Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your queries through our anonymous contact form here.
I’ve recently begun trying to put myself first and give myself some much needed self-care. I’ve declined invites to parties I don’t really want to go to and have been doing a lot more things for myself. While I’m proud of myself for making ME a priority, I feel really guilty and like I’m a bad friend. After I spend time alone, I’m afraid everyone is mad at me and I end up questioning whether or not I really need me time. Where’s the balance between self-care and being a douchebag?
Dear Stress Ball,
I’m glad you’re acknowledging what your internal process is. Believe it or not, sitting in discomfort is a part of self-care and the change process. If you’re the type of person who has spent their lives bending over backwards for others, taking time for yourself is going to feel really, really weird. Is feeling weirdness worse than being a doormat for other people, though?
I think that you do pose an important question: when is self-care just being selfish? I think there is definitely a line that can be crossed, but in order to tease that out, let’s find a working definition of self-care. First of all, self-care isn’t always fun—but it can be. It can be taking much needed time off, getting a haircut or your nails done, or going on a road trip. At its core, though, self-care is making sure that you are living authentically and giving yourself the love that you need. It’s knowing your boundaries, and making sure that you’re fed and watered and bills are paid. It’s taking naps. Self-care is knowing how to de-stress yourself before you hit your breaking point, and acknowledging the signs leading up to it.
Are you a douchebag for engaging in self-care? Usually no. But, if your self-care is making other people’s lives more difficult continually, you may need to reexamine your methods. Here’s an example: you feel like you’re starting to get sick, so you call into work so that you can get the sleep you need, eat comfort food, and binge-watch Netflix (medicinally, of course). That doesn’t make you a douche, because you coming to work and giving everyone the stomach flu would be way worse. Your coworkers only have to be stressed for one day, not sick for a week. Now if you just * happen * to get sick every time a shitty task needs to be done, people are going to pick up on that. Piling work onto other people so you don’t have to do it is mean and not self-care. If the task is really that bad for you, it’s time to communicate with your coworkers about why it’s awful and brainstorm on ways to make it better.
So, dear writer, if you’re noticing a twinge of guilt when canceling on plans, ask yourself where it comes from. If you’re canceling on a friend, maybe offer an alternate plan. It’s okay to miss a bar crawl when you need to work the next day, but perhaps invite them over for dinner the following week, instead.
However, if you’re being avoidant of certain people or all social interactions, that’s definitely something to keep an eye on. Becoming agoraphobic isn’t going to make the world any less scary. Instead, the agoraphobe’s perception of the world can become more threatening, the harder they solidify their avoidance. If you notice that more and more things are making you so uncomfortable that you’re actively avoiding them, you’re not doing yourself any favors. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but discomfort is important. We all must use pincushions as pillows in order to grow sometimes.
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