5 reasons why you find self-care difficult 

Self-care has recently become a buzz word, with plenty of articles and hashtags to give you hints and ideas, but how can self-care help you, and what does it actually mean?

There is an assumption that self-care relates to being indulgent or selfish. It’s commonly thought that what it amounts to is that bubble baths, scented candles, and chocolates are the ultimate way to feel better and look after yourself.

While doing some of these things are good for your well-being and might make you feel good in the short term, self-care is also about the practice of taking care of yourself and recognising what your needs are. This creates a healthy balance between a helping role, recognising your own needs, and taking care of your emotional, physical, and mental health.

I also believe there is a much deeper level in recognising what your needs are and the potential long term impact of not looking after yourself. Feeling permanently tired, worn out or burned out can make you lethargic and irritable, and can start to impact your daily life and your relationships.

Here are some reasons why you might find identifying what your self-care needs are and putting them into practice difficult, and also what you can start to do about it.

Five reasons why you find self-care difficult

1. Guilt and the inability to say no    

There are people who are always reliable and dependable. They are always ready and willing to help out, going the extra mile to help out a friend or relative in need is part of their DNA. Now, this isn’t because they have extra time on their hands, or because they don’t have much going on in their own lives. In fact, it’s quite the opposite - they are busy, pretty much all of the time, because their sense of guilt makes it almost impossible to say no.

They may be tired - they have a lot of other things they have to deal with - but saying no to somebody in need feels like the worst possible insult. It’s important to them to help out and make everybody happy, even when sometimes that comes at their own expense.

What this can do is lead to feeling undervalued and under-appreciated, particularly if there is always an expectation that they will never be the person to say no. Over time it can develop into resentment, a feeling of unjust, and eventually anger. Of course, this generally goes unsaid, leaving feelings of being frustrated and unhappy.

2. Always putting other people first   

This follows on from an inability to say no, when you can recognise a person is in need of help and you offer to help irrespective of what is going on for you. This can really impact your mental well-being.

Although it’s a wonderful quality to be so caring and compassionate about others, it becomes really unhelpful if this is at your own expense. It’s important to recognise what your limitations are, and to use some of that caring and compassion for yourself too. It’s not about being selfish, but recognising that you too have your own needs, and as much as you might want to, you can’t do everything.

3. You think looking after yourself is selfish

This can be particularly challenging if you feel responsible as the carer of other people who depend on you. It might be down to you to look after an elderly or sick relative, or you might be the go-to person for somebody who is always in genuine need, or even your role as a parent.

For this reason, you feel as though your own needs do not even compare, or you feel that it’s your job to be the caretaker and make sure that everybody else is okay. You might even hold the belief that there are other people who are dealing with far more than what you are; you have no right or reason to complain.

Guilt can really prevent you from looking at yourself objectively and realising that you deserve self-care just as much as anybody else. Taking care of you doesn’t take anything away from anybody else’s experience, but it will certainly help you in fulfilling your need to also take care of others as you will have the emotional and physical capacity to do so.

4. You don’t ask for help 

As a person who is the helper and always ready to take on the worries of those close to you, it’s very rare that you are in the position to ask for help for yourself. This could be due to a number of reasons. Firstly, you might feel as though you are a burden and you wouldn’t want to cause worry to anybody else. Secondly, you may have been let down in the past when you have asked for help, and you didn’t quite get the support you felt you needed at the time.

This has made you become self-reliant and self-sufficient, as you always have to get by with difficulties on your own.

5. You don’t recognise you need help until it’s too late

When you continuously put the needs of other people before your own, it makes it even more difficult to recognise when you are at the point of burnout until it’s almost too late. You carry these burdens on your shoulders without complaining, internalising what all of these experiences are doing to your well-being.

Irritability sets in - anger, feeling hopeless, feeling overwhelmed, and you begin to use maladaptive unhealthy coping strategies to get by. It’s only when you’ve reached the point of 'I can’t take this anymore' that you realise something has to change. By this point, you have already begun to feel exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

It can feel really discouraging when you feel as though you are always there to help others, but when it comes to you needing help, there is no acknowledgement or awareness that you are even struggling. There is the assumption that you will be fine, you’ll keep going as you always do.

Somehow that doesn’t seem fair - we all want to feel valued and as though our experiences mean something.  This is where talking things through with a therapist can really help.

Self-care is allowing yourself time and space to work out what it is that you want, and what you need to do in order to feel like you a living a happier, balanced, and more fulfilled life. Counselling can help you to address working through some of these issues, helping you to recognise your own needs, becoming more assertive, and finding your own voice.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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