Why You Shouldn't Feel Guilty for Prioritizing Yourself

By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC


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One of the worst things anyone can ever do to themselves is pile on the guilt for wanting to have some time to themselves and put themselves first. In fact, putting yourself first is really the reverse of being selfish so there really is no reason to feel guilty. Let’s go through some ways to lessen and even eliminate your guilt about prioritizing yourself.


* Your Family Loves You – Your family will respond positively to you finding time to put yourself first, especially when it comes to your health and happiness. They want you to be happy. If you tell them that these 15 minutes (or an hour) of whatever activity you do alone is important to you and why, they’ll respect it. Even if they don’t at first, they’ll come around especially when they see the positive benefits that result. Who doesn’t want to be around someone who is happy, healthy, energized? Many times, our problems could be solved by slowing down, making sure we have a healthy meal and adequate sleep. When you take care of yourself, you will feel more calm and more capable of handling problems that come your way. Your family will probably notice that you are more patience and even keeled. This is good for your relationships.

 Dr. Phil once said, "You teach people how to treat you."  It is helpful to model healthy boundaries to your family. The truth is: only you know what you need. If you continue to say “yes” when you mean “no,” that will only breed resentment towards your family who, most likely, has no idea how you are feeling. Healthy boundaries protect you and your relationships with your loved ones.


* Your Friends Care about You - Like most people, even your best friends will take advantage of you if you let them. It’s not that they don’t care about you or that they mean to take advantage. It's the fact that if you say yes, they just assume you want to say yes. Try saying no, and your friends will respect you and understand. Don’t bottle up resentment towards someone who has no idea they are wearing you out. You are responsible for being honest. There are nice ways to say no such as, “I would love to help however….”, etc. Ask yourself, if you asked a friend to do something and he/she said “yes” but was seething inside, how would that make you feel? Surprised? Sorry that you asked…but you didn’t know it was an issue so perhaps a bit helpless?

When we are honest and vulnerable, we bring people closer. Words, tone, and body language matter so be mindful of those social cues. If you feel incredibly emotional about a topic, it may be a good idea to script it out and practice it out loud so that you can practice saying it calmly. Remember: the reason that you are upset is completely obvious to you but this is probably a newsflash to your friend. He/she probably has no idea how you are processing these events/conversations.


* You’ll Enjoy Life More – When you have some downtime that is just for you, to do whatever is that you love doing (whether that is reading, painting, walking, or meditating), you’ll be a happier, more well-rounded person who enjoys life a lot more.   We are constantly on the go but we weren’t built for that. Try disconnecting from social media and doing something creative even if you claim that you aren’t creative. Try something new. Not sure what to do? Why not browse Groupon to see if there is something of interest. Not only will you get a good price, you don’t have to commit to the activity since most of them are a one and done type of deal. Again, you don’t have to “do” anything. Take a nap. That’s a great way to recharge.


* It’s Really a Requirement Not an Option – The fact is, you shouldn’t feel guilty for doing something that is really a requirement in your life. It’s not optional to take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be productive or happy. As much as you are surrounded by wonderful family and friends, they can’t do this for you. It’s up to you to make this happen.


* If You Get Sick What Will Happen? – When you don’t put yourself first, many times you’ll end up sick. What happens when you’re sick? If you go to bed for a few days with the flu or other illness, does the world fall apart? Did you know that if you take the time to care for yourself, you’ll be less likely to get ill?


* Your Feelings Transfer to Others – It’s hard to believe, but when you’re overworked and say yes to things you’d rather not do, it shows. People may not be able to interpret the actual reason behind your attitude, behavior, or energy, but they can sense that something is off and this can make people feel uncomfortable without understanding why.


* You Can Only Control Yourself – Most women have a really hard time with guilt when they make themselves a priority because they think that deep down, things just won’t get done if they’re not doing it. But the truth is, that’s not your problem. You can only control yourself; you can’t control everyone else. Ask for help. Remember, if you are always giving 95% you are only leaving yourself 5% to receive. Give others the opportunity to give back.


* Prioritizing Yourself Doesn’t Mean Neglecting Others – Some people think that "me" time means that you neglect others. That’s just not true. You just have to learn to differentiate needs versus wants. Needs are before wants. You need time to yourself and you need to take care of yourself. That’s far more important than whether you run the PTA bake sale or Betsy does.


Honestly, the more you learn to put your needs before other people’s wants, the happier, healthier, and better you’ll be at everything that you do. If you don’t put yourself first, no one else will - not your partner, not your kids, and not your friends even though they love you. This is 100% on you.