Table of Contents
- Here are 5 myths and misconceptions about self-care
- How to get in the self-care habit
- Here are some examples of self-care:
“I’m the queen of self care,” said Hildy. “So why am I bingeing?”
Hildy got regular manicures and pedicures, massages, facials, and weekly blowouts for her hair. Yet, she still struggled with feelings of depression and worthiness. She wondered why she still felt so bad, since she was taking such good care of herself.
What she didn’t realize is that true self care is more than just grooming (which is what she was doing). Self-care means taking care of yourself in all areas of life. It means considering what you want and need, which can be different for everyone.
Some people find that meditation brings them inner peace. Others prefer physical activities like running, walking, hiking, or working out. For some people, self-care means quiet time, reading a book, watching a good show, or journaling. Self-care can look different for everyone, but it is always about refocusing and reconnecting with yourself.
Taking care of yourself is a way of recognizing that you’re worthy of care and attention. The goal of self-care is to build resilience and create a balance in our lives, which helps us cope with the challenges of life. The more we do that, the less we turn to other ways of coping, such as binge eating, overspending, and other negative coping strategies.
There are many myths and misconceptions about self-care that often prevent us from prioritizing our own needs. This includes the idea that it’s selfish to prioritize our needs.
Here are 5 myths and misconceptions about self-care
Myth #1: Self-care is selfish
Despite this recognition of the importance of self-care, we often label it as being selfish.
One reason for this is our cultural emphasis on productivity and achievement. We live in a society that values hard work and success, often at the expense of personal well-being. Taking time for self-care may be viewed as indulgent, especially if it involves taking time away from work or other responsibilities. This leads to guilt over wanting to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others.
Another reason self-care is mistaken for selfishness is the cultural expectations around gender roles. Despite the fact that we are now well into the 21st century, women are often expected to prioritize the needs of others over their own needs. They often feel guilty or selfish for taking time to care for themselves. This gendered societal expectation leads many women to feel as if they have to choose between caring for themselves and caring for others, which can be a source of stress and anxiety.
All too often, frustration about this ends up getting symbolically stuffed. Then, we get mad at ourselves for what we’re eating and what we weigh, when the true source of the anger is the social constraint and prohibition against self-care.
It’s important to distinguish between selfishness, selflessness, and self-care.
What is selfishness?
Selfishness is an attitude or behavior that prioritizes someone’s own needs and desires over the needs and desires of others. Selfish people act in ways that benefit themselves, and don’t think about how their actions impact others–often they don’t care. Selfish people have an attitude of, “What’s the world doing for me, lately?” rather than considering how they affect others.
Examples of selfish behavior include taking more than one's fair share, putting one's own needs ahead of the needs of others, and refusing to compromise or collaborate with others.
Selfish people hurt others. The opposite of selfishness is being too selfless, which is also detrimental.
What is selflessness?
“They had no idea that I’m terrified of water.”
Lily had recently taken a cruise to Mexico with some girlfriends. Throughout the trip she managed to hide her lifelong fear of water. She struggled to get through every day and didn’t enjoy the vacation.
When asked why she didn’t reveal her water phobia, Lily explained that she didn’t want to spoil the experience for her friends, who had been so excited about the idea of taking a cruise. Lily thought it would be selfish of her to deny them the pleasure of the cruise.
By being overly considerate of her friends, she neglected herself. Being overly selfless refers to neglecting your own needs and well-being in order to prioritize the needs of others. While selflessness is generally seen as a positive trait in certain contexts, when taken to an extreme, it can lead to neglecting yourself. By pleasing others, Lily put herself through a miserable vacation.
Selflessness is sometimes linked to the trauma response of “fawning” which is a coping mechanism that involves placating or pleasing others in order to avoid conflict or danger. Fawning involves prioritizing the needs and wants of others over one's own, and can be a way of avoiding negative consequences or seeking safety in potentially dangerous situations.
There are two types of trauma: big T trauma and little t trauma. Big T trauma refers to major, life-altering events such as severe physical or sexual abuse, natural disasters, combat, and terrible accidents or injuries. These experiences can cause PTSD, depression, anxiety, and difficulty with trust and relationships. “Little t trauma” refers to less intense experiences that are traumatic in a different way such as with chronic stress, emotional neglect, microaggressions, and bullying. These experiences can cause anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and difficulty with relationships.
Those who have experienced abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma sometimes develop fawning as a way of protecting themselves and avoiding further harm. Yet, this response to potential trauma becomes an automatic response and can lead to self-neglect and a lack of assertiveness or boundary-setting.
It is important to find a balance between being selfless and taking care of one's own needs in order to maintain overall health and well-being.
Think of it like this: on an airplane, flight attendants instruct parents on what to do if the oxygen masks drop. They put their mask on first before attending to their children, because without taking care of themselves they can’t make sure anyone else is safe and sound either.
Myth #2: Self-care is indulgent
Another misconception about self-care is that it is indulgent or unnecessary. However, self-care is an essential component of maintaining physical, emotional, and mental health, and neglecting one's own needs can lead to negative health consequences.
Consider if you’re too helpful. Maybe you're always available for your friends, neighbors, kids, parents, family, whoever. You give and give and give and you end up empty.
And maybe you fill that emptiness with food. Or distract from it by eating. The answer is self care. If you think you don't have time for self-care or that it's selfish to put your needs first, challenge that idea. If you take care of everyone else, but food is the only thing that takes care of you, it's time to create a change.
