Self-care vs. Selfishness: How Do We Make the Distinction?

More than avocados, millennial pink, or skinny jeans, self-care is arguably the biggest contemporary trend. And rightly so—people have neglected their own mental health and well-being for as long as can be remembered. But where should the line be drawn between self-care and just plain selfishness?

Self-care, as it’s commonly understood, is when an individual makes choices to relieve stress or increase comfort, thereby caring for their own mental and physical well-being. Selfishness is when an individual is solely focused on themselves without regard for others.

So, how do we make that distinction?

Life is hectic—everyone intimately knows it. Going to work and school, maintaining relationships with friends, family, and partners, paying bills, and everything else that we deal with can be incredibly stressful. So, when our minds inevitably just can’t seem to take it anymore, we need to take a break. If this is the reason for canceling plans, then congratulations, it’s most likely a healthy dose of self-care!

Staying healthy is of utmost importance; without our health (both mental and physical), we are incapable of keeping up with our day-to-day responsibilities and maintaining relationships. Our health is necessary to experience life to the fullest.

Where we invest our money, time, and more significantly, attention is an indication of what we value in our lives.

Canceling plans or spending a little extra on mint ice cream are common ways to relieve stress and take care of yourself. People also frequently go on a Netflix binge, take a warm, relaxing bath, or read a good book. How we choose to spend our time and money often reflects what we care about.  

Therefore, it is important to make the distinction between honest, necessary self-care and excuses made with selfish motives. The above examples are ways to practice self-care that are beneficial to your mental and physical health. When you look at distinguishing between self-care and selfishness, the situation becomes more complex as you evaluate how your actions impact others.

Are these occasional treats merely a wholesome way to unwind and ensure we are able to give our best effort, or do they frequently become excuses?

Canceling plans with others once in a while is understandable and normal, but consistently backing out indicates a disregard for others’ time and feelings, thus crossing over into the murky territory of selfishness. Everyone has, at one time or another, suddenly needed to reschedule or withdraw from promises made. It is unfortunate and unavoidable and, usually, accidental. However, when your friends can count more accurately on your absence than your presence, then canceling has probably become a habit of selfishness.

Likewise, constantly spending money you don’t have will cause your partner, family, or even your future self undue stress. Or if you spend all of your money on yourself—say on weekly shopping sprees—instead of saving some for activities with others, then it’s likely not practicing self-care. 

Again, the impact on others seems to be one of the main defining factors. Is the money you spend only bringing you  happiness over and over again at the expense of others’ contentment and the relationship you have with them? Then it’s usually leaning towards selfishness. Treating yourself on occasion is a common and encouraged form of self-care, as long as the effects are not permanent or dangerously excessive.

The distinction is not based upon responsibility, though; sometimes being irresponsible is part of taking care of yourself and having a fun life. For example, having a wild night out after a long week at work or buying a pricey sweater you love may not be fiscally responsible, but it may be your version of self-care.

Actions turn to selfish behavior when they consistently lack consideration for others.

Many of our decisions have lasting consequences. It is common to read about people ending “toxic” relationships and cutting others out of their lives. In cases such as break-ups,  abusive relationships (such as emotional manipulation, physical abuse, etc.), or in extenuating circumstances, this is absolutely right and necessary. Outside of those instances, however, the line becomes increasingly blurry.

As we age, our relationships with family, friends, and ourselves constantly change. They require attention and care, especially as people move away and become absorbed in their own private worlds. If you are simply not willing to dedicate time and energy into a relationship, perhaps it is not truly a case of self-care and, rather, an instance of selfishness via laziness. When choosing to end a relationship, be it with a friend, partner, or family member, it is important to consider the motives behind the decision.

Using self-care as an excuse to ignore a person in your life does self-care a huge disservice.

Valid reasons to allow relationships to end naturally are plentiful; an emotional drain or diverging life goals are common reasons that lead to people choosing to let go of certain relationships. These are strong examples of self-care.

Are you too embarrassed to fix a fight or have difficult discussions regarding the future? If the answer is yes, then it is probably not self-care, but rather selfishness. Using self-care as an excuse for selfish behavior weakens the gravity and sincerity of legitimate reasons to take care of yourself.

So…Now What?

Taking care of yourself with the purpose of being healthy and having the ability to give your energy and attention to friends, family, and your future self is the true basis of self-care. A common thread throughout this piece has been intent; the intent behind an action can be a significant factor in determining if it is selfish or self-care.

It is possible to care for yourself without only  caring for yourself. Remaining conscious of your honest motives is crucial; without it, the line separating self-care and selfishness becomes distorted. Finding and maintaining the balance, along with consideration for others, helps to more clearly define the difference between self-care and selfishness.

So, if you missed the last two girls’ nights out or have put off calling your mom for a few days, then try to look for the line between the two. Balance will be different for everyone, but as long as your mind, your body, and your relationships are healthy, then you’re probably pretty close.

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Fascinated by words and how human stories create our global narratives. All we really have are our stories, and they are consistently what keeps human culture alive. Currently teaching English in South Korea and, in my free time, traveling, writing, prepping for graduate school, and watching Parks and Recreation.

