Can You Prioritize Your Needs Without Feeling Selfish?

Self-care is neither a luxury nor selfish. Managing stress, honoring your limits, getting adequate rest, exercise and healthy eating are all necessary forms of self-love. Sound familiar? Chances are pretty good that you’ve heard it all before, and the fact that you’re reading this is a good indication that you don’t necessarily disagree with the idea of self-care. For most people theory isn’t the problem, it’s the practical application.

Taking good care of you means the people in your life will receive the best of you, rather than what’s left of you

~Carl Bryan

Can You Prioritize Your Needs Without Feeling Selfish?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of selfish is:

Being concerned exclusively or excessively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure or well-being without regard for others.

So to say that taking care of your own needs is selfish would then mean that you value yourself so little that nurturing your physical and emotional well-being is really taking from others for your own personal gain.

Ask yourself this …

What would your family do if you were suddenly gone? Who would take care of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands and shuttling, soothing scraped knees and broken hearts?

While this behavior can be problematic enough when everything is running smoothly in your life, the stress level can ramp up to a whole new level when you add a disruption or unexpected change to your life circumstances.

Of course, they would mourn and miss you because they love you and you were such a great person, but eventually, they would pick up their lives and move on. When we struggle to keep up with our role as caregiver, (as we often do) it inevitably triggers a self-defeating cycle of guilt. In the end, the only thing you can truly control is you, so naturally, you sacrifice yourself. You know you should say “no” more often, and you’ve heard the advice on setting limits, but you continue to push yourself because you’re afraid that someone might get mad or won’t like you if you disappoint him or her. While this behavior can be problematic enough when everything is running smoothly in your life, the stress level can ramp up to a whole new level when you add a disruption or unexpected change to your life circumstances. For many these days, that change has meant suddenly finding themselves in the role of caregiver for a parent.

No one is going to swoop in and declare “Yes, I officially give you permission to take care of yourself!” You have to decide to be honest about your wants and needs and to believe, really BELIEVE that you are worth the effort.

Research has shown that family caregivers of any age, gender, race or ethnic background are less likely than non-caregivers to practice preventive healthcare and self-care behavior. As a result, they are not only more likely to experience chronic illness, it is estimated that 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers experience clinical depression. While caring for a family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience, it can also be an emotional roller coaster ride complete with exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources and continuous care demands.

Beware the Resentment Trap

This emotion is so taboo that many people are loathed to even discuss it. While always putting the concerns and welfare others first may seem like the honorable and selfless thing to do, there is a very real risk of eventually finding yourself feeling the lack of control over your own life as a result of all of the responsibility you’ve heaped upon yourself.

This is where we begin hearing that familiar plea, “All I want is a few minutes to myself!” Exhaustion can leave us vulnerable to imagined slights, emotional swings, and feelings that others aren’t sufficiently grateful for our sacrifices. When we fail to recognize this for what it is – resentment – it can blossom into feelings of anger and depression.

It really is okay for there to be times when you stop putting everyone else first, and just do what’s best for you.

Maybe it’s GOOD to Be Selfish Sometimes!

Selfish is just a word. It is neither good nor bad unless we choose to define it that way. You may be able to convince yourself that taking the time to care for your own needs is a necessary investment in your health and well-being, but the first time someone else even hints at the idea that your intentions are selfish in nature, that pesky cycle of guilt will set in. And I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but sometimes that will be intentional.

If it is the norm for you to self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, and then you suddenly, albeit lovingly, begin encouraging your family to learn to take care of at least some of their own needs, then yes, chances are they’re going to push back. That doesn’t make you selfish or mean that you should go back to your own self-sacrificing ways. On the contrary, this is your opportunity to set the example!

When you are filling your own emotional and physical reserves with self-respect and loving care, you will have much more to give to your family, friends, and the world in general. Ultimately, this is about believing that you deserve to receive the same amount of care and love as you give to others. When you truly believe this, others will too.

How about you? Have you been waiting for an engraved invitation from others to do the things that would make you feel better physically and emotionally because to take care of yourself would feel too selfish?

Will you be the passenger or the driver in your life journey?


Marquita Herald
Marquita Herald
Marquita is a transformational author, coach, founder, and chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. Her message is that resilience isn’t an umbrella to be reserved for a rainy day and you don’t need to wait until you are facing a major life change or crisis to claim the power and authority you have to create the quality and course of your life. In every way that matters, resilient living is a lifestyle choice. Through her blog, books, courses, and coaching, she provides insights, inspiration and a wealth of personal experience as a roadmap to grow through life’s inevitable challenges. Marquita makes her home in Oregon and loves red wine, rock n' roll, hiking, road trips, peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

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  1. I grew up on adventure and at 16 I hit the boxcars and saw the south. I worked in cotton and tobacco and slept in bunk houses or by a camp fire. So maybe I am the driver. Great article I hope this will unleash the explorer in all that read this.