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  • Writer's pictureNicole Salter

Setting Emotional Boundaries: Can Self Care Become Selfish?

I've been fascinated by psychology lately and I have a confession to make: I've been watching videos, listening to podcasts, and reading waaayyyy too many articles about mental health. Bingeing out on this stuff feels like as much of an icky secret as watching seven straight episodes of Untold on Netflix, or eating half a birthday cake.

Man watching TV snow
Netflix binges: Not great self care

How can you possibly watch, listen to and read too much about mental health, you say? After all, there are so many interesting topics: personality disorders, mood disorders, stress-related disorders, genetic and environmental could dive into that kind of content for a long, long time without hitting bottom. And therein lies the problem: in these hyper-stressed, polarizing times, where many of us already feel powerless against unknowable events that are unfolding hour by hour, it's easy to start pathologizing everything and turn that feeling of uncertainty into full-out anxiety.

Stressed woman in front of a screen
Life in 2021 is stressful, m'kay?

Obviously, self-care is important in these times. But sometimes self-care goes way beyond a hot, luxurious bath (though we highly recommend that, too). Sometimes, you have to set boundaries to be able to take care of yourself. This is a good and healthy thing to do. For example...

-Carving out a set time when the kids have to entertain themselves so you can meditate

-Letting your partner know you need more sleep and can't burn the midnight oil every night

-Creating a little distance from friends who are demanding too much of your free time

With a million distractions, commitments and responsibilities pulling us in different directions, if we don't set some protective boundaries, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. But, does self-care sometimes cross the line into selfishness - a dirty word for most women? Here are some signs that self-care may have gone from priority to pathology.

Three Signs of Self-Care Gone Wrong

  1. You are isolating and refusing most or all social invitations just to spend time alone

  2. You have taken self-care from the occasional healthy indulgence to over-indulgence in 'treats' like over-shopping, over-spending, or addictive behaviours that have been problematic for you in the past

  3. You are spending more time consuming media - even helpful and educational content - than you are on self-interested action, creativity, and real personal development (*raises hand)

Woman outside shoe shop
Just take the blue pair, not all of them

The pandemic response has obviously encouraged social isolation and the pursuit of solitary activities. These habits can be hard to break. So, how can you make sure that so-called self-care doesn't start actually interfering with your life and happiness?

  1. Make self-care a daily practice. Unlike any kind of binge, which could be fun until the effects become impossible to ignore, a consistent daily practice of taking care of your mind, body and spirit has no such adverse effects. If you can carve out a certain time every day to get quiet and write in your journal, for example, it will make the occasional decadence a true reward, as well as making self-care less daunting than, say, overworking so you can take a full day off just for you and then not knowing how to fill it.

  2. Enlist help when needed. Sometimes there is just too much to do and we can put off self-care instead of creating regular healthy habits, such as exercising, eating well, and doing activities that make us feel fulfilled. This can lead to burnout and an eventual procrastination of responsibilities in favour of 'self-care', which is usually of the unhealthy variety by the time it gets to this point. Instead, accept help from friends and family members to buy yourself some guilt-free 'me' time on a regular basis.

  3. Pay attention to your feelings. Many of us have become disconnected from our true feelings and emotions in the hustle and bustle of daily life, or for more serious reasons, such as childhood patterns of placing our emotional well-being firmly at the end of the list. Try writing down three emotions or feelings per day and exploring them a little. Not like a Gantt chart, just maybe 'fear' and why you are feeling afraid in a given moment.

Woman writing in diary
If you don't explore your emotions, who will?

Most of us are very far from letting self-care cross the line into selfishness. As we transition into a busy Fall, it's more important than ever to begin or progress further on a healing journey that includes taking care of your body, mind and spirit. Here's to an amazing Fall full of rich colour, cozy comfort, and all the things that make you feel truly good.

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