The Unselfish Act of Self-Care

Would you rather get home at six o'clock short tempered or at 6:30 centered?

Posted Jun 29, 2011

Last week, I was quoted in an article in the Chicago Tribune titled "Attack of the mom guilt: How to stop feeling selfish and start exercising self-care." The journalist did an excellent job discussing the myth of "having it all." She also provided some excellent strategies for finding ways to fit in a bit of self-care while minimizing the all too common feelings of guilt.

I was quoted in the article as saying, "When you don't take time for yourself you have anxiety, depression, insomnia, a short temper. Would you rather get home at 6 short tempered or at 6:30 centered?" Given that this article was geared for mothers, the point I was making was akin to the old saying of "If Mamma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" A related proverb is that you have to fill your pitcher before you can fill everyone else's cup. Both reflect the notion that you cannot adequately give to others if you are not taking care of yourself.


The concept that a prerequisite of caring well for others is caring for oneself is the reason for this week's assignment in my Feminist Therapy class.

I explained to students that the Feminist Therapy Code of Ethics considers self-care as an ethical mandate. This document directs feminist therapists to be "willing to self-nurture in appropriate and self-empowering ways." To teach this important lesson, I gave students a day off from class and required them to do something self-nurturing during that time. They then had to report back on what they learned. The students' activities, as well as their reactions to what they learned by being forced to care for themselves, was varied. None, however, disputed the importance. Many talked about how difficult it is to fit in such self-affirming activities in busy, demanding days and lives.


Fitting self-care into one's life is the focus of an entire chapter in my book, A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex. This chapter explains that self-care decreases stress and enhances physical and emotional health-which in turn, enhance sexual desire. This chapter also emphasizes the difference between self-care and selfishness, and provides a four step approach to carving out time in one's life for both self-care and connected time with one's partner. A potpourri of self-care activities is also listed, with exercise being the activity most strongly touted as a sex-drive enhancing self-care activity.  (This point was also the focus of a previous blog).

Certainly, I can't summarize this entire chapter in an approximately 550 word blog. So, instead, I will simply emphasize the difference between self-care and selfishness.


Although people, especially women, often think of self-care as selfish, just the opposite is true. Being selfish is to be focused on one's own needs regardless of the needs of others. Selfish acts come at the expense of others. Self-care, on the other hand, is intentionally taking time to do something that energizes you. Often busy women declare that they simply don't have time to take care of themselves. The irony is that saying there is no time to take care of yourself means that taking better care of yourself is exactly what you need to do! And, if you don't do it for yourself, do it for someone else: Fill your pitcher so you can fill someone else's cup lovingly and calmly---and without stress-related spill-over.