Can You Prioritize Your Needs Without Feeling Selfish?

Written by on February 22, 2017 in Accountability, Self-Awareness, Self-Care

Do You Feel Selfish


Self-care is neither a luxury nor selfish. Managing stress, honoring your limits, getting adequate rest, exercise and healthy eating are all necessary forms of self-love.

Sound familiar?

Chances are pretty good that you’ve heard it all before, and the fact that you’re reading this is a good indication that you don’t necessarily disagree with the idea of self-care.

For most people theory isn’t the problem, it’s the practical application.

Taking good care of you means the people in your life will receive the best of you, rather than what’s left of you ~Carl Bryan

Can You Prioritize Your Needs Without Feeling Selfish?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of selfish is: being concerned exclusively or excessively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure or well-being without regard for others.

So to say that taking care of your own needs is selfish would then mean that you value yourself so little that nurturing your physical and emotional well-being is really taking from others for your own personal gain.

Ask yourself this …

What would your family do if you were suddenly gone? Who would take care of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands and shuttling, soothing scraped knees and broken hearts? Of course, they would mourn and miss you because they love you and you were such a great person, but eventually, they would pick up their lives and move on.

When we struggle to keep up with our role as caregiver, (as we often do) it inevitably triggers a self-defeating cycle of guilt. In the end, the only thing you can truly control is you, so naturally, you sacrifice yourself.

You know you should say “no” more often, and you’ve heard the advice on setting limits, but you continue to push yourself because you’re afraid that someone might get mad or won’t like you if you disappoint him or her.

While this behavior can be problematic enough when everything is running smoothly in your life, the stress level can ramp up to a whole new level when you add a disruption or unexpected change to your life circumstances.

For many these days, that change has meant suddenly finding themselves in the role of caregiver for a parent.

No one is going to swoop in and declare “Yes, I officially give you permission to take care of yourself!” You have to decide to be honest about your wants and needs and to believe, really BELIEVE that you are worth the effort. Then you have to take the first step and keep going …

Research has shown that family caregivers of any age, gender, race or ethnic background are less likely than non-caregivers to practice preventive healthcare and self-care behavior. As a result, they are not only more likely to experience chronic illness, it is estimated that 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers experience clinical depression.

While caring for a family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience, it can also be an emotional roller coaster ride complete with exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources and continuous care demands.

Beware the Resentment Trap

This emotion is so taboo that many people are loathed to even discuss it.

While always putting the concerns and welfare others first may seem like the honorable and selfless thing to do, there is a very real risk of eventually finding yourself feeling the lack of control over your own life as a result of all of the responsibility you’ve heaped upon yourself.

This is where we begin hearing that familiar plea, “All I want is a few minutes to myself!”

Exhaustion can leave us vulnerable to imagined slights, emotional swings, and feelings that others aren’t sufficiently grateful for our sacrifices. When we fail to recognize this for what it is – resentment – it can blossom into feelings of anger and depression.

It really is okay for there to be times when you stop putting everyone else first, and just do what’s best for you.

Maybe it’s GOOD to Be Selfish Sometimes!

Selfish is just a word. It is neither good nor bad unless we choose to define it that way.

You may be able to convince yourself that taking the time to care for your own needs is a necessary investment in your health and well-being, but the first time someone else even hints at the idea that your intentions are selfish in nature, that pesky cycle of guilt will set in.

And I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but sometimes that will be intentional.

If it is the norm for you to self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, and then you suddenly, albeit lovingly, begin encouraging your family to learn to take care of at least some of their own needs, then yes, chances are they’re going to probably push back. That doesn’t make you selfish or mean that you should go back to your own self-sacrificing ways.

On the contrary, this is your opportunity to set the example! When you are filling your own emotional and physical reserves with self-respect and loving care, you will have much more to give to your family, friends, and the world in general.

Ultimately, this is about believing that you deserve to receive the same amount of care and love as you give to others.

When you truly believe this, others will too.

How about you? Have you been waiting for an engraved invitation from others to do the things that would make you feel better physically and emotionally because to take care of yourself would feel too selfish?

Will you be the passenger or the driver in your life journey?
About Marquita A. Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click here.


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31 Reader Comments

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  1. Joyce Hansen

    Sometimes I think my life is all about solving the problems of others. Yes, I can fall into resentment easily by saying why me? In a position now, where I can’t say no, but I am trying to make more time for myself.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…When you really want to optimize productivityMy Profile

  2. Sue Kearney says:

    The resentment trap rang a big bell. Having to find new housing and not having initiated this change has had me working really hard and being out of balance — skipping my daily walks, not getting enough rest. Feeling so much pressure to get this done and do it right. Not taking down time. Yup, not sustainable. Thanks for helping me remember and get clearer about this.

