute to others, we run out of energy. To give more, we have to refill our cups first.
As a personal finance writer, it helps to relate self-care to money. If you give every dollar of your savings to those in need, you quickly run out of money, and once the money is gone, you have nothing left to give.
Is there a way to give more? Of course, there is.
Instead of giving away every penny, you learn to invest it. As those investments grow, you give more. You refill the cup of money by helping it grow.
A similar rule applies to self-care. If you spend all of your energy on other people, you won’t have any energy left to care for yourself.
Self-care is an investment. Every time you spend time on yourself, you have more energy and compassion to give.
We become better caretakers when we take care of ourselves, and sometimes that involves taking care of our needs first.
The Connection Between Self-Care Guilt and Productivity
Why did it take me so long to understand the benefits of self-care?
We live in a society fixated on productivity. To be successful, I climbed the corporate ladder, maintained a picture-perfect home, and spent every spare moment nurturing my children.
I tied success to hard work and financial pursuits. In a world focused on rat races and side hustles, I concentrated on wealth and power as symbols of success. When I quit my high-paying job, the spotlight turned to my children.
Self-care didn’t apply to society’s definition of success, so I placed it at the bottom of my to-do list. Then I justified its placement there.
Why start a hobby purely for enjoyment? Why meditate when I can spend that time growing my net worth? Why spend time on self-care when my children need me? Don’t I owe it to my family to spend every waking minute helping them?
My guilt grew more powerful when I quit my career to become a stay-at-home mom. I left my job to take care of my children, not to take care of myself.
Although my body cried out for help, I ignored it, and self-care quickly dropped to the very last spot on the final page of my to-do list.
Why Do I Feel Guilty for Taking Care of Myself?
Sadly, I am not alone. Many women feel societal pressures to help everyone else before helping themselves.
“I’m going to the gym,” I told a friend of mine recently. “I haven’t been since the pandemic started.”
“That sounds nice,” she said in response, “but I feel guilty for doing stuff like that. There are so many other things I need to do.”
Then she recited the list for me.
Why do chores take precedence over our mental or physical well-being? Why can’t we work on a presentation, prep dinner, pack lunches, or put away the dishes later? Why do we spend every moment on someone or something other than ourselves?
If we aren’t careful, we step through the motions of life feeling exhausted and drained. We also lose sight of our aspirations and dreams.
By focusing on self-care, we push the pause button on life. We choose to set aside our to-do lists for self-care practices that lighten our hearts.
Mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters tend to put everyone else’s needs above their own. It feels natural to spend time on others, but inherently wrong to spend that same time on ourselves.
But how can we give our best when we feel overwhelmed?
Why Do I Feel Selfish When I Take Care of Myself?
Why do we place self-care at the bottom of our to-do list? In part because taking time for ourselves feels selfish and self-indulgent.
Commercials and social media portray self-care as pampering. Picture spa treatments, meditation retreats, bubble baths, scented candles, and glasses of champagne.
First, you feel selfish for taking time for yourself. Then you feel guilty for spending money!
These misguiding images lead us to believe that self-care and pampering are connected, but it’s not true. You shouldn’t feel selfish for taking care of yourself. Self-care involves taking time in small increments, and most activities are free.
You Feel Guilty Because Self-Care Feels Selfish
Taking time for myself wasn’t easy.
If you’ve spent your whole life caring for other people, it’s hard to switch to caring for yourself. Self-care feels like a selfish choice.
But practicing self-care it’s is not a selfish act. You are not an immoral, self-centered jerk because you want to spend fifteen minutes meditating or thirty minutes immersed in a passion.
Prioritizing your needs is not selfish unless you consistently put your needs above everyone else’s. Selfish people don’t spend time worrying about being selfish. If this thought crossed your mind, I guarantee you are not acting selfishly.
You are not neglecting your responsibilities by focusing on yourself for a bit.
Processing Self-Care Guilt
Why do you feel guilty for prioritizing your needs? Are you worried that others will think you are self-centered? Do you fear you don’t deserve to spend time and attention caring for yourself?
We feel guilty when we do something wrong. But taking care of yourself isn’t something that warrants guilt.
If you still feel guilty, ask yourself why?
Write about it, talk about it, think about it, but don’t push it into the back of your mind. Please find a way to bring those thoughts into the light where you can process them.
To experience guilt-free self-care, you have to talk about the elephant in the room. Sometimes it helps to write in a guilt journal. Then release the feeling and move on with the activity you wish to enjoy.
Imagine you are talking to a friend rather than to yourself. Imagine a new mom saying she needs a few minutes to collect herself, a coworker needs time to clear his head, or a partner needs time to rest.
What would you say to these people? Would you let them know they had every night and reason to take a break that lifts their spirits?
Tell yourself those same things now. Treat yourself with the same love you give everyone else.
Are You A Priority On Your List?
Many women don’t want to put themselves before the needs of those around them. When my kids were small, I stayed up late into the night because it was the only time I could spend on myself without feeling like I would let anyone else down.
When life is busy, it’s tough to focus on self-care. We feed the baby, clean the house, take the kids to basketball practice. Then we wait until the place is quiet to take time for ourselves. But what if we didn’t do it this way.
What if we asked our partners, parents, and children for help. What if we told them we needed a few minutes to write in our journals? What if we asked our kids to play while we meditated, called our friends, or learned a new skill?
