Selfish or Self Care?

Photo by Madison Inouye on

This past week, I’ve really been struggling with what it means to be “selfish”. Working from home, I am loving distance from my coworkers, the hustle and bustle of the courthouse, and, quite frankly, the clients. Guilt begins to set in when I think about how I am enjoying my time at home while others are suffering from a global pandemic; how I get to spend time with loved ones, when many of my clients are stuck at home with their abusers, with nowhere to go to escape. 

Working a highly emotionally intensive job, I often stress the idea of self care.  My coworkers have dubbed me the “queen of self care”, as I am constantly talking about steps I take for my own self care and reminding them to do the same. 

Even so, sometimes I struggle between the difference between being selfish and practicing self care. There are definitely two ends of the spectrum here: 1)  people who do not practice enough self care for fear of being seen as selfish; and 2) people who are doing selfish acts, but dubbing them “self care”. I worry, and perhaps in vain, that I fall into the latter category. 

I suppose it would be helpful to define what it means to be selfish and what it means to practice self care. In my (non-expert) opinion, selfish acts are acts that one chooses consistently, that are not only singularly beneficial to one’s self, but likewise detrimental to someone else. Being selfish is taking from others- NOT preparing yourself to give to others. 

Conversely, self care is an act that you do for yourself to preserve yourself, and make you the best version of yourself so that you can then dedicate your time and energy to others. For example, taking a quick walk at work to clear my mind and refocus myself, regardless of if that means that I miss some phone calls or client interactions, is self care because I am making sure that I am in the best state of mind to help those around me going forward.  

To determine which category my actions fall into, I have been trying to assess the intentions behind certain actions. Look at the “why” behind your actions before making your choices. Cancelling plans with a friend to spend a night at home can look very different if you are doing it to A) avoid your friend because you know that they have a lot to talk to you about and you’re not in the mood  or B) because you need to take time to recharge so you can have that conversation later on. Admittedly, it is a fine line between those two- but I think deep down, we all know our intentions when we make certain decisions. Ultimately, you are the only person who can adequately determine if you are being selfish or not. 

Proper amounts of self care can help us avoid making selfish decisions. If we are truly taking the time to care for ourselves, we will have more capacity to care for others- and to act in a selfless capacity.

I think it is safe to say that there are many people who are not taking the self care that they need to function properly, using the excuse that it is selfish. Taking care of yourself is never selfish!  I encourage people who are feeling burned out in any capacity in their life to create a self care plan to make sure that they are getting what they need for themselves. 

Given all that, is it selfish for me to be enjoying my time in quarantine? I don’t think so. It is not beneficial to me or anyone around me to feel guilt for making the best of my time and taking time to focus on myself. What is selfish about my use of time is that I am not giving my all to help my clients, and I am not looking into how I can be helping the community at large during a time where I am healthy and have more time to give. This is a chance for me to reevaluate my intentions with my free time, and focus on how I can do more for others.

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