Is Self-Care Selfish? Self-Centeredness vs. Selflessness in Mental Health

Michelle Kim
Michelle Kim

In life, we often find ourselves swaying to the rhythms of obligations, responsibilities, and the needs of others. Amidst all this, it’s easy to lose sight of the most essential melody: the tune of self-care and self-love. We tend to gravitate towards our daily obligations and responsibilities and repress the self-care necessary to allow us to carry on these activities. By providing ourselves with these acts of love, we can prioritize our well-being alongside the other essential parts of our lives, not instead of them. We answer the question “Is self-care selfish?” with a resounding no, remembering that to invest in our communities and incite change, we must first fill our own cup. We remember that devoid of anything we give or anyone we are, we are worthy of love and care.

If you’re unsure what a realistic self-care routine can look like, know you’re not alone. It can be hard to find achievable, practical ways to give back to ourselves, especially if prioritizing your own well-being isn’t something you are used to. Whether you’re a student looking for ways to work self-care into your busy schedule or someone who feels weighed down by the internet’s unrealistic expectations of what self-care should look like, remember this: self-care is an act of self-love. It is unique to you, serves your needs at that moment, and can change daily. It might feel unnatural initially, but by investing in yourself, you set your future interactions, goals, and needs up for success.

Engaging in self-care can also be a way to show love and care to those around you indirectly. When we prioritize our well-being, we set a powerful example for others to follow. By honoring our boundaries, practicing mindfulness, and nourishing our bodies, we create a blueprint for healthy relationships built on mutual respect and understanding. When we point this self-care to others, we invite them to join us in caring for their minds and bodies and help create a healthier, more thriving community inclusive of our friends and family.

Finally, for those who feel most recharged surrounded by others or engaging in acts of service, know that self-care and self-love are not limited to acts we give ourselves but are also found in the acts displayed to others. Checking in with a recently quiet friend can be a form of self-care, as can donating your time by volunteering with a cause you care deeply about. However, as much as we may love and feel recharged by giving back to our friends and family, it’s important to remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup. If this kind of self-care is not leaving you as recharged as you thought, don’t feel selfish for having to pull back. Part of self-care must be centering your needs and ensuring you are cared for.

In those moments when prioritizing you feels like an uphill battle, remember that replenishing your cup isn’t just a luxury but a necessity. Self-care is not selfish in the slightest — instead, it’s about carving out moments of respite amidst the chaos, reclaiming your time, and honoring your needs with the same tenderness and compassion you give others. Self-love and these small acts of kindness allow us to appreciate how we provide to others, such as checking in on friends and family and ensuring that those around us are cared for. In times when it feels easy to deprioritize yourself in favor of managing everything else going on in our hectic lives, remember that showing up for yourself is just as important as showing up for others. You deserve it.