Here’s Why Self-Care isn’t Selfish, but Essential

Self-Care isn’t Selfish

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. – Buddha

Do you take care of yourself? Are you kind to yourself? Do you love yourself as much as you love your best friend, your siblings, your parents?

Or do you spend your time looking after others? Taking care of everyone else? Happy to give, but uncomfortable in receiving?

I’ve been talking a lot about self-care recently. About the need for all of us to look after ourselves, take care of ourselves, and be kind to ourselves.

And there are two big objections people give me as to why self-care is low on their list of priorities. Excuses as to why they’re prepared to run themselves ragged looking after others and not take five minutes to themselves.

The first is that they don’t have time. Looking after themselves isn’t realistic or feasible given their crazy schedules and more pressing concerns.

And the second, closely linked, is a belief that self-care is selfish. They need to take care of other people, and don’t have the time – and implicitly, the right – to spend time on themselves.

I want to address these and convince you once and for all, that you are worth as much time, effort and energy as you’re prepared to spend on others, and these excuses are just that – excuses.

In the absence of excuses, anything is possible  – Jason Vale

excuses quotes

Why you do have time for Self-Care

It’s a tough realisation, but everything you do is a choice. Sometimes the choice might feel between a rock and a hard place, but it’s all a choice.

  • Said yes to having dinner with a friend when you just wanted to curl up with a book? It’s a choice.
  • Agreed to help your sister declutter her wardrobe when you’re tired and have just done a 60-hour week? It’s a choice.
  • Accepted another piece of work from your boss when your in-tray’s already overflowing? It’s a choice.

I’m not saying all of these are bad choices. Sometimes when we’re feeling low, it can make us feel good to help others (assuming that helping others isn’t an addiction in itself ).

Sometimes it’s the right thing to help someone else.

But sometimes, helping someone else is just another drain on your energy.

Until eventually you have nothing left to give.

letting go quote

The two bottles that represent your life

Our time and our energy are finite resources. To help you imagine this, think of two beautiful coloured glass bottles filled to the brim with a liquid.

One bottle is labelled ‘time’, and one is labelled ‘energy’.

Now, every time you engage in an activity, whether it’s for yourself or for someone else, pour out the appropriate amount from the time bottle. That’s straightforward. The full bottle represents all the time you have your lifetime, and every activity takes a little time. The bottle becomes steadily more empty as your life progresses…

The energy bottle is less straightforward. Some activities deplete your energy, and others replenish it.

Many of the activities that increase the fluid in the energy bottle are self-care activities

What increases the fluid in your bottle might be different from mine. For me, reading quietly, having a massage, and spending time one-on-one with a close friend all help to replenish the fluid. They increase my energy levels rather than deplete them. They’re all ways in which I take care of myself.

For you, being at a party might replenish your energy. Or exercise. Or writing in your journal. The ways in which we can take care of ourselves are endless!

love yourself quotes

Why Self-Care isn’t selfish

If you only engage in activities that deplete your bottle, that is, all the activities that you do pour a little of the liquid away, eventually you’ll be no good to anyone. You will have no energy left for you or anyone in your life. You’ll be empty.

And if you’re empty, you’ll have nothing left to give anyone else in your life anyway. Your friends and family – who love you – will be worried about you. And you’ll feel unhappy, exhausted and have had enough.

We all have 24 hours in our day, and whilst sometimes it might feel that you’re the passive participant in your life, you’re not. You have the power – and the choice – to say no (!).

It might not be easy, but taking back control in your life will mean that you can both use the fluid in your ‘time’ bottle in the ways you choose, and you can make sure that your ‘energy’ bottle is both depleted and filled, remaining at a consistent level.

Not only do you have the time for Self-Care – if you choose – but rather than being selfish, it’s a responsible and mature activity to include in your day to day.

Taking care of your own needs, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual is core to you being the very best version of you!

photo source
Ellen Bard
Ellen Bard’s mission is to help you shine more brightly at work and in life. She has a fancy degree, works with those who are too tough on themselves, and loves all things that sparkle. For the free cheat sheet: 5 Unusual Ways to Take Care of Yourself, click over to EllenBard.com.
Ellen Bard

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  • Laura N.

    Thank you so much for sharing! This was really helpful & came at the very right moment! :-]

  • Eliza D

    Very timely reminder to take care of myself, too. I’ll remember that bottle of energy in future. Thank you, Ellen.

    • Thanks Elisa, I hope the image helps you to take care of yourself, a little every day 🙂

  • qeurich

    Very timely post – there is still time to rescue a couple of empty champagne bottles from New Year’s eve – and place them prominently next to your resolution to take better care of yourself.

    Thanks Ellen!

    • Thanks! And good plan – we should definitely have big bottles (and champagne bottles, very nice image!)

  • Great post! I love the analogy of two bottles (time and energy) that represent life.

    • Thanks so much Missy, I’m glad you enjoyed it. The bottles analogy really helps me – and when I think of them, I think of really pretty glass bottles to help make it feel even more special 🙂

  • Great post Ellen. You must help yourself in order to help others. I like that.

    • Thanks very much for reading Jeffrey, much appreciated!

  • Helen McCarthy

    Great article Ellen. I too enjoyed the 2 bottle analogy. Thanks for the reminder to stop depleting and start refilling my bottles!

    • Thanks Helen, definitely, keep replenishing 🙂

  • Love the two bottle analogy – it’s totally true Ellen, we can’t ever give what we don’t have so we need to be filled with juice in order to share it. Learning to say ‘no’ was a long time coming for me untill I eventually discovered a way to say no with what I hope is graciousness and love. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

    • Thanks Elle! So many of us (and I include myself, it’s a work in progress!) keep going until we are empty, and have nothing left to give anyone, and it’s a tough balance to strike, but it’s so important. Working on saying ‘no thank you’ with love should be taught in schools I think 🙂

  • Nicki

    Thanks for sharing this, Ellen. Sometimes when I choose to say no to requests from others, I end up just feeling guilty, which sucks more energy than if I had just said yes in the first place. Thanks for explaining why it’s not only okay to take this time for ourselves, but essential!

    • Thanks Nicki, and guilt can definitely empty your bottle as much as actually doing the thing would. The key thing is to remember you can’t do everything, and be judicious about how you spend your time – being fully present for everything you commit to, but realising you’re not super human 🙂

  • Kim

    Great points. I think this applies to those of us who have very small circles too. I don’t have a lot of external hands reaching out for my time and energy, but I find that I self-impose things. I have all of these deadlines, stay up till all hours trying to accomplish goals, etc. until I’m ready to throw in the towel. Trying to find that balance is so important so that you can keep that energy bottle, as you say, full!

    • Oh, yes, this is a great point Kim, we can be very tough on ourselves and all the ‘shoulds’ in our lives. Good reminder!

  • Jamie

    A good reminder! Loved the symbolism of the bottles!

    • Thanks very much Jamie, much appreciated 🙂

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