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Is Self-Care Selfish?

How to take care of yourself and not feel guilty!

“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.”

“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.”

~Parker Palmer

Remember the old cliché? “Take care of yourself first or you will have nothing left to give others.” Or, “ we can’t give what we don’t have.” But what is self-care really? Why is it so difficult and why do we feel guilty about doing it?

We were all given this special house to live in… our own body, mind and soul. It is our responsibility to take good care of it and treat it with ultimate respect. It carries within our special gifts and talents that are uniquely ours. Self-care is about seeking and nurturing internal validation. It is finding the sweet child within and giving him or her soothing comfort, reassurance, and warm, loving thoughts and wishes. It is about taking care of the internal emotional side of our being and learning self-compassion.

Adult children of narcissistic parents and certainly many others too, were often told they were selfish as children. It is normal for children to express desires and wishes and many times stressed out parents, feeling their own guilt or issues will unwittingly put this label on a child. It is a destructive move for the child because we optimally want to encourage children to have a voice and speak their feelings. This is how they develop a sense of self.

There is a difference between self-absorbed, narcissistic behavior and sound internal self-care. Self-care is about taking good care of our own feelings so we don’t project them onto others, act badly, or cause problems in relationships. Being in touch with our own feelings and embracing them is the healthiest thing we can do.

How many times have you heard a misrepresentation of self-care? Yes, I am taking care of myself. “ I just bought a great pair of shoes!” “ I just went on an awesome vacation!” “ I just bought my first motorcycle!” While none of these are wrong and are another part of self-care, I am talking about embracing your inner child and doing some real parenting of that little kid. You are the only person who can do that!

If you grew up in an environment where your emotional needs were not met, or you were primarily taking care of your parents instead of the other way around, you have likely learned to be co-dependent and to take care of others to the exclusion of taking care of yourself. It is surprising, for example, how many adult children of narcissistic parents are working in the health care fields. Thank goodness, we need you, but learning self-care may be new to you and it is a process of re-parenting yourself.

I use doll therapy to teach self-care. Holding a doll or teddy bear, asking him or her what she needs, listening to his or her innermost thoughts and feelings, and then offering warm validation is very important. When I first learned to do this, I would sit in a rocking chair and visualize my younger self jumping into my lap and talking to me. When she first showed up, she was angry. She clearly told me she needed more love and attention from me. What does your little guy or gal have to say?

Ask your inner child what he or she needs. Listen to that every day. This is really your intuitive side talking to you. Allow the feelings to be ok. When you make mistakes, talk to your inner child and calm him or her, while you also reassure. Tell the child it is ok and you will help make it better. When he or she tells you they are hungry, tired, hurt, sad, lonely… listen, care and do something to help that little one within. No one can do this for you.

As we learn better self-care, we become better people in general. When we are in touch with our own feelings, we can then reach out more effectively to others and show love and empathy to them also. If we are filling our own emotional tanks with self-respect and loving care, we have much more to give to our families, friends, and the world in general.

Re-think your New Years Resolutions…do they include some great care taking of you? If not, add them now. It’s February and Valentines Day is near! Give yourself a love gift. It is an understatement to say we live in a stressful culture these days. The on-going struggles we see and feel are infinite. But, what we can control is what is within…how we feel about ourselves and how we treat ourselves. I believe in child advocacy and it begins with the little kid within us.

Allowing others to define you or seeking external validation does not work. It is a short-term band-aid that will not stick. E.E. Cummings wrote, “ It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Nourishing yourself in every way possible will help you blossom and grow into the woman or man you are meant to be. We all have our purpose here and special paths to follow. Using healthy self-care to maintain your internal emotional tune-up is a gift worth giving yourself now. Happy Valentines Day! Let me say again, give yourself the gift of love!

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio Book:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:



Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride

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More from Karyl McBride Ph.D.
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