When we take care of ourselves, we're better able to cope with stress and manage our emotions. We're also able to be more present for the people in our lives.
So self-care isn't selfish – it's actually one of the most important things you can do for yourself and also for others.
Myth #3: Self-care is expensive
Many people believe that self-care requires a significant financial investment. They imagine it involves the expense of spa treatments, massages, yoga classes, or vacations. Self-care can seem like it’s only for people with disposable income.
Self-care doesn’t have to break the bank. Taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental health can involve simple activities like taking a walk or practicing deep breathing exercises. These activities are free and can be done anywhere, at any time.
In addition, spending time with loved ones is an important form of self-care that does not require a financial investment. Spending time with people who make you feel happy, safe, and supported, helps reduce stress and anxiety and contributes to overall well-being.
It costs nothing to practice mindfulness, journaling, or doing a hobby you enjoy. Remember that self-care is not a luxury, but rather a necessity for maintaining good health and well-being. It does not have to be expensive or time-consuming, and it can be as simple as taking a few minutes each day to focus on yourself and your needs.
The cost when we neglect ourselves is much higher.
Myth #4: Self-care is time-consuming
Another myth about self-care is that it is time-consuming and difficult to fit into a busy schedule. Taking care of yourself doesn't have to be a major undertaking. Even small, simple actions can make a positive impact on your well-being. Take some time for you today – that might mean taking a few deep breaths or going for a quick walk outside.
Try prioritizing self-care in a realistic way, by carving out five or ten minutes a day or an hour a week. Try experimenting to find what works best for you.
Everyone's journey towards self-care is unique; start with the things that bring peace and joy into your life, no matter how brief they may be.
Taking care of yourself doesn't always have to be a solo endeavor. Going for walks or taking yoga with your best friend, or taking a class with a group of other people, counts as self-care.
Myth #5: Self-care is a luxury
Finally, some people view self-care as a luxury that is only available to those with extra time and resources. That’s far from the truth, since self-care is essential to our well-being.
This myth can be particularly damaging, as it can make us feel guilty for prioritizing our own well-being, leading to burnout and exhaustion. Sometimes, feeling depleted is a trigger for emotional eating or bingeing, as food can temporarily comfort us, provide a few moments of “me time” and distract us from the pressure of life. Keep in mind that self-care is a necessity, not a luxury.
By dispelling these myths about self-care and recognizing the importance of prioritizing our own needs, we can take steps to nurture ourselves and feel our best.
How to get in the self-care habit
Self-care is clearly an important part of restoring and maintaining balance in our lives. Here are some steps to creating a self-care routine.
First, identify what your personal self-care needs are. Consider which areas where you can benefit from more attention. For example, you may want to focus on getting more sleep, exercising more regularly, learning relaxation techniques, or spending time with friends and loved ones.
Once you identify your specific self-care needs, the next step is to create a self-care plan. That plan may include things like scheduling regular exercise, taking breaks throughout the day, or making time for hobbies or creative activities.
Then, implement those self-care strategies into your life, ideally on a daily basis. Schedule time for yourself, set boundaries, say no when necessary, and do things that bring joy and fulfillment.
Here are some examples of self-care:
- Writing in a journal or practicing other forms of self-reflection
- Self-reflection: Regularly taking time to reflect on your emotions and experiences can help you identify patterns and work through difficult feelings.
- Seeking support from a therapist, counselor, or support group
- Practicing self-compassion and encouraging self-talk
- Taking breaks from work or other responsibilities to give your mind a rest
- Engaging in activities that you find mentally stimulating, such as puzzles, drawing, reading or learning something new
- Seeking out new experiences and learning opportunities for intellectual growth.
- Having fun, whether that means watching a great TV show or playing music, playing a game, dancing, or anything else that's fun.
- Ensuring you get enough sleep and rest
- Getting regular exercise or doing outdoor activities
- Taking breaks throughout the day to stretch, walk, work out, or move your body in some way
- Connecting with spirituality
- Cultivating a sense of purpose (which can include practicing meditation, attending religious services, or engaging in other practices that help foster a sense of meaning in life).
- Building a supportive network of friends and family
- Connecting with a community by participating in groups, clubs, and/or organizations
- Taking breaks from social media to be with others
The goal of self-care is to create a sense of balance and overall health, which helps you cope with whatever life throws your way. Practicing regular self-care helps you feel better in your day-to-day life and also makes you more resilient when things aren’t going so well.
When we’re confident in our ability to take care of ourselves, and when we feel worthy of that care, we don’t use food or any other negative coping strategy to cope.
Also, when we have fulfilling and satisfying relationships with other people who can show up for us, nurture us, connect with us, and love us, we don’t use food as a substitute for fun, for comfort, or for love.
If you’ve been feeling guilty about taking care of yourself, take some time to challenge the myths around self-care and consider how you can incorporate self-care into your life. It’s essential for your well-being, not selfish, indulgent, expensive, or time-consuming. Take one small step today to incorporate self-care into your life. You deserve it!
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Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin is a psychoanalyst, author and radio host specializing in binge eating disorder. She is the author of The Binge Cure: 7 Steps to Outsmart Emotional Eating and Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders, and co-editor of Beyond the Primal Addiction. She hosts The Dr. Nina Show radio program on LA Talk Radio.