    Blessed be.
    Sue Kearney recently posted…Doors close. Doors open. And yes, it can be hell in the hallway.My Profile

  3. Erica says:

    Great post! I talk about this subject so much with what I do. I feel like so many of us feel guilty doing anything for ourselves. And that goes double for caregivers. And many of my clients only nurture themselves through food. Because even though they can feel shame with bad eating habits, they don’t feel the same time of guilt as when they spend time on themselves. Self-care is so important. Neglecting yourself is never necessary, no matter who is depending on you. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos

    I love this blog, especially the point made about by taking care of your self you give your friends and family the best part of you rather than what is left over of you. That is powerful!

  5. Ruth Bowers

    As a single mom I used to always put my own self-care at the bottom of the list to make sure my son was taken care of. Now that he’s an adult I’m getting better at putting my own self-care first, but I still have a tendency to want to do for him and put him first even though I know I don’t need to do that anymore.
    Ruth Bowers recently posted…[Friday Five] 5 Tips for Increasing Content ConversionsMy Profile

  6. Joy Healey

    Hi Marquita,
    A very relevant post for me this week as I am just trying to regroup after a crisis with the care package we have put in place for my Dad.
    I feel so terribly guilty for not being his full-time carer, but I have to admit I’m just not up to the job.
    Joy – Blogging After Dark

  7. Sushmita

    I am so glad to overcome this phase still, l quite a few times get carried back so it comes back to working on it phase. 🙁
    Sushmita recently posted…Valuable Online Marketing Trends in Spotlight for 2017My Profile

  8. Julie Gorges

    Marquita, we probably know each other enough by now, that you know this is a subject SO close to my heart, since I was a caregiver for my Mom who suffered from Lewy Body dementia (a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) for a few years before her death. I kept my promise to not put my Mom in a nursing home, but one of the regrets I have is not calling in professional help earlier (we only did this in her final weeks of life). It would have not only helped my sanity, but in the end, it would have benefited my Mom as well.
    I keep thinking that I’m getting better at saying no, but the truth is, even in my 50’s I’m still struggling with this issue. I am now in the process of writing a book on caregiving based on my experiences, and much of what you said is right on the money. Very useful information that I hope that will help people who find themselves in my circumstances.
    Julie Gorges recently posted…Why I Love BloggingMy Profile

  9. Tatia S.

    Hi Marquita. I’ve been trying to focus more lately on prioritizing need more professionally and socially. I don’t think that’s a sign of being selfish because by taking care of yourself, you’re in a stronger position to look after others. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Jeri

    I’ve been struggling with this concept lately. I am by nature a caregiver, so it’s very foreign to me to ask others for help. Yet, I am realizing there comes a time in life when we do need to be selfish and ask for what we need.
    Jeri recently posted…#LitChat: Eccentric Writing Habits of Famous Writers (Infographic)My Profile

  11. Millen

    Love this post, Marquita, and it is very timely for me as well. My grown up daughter was living with us for two years and I was happy to help her while she was going through challenging time. I felt that is what parents must do. However, lately I started to feel resentment and realized that my offering of a ‘safety net’ turned out to become a convenient ‘hammock’.
    It was not easy for me to choose my wellbeing and ask her to move out but I did it! It felt right… and I realized that it is better to say NO lovingly than to say Yes with resentment. Thank you for bringing this important topic to our awareness!
    Millen recently posted…Looking For a Shortcut to Success? Here Is What I Discovered!My Profile

  12. Vatsala Shukla

    A colleague of mine who specializes in coaching and supporting caregivers pointed out the need for self-care and the risk that caregivers run of falling ill themselves if they ignore their health, Marquita.

    It was one of those aha moments when I realized that as I grow older and start slowing down, I need to prioritize my health and well-being too. Fortunately I’ve built in a Me Day into my weekly routine and if I slip, my Mom makes sure that I do something about it. In a way it means I don’t run the risk of falling into the resentment trap.
    Vatsala Shukla recently posted…5 Boss Personality Types every Professional needs to manage for peace of MindMy Profile

  13. Mandy Allen says:

    Well, the answer to the question is yes I can. I find it is much better for me and my health to do things for me, have a strategy to make sure I am looking after myself.

