Taking Care of Ourselves: It’s Not Selfish!

take_care_of_yourself_mediumMore than a few of my friends have told me that one of their commitments this year is to do better in the area of self-care.  It’s not news that women, especially women with families, are more likely to put others before themselves.  Anyone with an inkling of feminist awareness has long known that self-sacrifice is one of the feminine virtues. Sometimes we dress it up as “nurturing.”

Call it what you will, it means that many women need to actively assert themselves to draw lines around the time they protect for self-care. I consider this a significant feminist issue because it has an disproportionate impact on women.  And one area that goes by the wayside when we’re feeling pressed for time and pulled in lots of directions is physical activity.

I see this tendency towards guilt in myself sometimes when I’m trying to schedule my activities.  In the fall, I went into a new schedule of working out (since changed) that had me out of the house by 6 most weekday mornings.  Mornings used to be times spent in bed chatting about this and that with my partner.  So when I began to duck out for workouts and swims instead, I felt kind of guilty.

That feminine guilt (I know we don’t all have it, but anecdotally I know quite a few women who do) when we do things that might disappoint other people or let them down in some way sometimes makes us decide against doing those things that are just for us.  As it turned out, my partner didn’t care one way or the other.  He just stayed warm and cozy in bed while I went to the gym or the pool.

Now things have changed and we’re working out together at home twice a week and going to yoga together once a week. But that feeling crept back when I decided to join a 10K training group that began last week (in frigid winter weather!).  Around my house, we usually have dinner together around 6:30 p.m.  But now my training group runs on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m.  So the usual dinner schedule is disrupted.

We also used to do something together on Sunday mornings, but now my training group goes for its long runs on Sunday mornings.  The guilt snapped at my heels again when I signed up. But this time I was able to push it away.

Activity is part of what I do to look after myself and confirm not just to myself but to those around me that I’m not endlessly available for others.  I’m a much more effective and pleasant friend, partner, daughter, step-mom, and sister when I get in what I like to call my “T-time.”  It’s a cliché but the fact is, I do have more to give to others when I’m staying on top of my self-care.

As in all things, balance is good. I know lots of people who find the balance by doing active things with their partners and children.  But that doesn’t always work in all areas. I love triathlon, and my partner, Renald, doesn’t run, swim, or bike. We do a bit of  yoga together and are now doing our resistance training together again, but he’s big into tennis. Me, not so much.

And while it’s great to spend time with family and partners, I think that all too often women feel pressure to avoid things that do not include their families or partners. The risk of doing things on our own, of claiming our “T-time” or “me-time,” is that we’ll be called selfish.

I’ve always been fairly good at claiming my space in the world and doing what makes me happy.  But sometimes I feel badly about it. I’m turning 50 this year. And you know what?  This is my year not to feel guilty when I do all that stuff that looks like it’s just for me!

I’d love you to join me!


24 thoughts on “Taking Care of Ourselves: It’s Not Selfish!

  1. One of my favorite thought-experiments is to ask how the world would be different if everyone just took good care of themselves – took basic measures to keep themselves healthy, both mentally and physically, and paid attention to their emotional and spiritual needs, in an age-appropriate way. I am a community college teacher and I frequently note how poorly my students take care of themselves – they create unrealistic schedules, they eat terrible food on a regular basis, they don’t get nearly enough sleep. Interestingly, Some of the healthiest young people among my students are athletes – but not the ones who are on college teams. The healthiest ones, both mentally and physically, seem to be the ones who work out at gyms and who have their own personal fitness goals. They are not enslaved to any coach or college program. They take responsibility for eating and sleeping to support their training. Some of them even have part-time jobs at their gyms – far healthier for them than bars or restaurants. It’s an interesting pattern.

    1. That is an interesting thought experiment. The world would be incredibly different. I think current stats show that something like 80% of the population doesn’t get enough exercise. Your observations about college kids are so true. I think we don’t do enough to teach people the basics of valuing themselves and caring for themselves. And I agree that it ties in with emotional/spiritual care. If you believe you matter, then you’re more likely to look after yourself. Thanks for this great comment.

  2. I agree that the value of caring for oneself should be better promoted. The question, however, like in so many things, is: how? Far too often the message is expressed in a way whereby those who are resistant to the message in any way are attacked and are told they will likely be 300 pounds by the time they are 30 or that they have no discipline or self-pride. Even now, as Sam has suggested, gyms are hardly fat-friendly places. So quite simply, I think that enormous care has to be taken in how the message is promoted, and that even more care has to be taken in deciphering exactly what the message is.

    1. For sure there are other issues about the “how.” But they strike me as separate questions from the “that” of it all. We are often discouraged or dissuaded or even apologetic about doing things that have no obvious (immediate) benefit for others on the grounds that they’re selfish. That’s the FIRST obstacle for many people.

  3. This reminds me of something one of my yoga teachers always says at the end of class along these lines: “Thank you for taking the time out of your day to take care of you so that you can take better care of others.” Her words are more eloquent but the message is clear: when we take better care of ourselves, we’re better people. I agree with that!

