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CommunicationLeadership: Say it like a leaderResiliency & attitude

Self-care isn’t selfish. Here’s why.

By July 24, 2018 December 6th, 2019 No Comments

You communicate what you value by how you spend your resources. So let me ask you this, and I want you to really think about it and answer honestly — are you spending enough of your resources on yourself? In other words, are you showing the world that you value YOU and that you are valuable? If you answered in the affirmative, bravo! You deserve it. I encourage you to keep it up.


Or, on the other hand, are you playing the victim? Do you give until you bleed and put yourself into painful situations that have no chance of improving? Do you think self-sacrifice and the pain it inflicts on you is an expression of love? No, not at all. You don’t have to hurt yourself to show love. If you’re in the victim’s role right now, you’re setting yourself up for headaches, sorrow, and unspeakable stress. In addition to the price you will pay, others will pay as well because you and your problems become a burden to others. You can’t survive and thrive if you’re hemorrhaging finances, emotions, health, or any other vital part of your life. This thinking is critically important for healthy self-respect and relationships. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s selfless and it’s responsible. Taking care of yourself means someone else doesn’t have to and it ensures that you have resources left over to help others. Whoever told you being a martyr is honorable, lied. It’s unnecessary, exceptionally unattractive, and not logical at all. Depleting your own reserves means you’re running on empty and have nothing for yourself or others in your life. Conversely, self-care ensures that your cup is brimming to the point of overflowing — so much so, you can not only quench your thirst, you can also readily fill the cup of others. Don’t give to the point of irreparable damage.

A message I learned from Karen

When I was in my thirties, I was working at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, Ontario. Every year, the United Way Campaign was a big deal with fundraising goals and presentations. This year, all the employees were gathered in the auditorium and listening to one of our own colleagues recount her experience with painful arthritis and how much United Way had helped her. It was impactful hearing a personal story from someone we all knew and trusted. It was interesting to note that, although I had worked with this lady for several years, I never knew her personal struggles. She worked in sponsorship and I in communications, so our paths crossed frequently, yet I had never seen this side of her. I will never forget her final words, in closing. She looked earnestly at the crowd and advised us, “Don’t give until it hurts – just give until it feels good.” Wise words. She was talking about maintaining a balance between helping others and taking care of yourself. The message I took away was that you can help others without hurting yourself. She was talking about self-care.

Some would say that self-care is greedy, self-centered, and egocentric. I contend quite the opposite. If you don’t take care of yourself, you become a burden, a liability and possibly a risk to others. Airline attendants instruct to take your oxygen first because you can’t help others if you’re passed out. If you see someone drowning and you’re not strong enough to rescue them, you both drown. Get yourself on solid ground and you can then reach out to save. You can’t fill someone else’s glass if yours is empty.

When you take care of you first, it shifts everything in your life and you have more reserves to be better for everyone else. There’s nothing selfish about that. Think about it. Are you giving constantly? Do you repress your own needs and emotions? Are you living only for others? Maybe it’s your spouse, your children, your passion project, your clients. You give to the point that your cup is bone dry. You have nothing more to offer. You’re exhausted, burnt out, perhaps even resentful. You can’t go on. And now, someone somewhere has to pick up your slack. All because you didn’t care for yourself.


There is a field of mounting research suggesting a link between chronic illness and the inability to productively express your own needs. Interestingly, in his 2012 book, When the Body Says No (The Cost of Hidden Stress)[1], Canadian medical doctor, Gabor Mate, cites many studies indicating a relationship between unexpressed emotions of anger and resentment, even if they are subconscious, being a trigger for chronic illnesses such as cancer, and immunology disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma. After sometimes a lifetime of ignoring signals and getting mixed messages that you don’t count, your body finally responds and starts attacking itself. In these moments, you pay for the chronic stress your lack of self-care has dished out for years.

Imagine a world where you love yourself as much as you love others, where you care for yourself as much as you do them. Forget about that misguided sense of loyalty to others that always comes at an expense to yourself. That underlying thinking is trapping you in a losing cycle.

How many of your dreams and goals have you buried in order to make room for someone else’s? Last time you flew in an airplane, don’t you remember the pre-flight safety announcement? The flight attendant clearly instructs that you put your oxygen mask on first. If you pass out, you can help no one. It doesn’t matter how much you want to save or help the person next to you, you must help yourself first.


How many times have you seen people, perhaps yourself, give and give and give until they are depleted … and then, maybe not right away but somewhere down the road, they resent it. They gave so much that they’re now suffering horribly. Or the people they gave to are ungrateful and show no sign of reciprocity. The good acts are all but forgotten and the good deed doers are left to wallow in their self-created misery. It’s not right and it’s not the way it should be. People don’t always respond in the way you hope or the way you would. When you paint a perfect picture of sunshine and lollipops and real life comes up short, that gap is filled with disappointment at best and resentment at worst.

How you think affects how you communicate, and how you communicate affects all your relationships. If you come from a place of resentment, your words will be sharp, your relationships strained. Giving is great and necessary. Supporting others is just as important as supporting yourself and being surrounded by those who support you. Just be aware of how you really, truly feel. And if the chance of resentment raises its head, then that’s the signal to pull back in the name of self-care. Remember, self-care isn’t selfish — it’s selfless because you don’t become a burden to someone else. And that makes for good and healthy communication.

Speak your truth.

The message is clear. Speak your truth, draw boundaries and get yourself on the agenda. Do it to help yourself. Do it to grow others. Do it for the health of it.

[1] Gabor Mate, When the Body Says No (The Cost of Hidden Stress), Big Happy Family, LLC, Post Hypnotic Press Inc., April 2012

PS: Have a comment or question about this article? Post it on my blog below. Let’s share our thoughts and get the communication going.

Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein, Workplace Communication Consultant, travels across Canada to help business people and organizations communicate in the workplace to get better, faster, easier results. She can help you too. Marion@MarionSpeaks.com 289-969-7691 www.MarionSpeaks.com OPT-IN to Marion’s Workplace Communication Tips enews at www.marionspeaks.com

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