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How Self-Care Differs From Selfishness

If you fear that self-care means being selfish, you’re not alone. This is unfortunately a common misconception that can get in the way of tending to your own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. After all, especially in today’s world, there is a lot of talk about narcissistic behavior, and most of us would not want to be put into this category.

To set the record straight, there are crucial differences between self-care and selfishness.

First of all, self-care benefits not only you but also those around you. When you’re taking good care of yourself, this resonates out into all of your relationships in positive ways. For example, you get sufficient sleep so you can get the kids to school or yourself without being a hazard on the road. You recognize that some nights you may need more sleep than others, and you adjust accordingly, taking into account the effect on those important to you as well as yourself. You don’t lay about in bed (except for the occasional relaxation or sick day) while your family goes unfed, calls go unanswered, and work goes undone.

Secondly, self-care isn’t done with an intention to hurt other people. If you have to say no to lunch plans with a friend because you’ve fallen ill or sustained an injury, you’re cancelling in order to rest, recover, and perhaps see that friend when you’re in a better space physically. You don’t habitually cancel on friends because something “better” has presented itself, you just “don’t feel like it”, or you’re passive-aggressively trying to show the other person that they aren’t that important to you. Yes, some people do this.

Furthermore, self-care bolsters your inner strength and self-esteem. Taking good care of yourself comes from a place of knowing that you’re neither better nor worse than the next person, and that we all have value. Self-care knows when enough is enough, so you don’t overdo it, such as charging thousands of dollars on your credit card for those shoes you just “had to have”. On the other hand, selfishness is often an indication that deep down you struggle with low self-esteem and a sense that you need “more” to compensate for perceived deficits. Your resultant actions don’t truly boost authentic self-regard and might, after a possible initial burst of adrenalin, may leave you feeling even more uneasy about yourself if your conscience is troubled by your choices.

Some quotes to encourage you to take good care of yourself, and to remind you why self-care is essential:

  • Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is more important than the judgment we pass on ourselves. (Nathaniel Branden)
  • When we self-regulate well, we are better able to control the trajectory of our emotional lives and resulting actions based on our values and sense of purpose. (Amy Leigh Mercree)
  • Being extremely honest with oneself is a good exercise. (Sigmund Freud)
  • It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life. (Anne Lamott)
  • Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves as we would give to others. (Christopher Germer)
  • If your compassion does not include yourself, it’s incomplete. (Jack Kornfield)
  • People who love themselves come across as very loving, generous, and kind; they express their self-confidence through humility, forgiveness, and inclusiveness. (Sanaya Roman)
  • Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape. (Bell Hooks)
  • Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. (Anne Lamott)
  • The most powerful relationship you will ever have is with yourself. (Steve Maraboli)
  • Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love. (Brene Brown)
  • The love and attention you always thought you wanted from someone else, is the love and attention you first need to give to yourself. (Bryant McGillns)
  • Self-discipline is self-caring. (M. Scott Peck)
  • Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too. (L.R. Knost)
  • With every act of self-care, your authentic self gets stronger, and the critical, fearful mind gets weaker. Every act of self-care is a powerful declaration: I am on my side; I am on my side; each day I am more and more on my own side. (Susan Weiss Berry)
  • Any time we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch. (Parker J. Palmer)
  • Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel. (Eleanor Brownn)
  • As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others. (Maya Angelou)
  • Be kinder to yourself. And then let your kindness flood the world. (Pema Chodron)

Self-care honors the child within you that needs internal validation. Thus, you take care of your emotional needs, so you can let go of excessive self-criticism, discontinue emotional neediness in your relationships, and turn your attention to becoming the person you were meant to be. The result is your unique gift to the world.




How Self-Care Differs From Selfishness

Rachel Fintzy Woods, MA, LMFT

Rachel Fintzy Woods, M.A., LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist in Santa Monica, California. Rachel counsels in the areas of relationships, the mind/body connection, emotion regulation, stress management, mindfulness, emotional eating, compulsive behaviors, self-compassion, and effective self-care. Trained in both clinical psychology and theater arts, Rachel works with people to uncover and develop their unique creative gifts and find personal fulfillment. For 17 years, Rachel has also been conducting clinical research studies at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the areas of mind/body medicine and the interaction of psychological well-being, social support, traumatic injury, and substance use. You can read more about Rachel at her website:

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APA Reference
Fintzy Woods, R. (2019). How Self-Care Differs From Selfishness. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Sep 2019
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