  4. I agree completely with Cheryl, and Tracy. Perhaps the message should be conveyed in a manner whereby light is shone on the dangers of becoming an enabler and that you really will be better – much, much better to the others in your life, when you take the time to properly care for yourself and thereby learn to assist others in taking care of themselves, as opposed to simply taking care of them or enabling them to remain stunted.

  5. Thanks for your comment. I like that. We don’t want only instrumental reasons to motivate us (if we look after ourselves, we’ll be able to look after others better), and for sure it’s a good goal to get others to be more self-sufficient. But again, it’s got to be about balance. There’s nothing wrong with doing things for people or having them do stuff for us. More than that: there’s also nothing wrong with doing things for ourselves even if they have no immediate or instrumental benefit for others.

    1. Yes, I agree. Independence over codependence! Speak not only of the dangers of being an enabler or codependent, but perhaps even more importantly, the virtues and the health that comes with independence, i.e. to no longer obsess about others, being able to accept that disagreements are in no way threatening, being free to meet your own needs, being able to give freely and not as a martyr, being able to receive intimacy without fear, knowing what you think, feel and want, etc., etc.

  6. And to have the ability to pass these positive traits on to your children and perhaps others close to you – so that they can live freely and take care of themselves in a loving way, just like you do.

  7. If we don’t look after ourselves, nobody will do it for us! No marriage is worth your physical and emotional well being!

  8. So true, especially the part about us imagining their displeasure… More than likely they are proud of us or totally ambivalent!

    1. As a man, I can tell you that what you say is absolutely true! Men, believe it or not, actually love it when their wives become more independent and do things for themselves as opposed to what they think everybody else needs from them!

      1. Some men, but not all, my ex wanted me to be a frumpy overweight housekeeper and never do anything for myself. I vowed never to put myself in that situation again. From now on it’s me, myself and I!!

  9. Reblogged this on Fit Is a Feminist Issue and commented:

    As I worked on the book chapter about developing an attitude for a sustainable routine this morning, I thought of this post from over a year ago. We’re allowed to do things for ourselves that don’t have a lot of benefit for others! What’s on your list of things you do for no one but yourself? How do you feel about it? How do the people in your life feel about it? If you can pursue your interests without any feelings of guilt, congratulations! #tbt

  10. I love this post! It really does touch on the subject of women and self-sacrifice. My grandmother is the very definition of self-sacrifice. She does so much for other people and just really doesn’t set aside enough time to take care of herself. As fellow woman, I try to talk it up her, that’s important health wise. I sometimes feel guilty when I do things myself, without my fiance, it really depends on the activity. Right now, we’re both with a personal trainer, because we’re getting married this year, and so we both have that common goal to be healthy and active. The fact that we’re in it together really takes some of the stress off. Nice post again!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you liked the post so much. And congrats on your upcoming wedding! We started out personal training together too and for me it branched out into a renewed interest in trying new things.

      1. I agree, it helps with trying new things, being more adventurous and really strengthens a relationship I think, when you can accomplish goals together. Following this blog and looking forward to more 🙂

  11. Taking a little time off to take care of one’s self is not a bad thing when the things you do are meant to help you grow and develop BUT remember thinking of yourself alone ALWAYS is SELFISHNESS

  12. No one ever tells women who take care of themselves in traditional ways( spends hours doing hair and makeup, shopping for clothes) that they are selfish. This is because exercise breaks sex role rules which state that female bodies are there to be objects, not instruments for womens own use.

    Women are expected to have thighs, stomachs and bottoms not abs, hamstrings and quadriceps and they are expected to work on their bodies from an outer perspective not from an inner one. This is why they are expected to diet and use ineffective exercise equipment coloured pink and made for women to work the expected areas.

    The main barrier for a lot of women is gender stereotyping, built on ideas that womens bodies should not have muscles or physical capability outside the reproductive role. Preventing women from being active is part of making women feel incapable and in need of a man to do things for her. If women find their bodys are good instruments to live in, and are capable of doing many things then they will find they need to depend on men for less. Its true that men have more natural strength, but most things people need to do in everyday life don’t require a mans strength and instead require stamina. Both sexes are capable of as much stamina, everything is set against women to reduce theirs. Everything from the types of shoes girls are expected to wear, to the way they are expected to style themselves acts as a barrier to activity. Its all about adding reasons to womens list as to why they cant, they may break a nail, chip the varnish, wet their hair, or their shoes are so flimsy that their feet ache etc. The skirt may blow up in the wind, or the light colours soon tarnish. Everything made for women stands in opposition to physicality and most of the things women are called boyish or butch for wearing are things that add functionality to the body. Things with pockets, t shirts that dont slip off or ride up, pants that are not too tight or too baggy they flap around. Basically clothes that are built for function and that functionality is the style tend to be found in the mens. For women the style is built around their lack of functionality, even in sports gear it becomes more important to show certain areas off then keep cool. Its for this reason women get tight lycra pants which are unhealthy and men get loose climacool shorts with pockets. Other peoples view of his rear matters less than his experience of wearing the shorts. Womens gym gear is tighter, elastic and they are still expected not to sweat.

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