    Enjoy the journey!

  14. Beautifully said Phoenicia! 🙂

  15. Sounds like you all too normal Jen. 🙂 But I’m glad that you do find a way to push through the resistance to care for yourself.

  16. I hope that you took the opportunity to download the eBook Danielle because there is a lot of great information in there that will help you get on the right track with this issue. 🙂

  17. Well said Rosemary. I think for men it’s an issue they discover as a result of circumstances, but for most women putting others first is something that is often drilled into us in the name of being ‘good little girls’ from a very young age. Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

  18. I understand Mark, I knew about the issues but had no idea the numbers were so high either until I dig into some recent studies. Self-care is far more important that most people are aware, which is a message I hope to spread in the months to come. Thanks for contributing to the conversation my friend. 🙂

  19. Good for you Doreen! I hope you have a wonderful time, and I have no doubt you will be all the better for taking this time to get some well-deserved rest.

  20. Welcome Lozelle, and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us on this important topic. Always appreciated!

  21. Welcome Rajkumar, and thanks for taking the time to let me know you found value in the post.

  22. PhoeniciaO

    Marquita – I always look out for your posts! They uplift me as encourage me.

    We do need to look after ourselves as we are of little use to anyone if we burn out. We owe it to ourselves to take time out and to decline from an engagement because we want to stay home or do something else.

    I struggled immensely with saying no. I worried people would be disappointed and back off as a result. I saw myself living for the approval of others even when it was to my own detriment.

    I cannot live my life for others. I need to be honest about my willingness and limitations. It is far better to say no with a good heart than say yes and feel resentful.
    PhoeniciaO recently posted…Are you confident?My Profile

  23. Jen Monks

    I believe I deserve to be healthy and relaxed, but sometimes I run into a buzzsaw of tasks and to-dos. I really have to make myself meditate or exercise. Once I do one of those things, I feel so much better, but getting myself to do them is a struggle.

  24. Danielle

    This so something I have to work on. I always feel the need to drop everything I’m doing when someone asks me to do something for them. I feel guilty when I don’t or when I can’t.

  25. Taiwo Emayosanlomo

    Hi Marquita,
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post,
    It is very easy to let go of our personal needs when engrossed in caring and satisfying the needs of our loved ones.
    No matter what, it is essential that we strike a balance between caring for our self and others. There is a biblical injunction which says, “love your neighbor as yourself,” not love your neighbor more than yourself.
    Striking a balance between being selfish and caring for others in relation to our personal needs requires great wisdom.
    Thanks for sharing.

  26. I do agree that men understand this concept, but that women tend to experience it more frequently. And, sadly I admit, we often take it upon ourselves when it’s not necessary to do so. It took years for me to find the balance between selfish, self-care, and selfless. They are all important, but they sure do have to work together to make you a rounded person.

  27. Mark

    Wow M!

    Another extremely eye opening post.

    Actually, as I was initially reading your comments and gaining your perspective, on whether or not, being more pro-active, when it comes to caring for oneself, is considered being selfish or not.

    I was totally feeling good and kinda smug, until I read your stats, on the percentage of caregivers, who are actually depressed!To some degree or another.

    I literally had no idea the numbers were so high! And the problem was so prevalent.

    And I couldn’t agree more, with your assessment, on guilt being such a potentially destructive force in our lives!

    Isn’t it totally ironic, to think, we actually need a pro-active plan, in order to administer some much needed self care!

    Thanks for opening my eyes wide to such an incredibly important issue!
    Mark recently posted…Why Thinking And Acting Like An Entrepreneur Can Make You Money!Part TwoMy Profile

  28. Hi Marty. As a full-time caregiver, I can relate to this post all too well. But I also know how important it is to care for ourselves. So I’m going on a much-needed vacation this weekend and have arranged for home care for my husband while I am away. It will be good for both of us, as I am hoping to come home refreshed.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…celebrating Chocolate Mint Day with Mordens’ ChocolateMy Profile

  29. I believe it is totally okay to be selfish when it comes to taking care of yourself. As a mom, wife and friend, I am no good to anyone if I don’t have a chance to regroup with my own self-being. To me it is more than going for a mani or pedi, it is taking a few hours during the week to mediate, think and just relax without any interruptions.

  30. Rajkumar says:

    Well I believe prioritizing the needs is really important to achieve or accomplish our goals. This is indeed a very insightful post.

    Rajkumar recently posted…SD Card FAQs: Everything You Need to Know to Save Space and Store More MediaMy Profile