As women, we all serve in multiple roles during any given day day. We may serve as mom, daughter, significant other, sister, boss, co-worker, entrepreneur, activist, or friend, among others. Many of us have been programmed to believe that all those roles have to come before our own needs.
Self-care, on the other hand, is the deliberate act of centering ourselves and putting our needs at the forefront of our priority list. It involves engaging in activities or practices that help reduce or manage stress, aid in our overall health and well-being, increase our energy and satisfaction, and assist in taking care of our emotional, mental, and physical health.
I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival. — Audre Lorde
When we have a never-ending to-do list, it’s easy to prioritize the needs of others and the responsibilities of daily life until we run ourselves ragged. Self-care frequently ends up at the bottom of the list, and often gets ignored altogether because there always seems to be more pressing matters to tend to.
For years, people — women in particular — have talked about self-care through the angle of how important it is to take care of ourselves so that we are better able to take care of others in our lives. I’m sure you’ve heard those sentiments before, such as “you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first” or “you can’t serve from an empty vessel.”
On the surface, these concepts all make sense. Focusing on our own self-care does allows us to be better equipped to serve others in our lives.
Below the surface, however, that idea is actually flawed. If we believe the rhetoric according to which the purpose of self-care is to be better acclimated to take care of others, then we begin to view it solely as something we should allow ourselves in order to show up better for other people.
Why Self-Care and Guilt Can’t Mix
The purpose of self-care is not to take care of others, it’s to take care of ourselves.
Caring for others should never be the basis for allowing ourselves the privilege of self-care. In fact, self-care is not a privilege at all, it’s a right — a necessity, in fact. To believe otherwise predisposes us for guilt and shame.
Have you ever experienced guilt for prioritizing self-care and putting other things on the back burner in favor of doing something for yourself? If you have, you’re not alone: it’s fairly common for people to feel guilt around centering themselves.
However, the reality is that prioritizing self-care is not selfish, nor is it self-indulgent. Self-care is not a luxury, it’s literally an act of survival. It’s essential to your health and well-being, and as such, there is no guilt in that.
If you find yourself experiencing feelings of guilt around self-care, or question if you are wasting time or being unproductive, remind yourself of how great you feel when you intentionally prioritize activities that replenish you. Inevitably, you end up feeling more refreshed, more connected, more inspired, and more equipped to show up powerfully.
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. — Audre Lorde
Women have been taught to believe that we should sacrifice for the needs of others; the needs of our children, our significant others, our clients. Many of us have been programmed to believe that spending money on a massage, a pedicure, or splurging on an expensive bottle of wine for ourselves is wasteful; that our money would be better spent on other people or other things.
We are constantly bombarded with messages of what it means to be a “good” wife or a “good” mom. That usually involves making sure everyone else’s needs are met before even thinking of our own needs.
While society would prefer women to believe that our purpose in life is to serve others, I simply don’t believe that is our life’s work.
A True Act of Survival
We can enjoy and be grateful for all of the roles that we get to assume, but that doesn’t mean that serving others at the expense of our own well-being is what we are put on this earth to do. When we add in the dynamics of race, class, and gender identity, the discussion around self-care becomes even trickier.
As a woman of color, I was raised to believe the narrative of the “strong black woman” in which black women are expected to the shoulder the burdens of others and take care of everyone. Dating all the way back to slavery, society has told us that this is our role. It can be difficult and challenging to let go of those narratives and to create new stories for ourselves — stories in which we are at the center.
Too often, self-care is envisioned as doing things that will bolster our physical and emotional well-being, but on a superficial level. It has to go beyond this. It is, as Audre Lorde points out, “an act of survival.” When we think of self-care in those terms, it goes beyond just taking a bubble bath, getting a message, or taking 10 minutes to meditate.
Self-care includes taking care of ourselves in a manner that focuses on prioritizing all aspects of our health, things that help us actually survive in the world. This could include eating in a way that nourishes our bodies, making time for regular movement and exercise, getting yearly mammograms and checkups, and managing our daily stress.
There is no guilt in ensuring that we not only survive, but thrive. That’s what we are really after, isn’t it? We want to live full, satisfying lives in which we are thriving and creating our best realities.
Although things like traveling or enjoying a spa day are excellent ways to take care of ourselves, there are a myriad of inexpensive ways to practice self-care, such as taking a hike or a walk, reading a good book, enjoying a good conversation with a friend, taking a nap, enjoying a relaxing bubble bath, jamming out to your favorite music, practicing yoga, journaling, meditating, catching up on an episode of your favorite television show, or enjoying a glass of wine in solitude.
Prioritizing Yourself: A Reminder
If you find yourself faced with guilt when it comes to prioritizing your self-care, remember the following things:
- Self-care is a not a luxury. It’s a necessity.
- Self-care is an act of survival, and there is no guilt or shame in surviving. Additionally, the goal is not only to survive, but also to thrive.
- Self-care is an act of self-compassion and empowerment. We have the right to center ourselves.
Self-care is not just a nice thing to do or to practice occasionally. It’s a non-negotiable part our overall health and well-being.
Contrary to cultural beliefs, women don’t have to show up as Superwoman or Supermom day in and day out. We don’t have to save the world at the expense of ourselves. If I were to put my faith in anyone to save the world, it would be women… but let’s do it well-rested!