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Self-care vs. Selfishness: How Do We Make the Distinction?

More than avocados, millennial pink, or skinny jeans, self-care is arguably the biggest contemporary trend. And rightly so—people have neglected their own mental health and well-being for as long as can be remembered. But where should the line be drawn between self-care and just plain selfishness?

Self-care, as it’s commonly understood, is when an individual makes choices to relieve stress or increase comfort, thereby caring for their own mental and physical well-being. Selfishness is when an individual is solely focused on themselves without regard for others.

So, how do we make that distinction?

Life is hectic—everyone intimately knows it. Going to work and school, maintaining relationships with friends, family, and partners, paying bills, and everything else that we deal with can be incredibly stressful. So, when our minds inevitably just can’t seem to take it anymore, we need to take a break. If this is the reason for canceling plans, then congratulations, it’s most likely a healthy dose of self-care!

Staying healthy is of utmost importance; without our health (both mental and physical), we are incapable of keeping up with our day-to-day responsibilities and maintaining relationships. Our health is necessary to experience life to the fullest.

Where we invest our money, time, and more significantly, attention is an indication of what we value in our lives.

Canceling plans or spending a little extra on mint ice cream are common ways to relieve stress and take care of yourself. People also frequently go on a Netflix binge, take a warm, relaxing bath, or read a good book. How we choose to spend our time and money often reflects what we care about.  

Therefore, it is important to make the distinction between honest, necessary self-care and excuses made with selfish motives. The above examples are ways to practice self-care that are beneficial to your mental and physical health. When you look at distinguishing between self-care and selfishness, the situation becomes more complex as you evaluate how your actions impact others.

Are these occasional treats merely a wholesome way to unwind and ensure we are able to give our best effort, or do they frequently become excuses?

Canceling plans with others once in a while is understandable and normal, but consistently backing out indicates a disregard for others’ time and feelings, thus crossing over into the murky territory of selfishness. Everyone has, at one time or another, suddenly needed to reschedule or withdraw from promises made. It is unfortunate and unavoidable and, usually, accidental. However, when your friends can count more accurately on your absence than your presence, then canceling has probably become a habit of selfishness.

Likewise, constantly spending money you don’t have will cause your partner, family, or even your future self undue stress. Or if you spend all of your money on yourself—say on weekly shopping sprees—instead of saving some for activities with others, then it’s likely not practicing self-care. 

Again, the impact on others seems to be one of the main defining factors. Is the money you spend only bringing you  happiness over and over again at the expense of others’ contentment and the relationship you have with them? Then it’s usually leaning towards selfishness. Treating yourself on occasion is a common and encouraged form of self-care, as long as the effects are not permanent or dangerously excessive.

The distinction is not based upon responsibility, though; sometimes being irresponsible is part of taking care of yourself and having a fun life. For example, having a wild night out after a long week at work or buying a pricey sweater you love may not be fiscally responsible, but it may be your version of self-care.

Actions turn to selfish behavior when they consistently lack consideration for others.

Many of our decisions have lasting consequences. It is common to read about people ending “toxic” relationships and cutting others out of their lives. In cases such as break-ups,  abusive relationships (such as emotional manipulation, physical abuse, etc.), or in extenuating circumstances, this is absolutely right and necessary. Outside of those instances, however, the line becomes increasingly blurry.

As we age, our relationships with family, friends, and ourselves constantly change. They require attention and care, especially as people move away and become absorbed in their own private worlds. If you are simply not willing to dedicate time and energy into a relationship, perhaps it is not truly a case of self-care and, rather, an instance of selfishness via laziness. When choosing to end a relationship, be it with a friend, partner, or family member, it is important to consider the motives behind the decision.

Using self-care as an excuse to ignore a person in your life does self-care a huge disservice.

Valid reasons to allow relationships to end naturally are plentiful; an emotional drain or diverging life goals are common reasons that lead to people choosing to let go of certain relationships. These are strong examples of self-care.

Are you too embarrassed to fix a fight or have difficult discussions regarding the future? If the answer is yes, then it is probably not self-care, but rather selfishness. Using self-care as an excuse for selfish behavior weakens the gravity and sincerity of legitimate reasons to take care of yourself.

So…Now What?

Taking care of yourself with the purpose of being healthy and having the ability to give your energy and attention to friends, family, and your future self is the true basis of self-care. A common thread throughout this piece has been intent; the intent behind an action can be a significant factor in determining if it is selfish or self-care.

It is possible to care for yourself without only  caring for yourself. Remaining conscious of your honest motives is crucial; without it, the line separating self-care and selfishness becomes distorted. Finding and maintaining the balance, along with consideration for others, helps to more clearly define the difference between self-care and selfishness.

So, if you missed the last two girls’ nights out or have put off calling your mom for a few days, then try to look for the line between the two. Balance will be different for everyone, but as long as your mind, your body, and your relationships are healthy, then you’re probably pretty close.

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