How Guilt is getting in the way of Self-Care

What is self-care?

I have talked a lot on this blog about self-care and my belief in it’s importance. I solemnly believe that in order to be the best version of ourselves, and to be able to support others to the best of our ability, we need to take care of ourselves first.

“You cannot pour from an empty cup” has become my new mantra. However, it is not always easy to follow.

A few months ago, I promised to myself that I would perform at least one act of self-care per day, and that I would record it. At first I found this amazingly liberating. However, as so often happens, life got in the way.

I missed a day here or there, work got in the way, and I found it a struggle to find the time.

What I had forgotten was that I should be making the time, not finding the time. And what I have realised is that I wasn’t making the time because I felt guilty for prioritising something that I had started to see as a luxury.

Self-care is not a luxury. Self-care is a necessity.

Something else that I have come to understand is that self-care isn’t necessarily an act of indulgence or something that can be easily quantified. It can be things like making sure you are getting enough sleep, making sure you are eating well, seeing friends, following your skincare regime, brushing your teeth, and so on.

Self-care is not necessarily glamorous.

What is shame? Is it different from guilt?

Yes, shame and guilt are different yet related concepts. Both are judgements but where guilt is a judgement about behaviour, shame is a judgement about the person. Guilt might say “you did a bad thing” whereas shame would say “you are a bad person”.

When guilt is healthy, it can be a guide through what is right and wrong – an assistant to your conscience - whereas shame serves to keep you in a mind set of self-loathing.

So, what does guilt have to do with self-care?

It turns out that guilt is one of the biggest barriers to self-care, especially for women. We know that we need to attend to our own needs, but we have been raised and socialised to put others’ needs first.

How many times have you seen a mum’s food go cold so that she can rock her baby to sleep? How often have you come home from work and cooked dinner or cleaned the kitchen while your partner comes home from work and enjoys a relaxing shower or heads to the gym?

Our guilt can, and likely has, become skewed so that we feel like we are doing something naughty if we put ourselves first. Adverts on television and billboards insinuate that self-care is an indulgence, a treat, or a naughty secret, when in fact it is very often about meeting our basic needs.

We can often make ourselves feel guilty, and I do believe that we are our own worst enemies in this department. But others can also make us feel guilty. We often feel that we have so many people relying on us that we couldn’t possibly let down – our children, partners, parents, friends, boss, employees, and so on.

But how can we continue to serve them if our tank is empty? If we run out of oxygen before putting their mask on? The airlines have it completely correct – we must put our own oxygen masks on before helping others. Once our mask is on, we are able to help so many more people than if we tried to help others while gasping for air.

How can we overcome this?

1. Become self-centred

We need to become more self-centred. Does that make you want to crawl back into bed. The idea of becoming self-centred has so many negative connotations – selfish, narcissistic, egotistical, self-absorbed, and so on. However, I have recently discovered, and fallen in love with, Rachel W. Cole’s definitions of self-centred which includes the following;

“Self-centered women are not easily blown over by the gusts of other people’s opinions, agendas, or problems coming their way. Their strong center keeps them steady. […] Self-centered women don’t put others before themselves to the point that they have nothing left. In turn, they have more to give to everyone. […] Self-centered women are their own compass. Their own north-stars. They navigate these choppy waters as an eye in the storm. This is why we so often take refuge in their work, words, and presence. They are lighthouses for the rest of us because they are lighthouses for themselves.”

We need to learn that in order to serve others, we must first serve ourselves, we must fill our tanks, refuel, stock up, re-energise, etc. By doing so, and by putting ourselves at the centre of our worlds, we may just inspire those around us to do the same.

In the wise words of Marianne Williamson; “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.”

2. Saying No

Sometimes, this involves saying no to others. Sometimes we need to say no to the things that really don’t serve us in order to make time for ourselves. We cannot be everything to everyone, and sometimes we just have to cut our losses and put ourselves first.

Focus our energy on things that we chose to focus our energy on. This isn’t always possible, and more often that not we have obligations that we would rather say no to that might cost us our job or our relationship – and in these cases it is okay to bite our tongues and sit through it. However, there are things that we do for others that maybe they can do for themselves, or maybe they won’t miss if we don’t do them.

For example, signing up to run the bake sale at school – someone else can do it this year. Or perhaps its cooking dinner every night – perhaps you and your partner (or even your kids) could take turns.

Saying ‘no’ to others shows them, and yourself, that you value your own time.

3. Prioritising our time

Prioritising our time is different from learning to say no. Prioritising our time is learning to be strict with ourselves. This is particularly important for those that work from home or those that are full-time parents. We are in charge of our time – no matter what the kids may think!

Being in charge of our own time can be a huge benefit but it is also a potential pitfall. We could fall down a rabbit hole of ‘busy work’ that doesn’t actually push us forward and doesn’t fill our self-care cup.

Create a schedule for yourself and block out space for self-care, whether it meditation, writing, going for a walk, getting to bed on time, seeing a friend... whatever it is; book it in and don’t cancel!

Perhaps you can streamline your day so that you have increased free time. Instead of mindlessly scrolling on your phone you could listen to a podcast. Instead of mindlessly watching TV each evening, you could invite a friend over.

The key word here is ‘mindlessly’. If you find that watching TV in the evening recharges you, then by all means go ahead and do it. If you have curated your Instagram feed so that it inspires you rather than fills you with envy, then scroll away. But if you are doing these things just to pass the time or procrastinate, then I would count these as ‘mindless’ activities that could be streamlined out of your day.

Final Thoughts

So, the next time you feel yourself running on empty, take the time to have a think about why you aren’t engaging in self-care and maybe try putting some of these tips into practice. If you need a bit of inspiration, check out this list of self-care ideas!

Small changes can lead to big results.

As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at

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