For the longest time, I put my needs below everyone else’s. Then one day, I stopped. You know what? My world did not fall apart.
While my kids are a priority in my life, they do not need to be a priority at every given moment.
If you can’t get over the feeling of guilt, talk to your kids and partner about it. Tell them you are feeling guilty and see how they respond. You can also set boundaries for household chores and other responsibilities. You can let your partner know you will complete those activities after you take care of yourself.
If You’re Feeling Guilty Reevaluate Your To-Do List
If you’re still struggling with feelings of guilt, it’s time to reevaluate your to-do list. Is everything on that list more important than you? What must you accomplish today, and what can wait until tomorrow?
Can you move activities or obligations, ask for help, or remove them entirely? Take a hard look at the list of tasks and determine which you can change.
Can you order take-out instead of cooking dinner or make grilled cheese sandwiches instead of preparing a time-intensive meal?
Of course, you need to clean the bathroom, but can you ask your children to wipe down the counters or your husband to mop the floor?
Can you use this newfound time for self-care?
How to Find Time for Self-Care Without Feeling Guilty?
If you feel guilty about self-care, start small. Then allow the good feelings to flow and use that as motivation to continue.
You don’t need to carve out forty-eight hours for a yoga retreat or thirty minutes for a workout. You can set aside time in tiny increments.
Self-care can be as easy as sitting with your thoughts and emotions. Check-in every hour to see how you are feeling.
You can start by pausing for a few moments. When you get up from your chair, stretch or take a moment to feel grateful.
At first, I carved out a few minutes here and there. I told my husband I was going upstairs to brush my teeth for five minutes. Then I sat on the corner of my bed and meditated.
No one missed me for that short period. So the next time, I expanded to ten minutes. I went upstairs to get ready for bed and sat down to draw.
While I sat there, I ignored the nagging voice that begged me to be productive.
If you feel guilty, push through that guilt and try it anyway. Does anything change because you spent a few minutes on self-care?
I doubt it. Life will continue as usual, but you’ll feel a boost of energy.
Remember, the goal of self-care is to fill your soul, reenergize, and feel a breath of fresh air. Try easy self-care activities that enlighten and inspire you.
To take care of yourself, you have to figure out what you need. What is lacking in your life?
When considering self-care activities, think about what feels good in your life and what needs tweaking.
Self-care is about happiness. It’s about enjoying our time doing things we love to do.
What do you love? Here is a list of self-care ideas that may inspire you:
- Drink a cup of hot chocolate or tea
- Call a Friend
- Read a Book
- Take a Walk
- Listen to Music
- Take a Shower
- Play a Game
- Take a Nap
- Spend Time in Nature
If all else fails, give yourself an early bedtime. Getting enough sleep is a form of self-care often overlooked.
The Benefits of Self-Care: Giving the World the Best of You
Although it was difficult to push past the self-care guilt, the benefits astounded me.
Self-care doesn’t take away from my children, friends, family, or partner; it improves my relationships with them. When I take time for myself, I become more patient, kind, supportive, and understanding.
It energizes and invigorates me. It calms my nerves, boosts my immune system, releases chronic stress, and helps me be fully present. I feel rejuvenated, inspired, and alive!
Self-care doesn’t neglect the needs of loved ones, because I’m not spending the rest of my life ignoring everyone around me. Instead, I carve out a few minutes to become the best version of myself. Every once in a while, we have to put ourselves first.
In doing so, I’ve learned that if you want to help others, you have to be true to yourself.
Don’t Let Self-Care Become a Burden
Are you ready to take the first step to taking time for yourself? Try a few things on the list above or add your own and remember to switch them if they aren’t working.
If meditation isn’t bringing you relaxation, switch to painting. If taking walks isn’t improving your physical health, take a yoga class online. Whatever you choose, feel free to choose again.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t meet your goals either. It’s tough to hit the gym, learn a new skill, or meditate every morning. No matter what plan you have in mind, you won’t always make the time for self-care.
When that happens, don’t get down on yourself. Reset the clock and try again tomorrow.
If you haven’t already, make self-care a priority and stop feeling guilty for making time for yourself. Remember, when we take care of ourselves, we take better care of our loved ones. I wish you the best of luck!
2 thoughts on “Self-Care Guilt: Why Do I Feel Guilty for Taking Care of Myself”
Excellent post! I am not a good housekeeper. I’m just a messy person and struggle to keep my own space neat- and it’s even harder keeping up with a house with 4 other people in it. I felt guilty for years doing kind (or fun) things for myself when there were chores that weren’t done. But you know what? There are always unfinished chores.
I recently discovered Casey at Strugglecare on TikTok. What a life changing perspective she’s giving people. A mess is morally neutral. You are not a bad person because your laundry is not done. You deserve to rest no matter what your house looks like.
Awesome post- we need to hear (and believe) more of this!
It’s strange how hard it is to be a caregiver who is at peace with caring for your own needs first. It would seem to be so logical, and it IS logical, until we need to apply the principle to our own lives.
I wonder how much of it is because we are socialized to offer the help but not ask for it?
I know I’m terrible at asking for help. But I’m very lucky in having a partner who takes the initiative and provides the moments of respite when possible (like right now, he’s taken the kids out so I can just be alone and rest for a few minutes). But those moments seem to be hard to come by unless we intentionally make space for them. And we should intentionally make space for them, regularly. I’m trying to, anyway.