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Find Time For Yourself: Overcoming the Selfish Myth

Therapist Julie A. Hanks, LCSW, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, shares how finding time for you is the best gift you can give to yourself AND your relationships!


The Oxygen Mask

Several years ago, while traveling on an airplane from UT to CA with my 6 month old son in tow, the safety instructions given by the flight attendant struck me quite differently. “Should the cabin pressure change an oxygen mask will be made available. Place your mask on first, then assist dependent others.” As I held my beloved baby in my arms I thought how foreign, how wrong it would feel for me put my mask on first in the event of an emergency, and yet I also realized how crucial it would be to both of our survival. If I put his mask on first and then I passed out, what good would I be to him or to anyone else?

This analogy applies to our personal lives and the need to care for our physical and emotional selves. It’s often easier to place other’s masks on first and soon find yourself “passed out” due to our lack of “oxygen”. Before putting your mask on, you may first need to discover what your “oxygen” is. In my therapy practice, and in workshops, I hear stories of women who have lost touch with their personal needs, goals, and desires. Reclaiming the things that bring joy and passion into your is the first step in finding time for yourself. Here are two questions to help you identify your specific type of “oxygen”. Grab a paper and pen and write down the first things that come to mind.

1) What brought me pure joy as a child?

Now, take a step to incorporate what brought you joy as a child back into your life. For me, I felt pure childlike joy swimming in my Grandma’s pool in the summertime and standing on the piano bench singing like a little bird while my dad accompanied me on the piano. If I don’t get enough sunshine and water, and if I spend too much time away from music I start to feel less joy in my life now.

2) What do I want to do before I die?

No matter how big your dreams, I encourage you to take one tiny step toward your goal. If you want to travel in Europe, start planning your itinerary and saving a few dollars a week. If your goal is to publish a book, start by writing an outline. You get the idea…

Selfish vs. Self-care

Once you know what kind of “oxygen” you need, the next step is to make your needs, joys, and passions a priority. I’ve surveyed hundreds of women asking them this true/false question “I have enough time to pursue my own interests and needs.” Well over half of them answered “false”. If you aren’t pursuing your own interests and needs who is? Your kids? Yeah, right! Friends? Uh-uh. Hubby? Nope. Others can only help you meet your needs and support you in pursing your passions. If you are waiting for someone else to take care of your personal needs and to fulfill your dreams you will end up being very disappointed, and will likely feel empty and angry.

Many women are reluctant to take responsibility for taking care of their own needs because they fear the “S-word” … being Selfish. When you are considering doing something that nurtures you and doesn’t appear to directly benefit anyone else, do you dismiss your thought as “selfish”? Whether it’s taking care of your physical health like exercising, napping, or eating healthy, or doing things to nurture your mental and emotional health like taking a vacation, spending time with friends, gardening, painting, or reading a good book, it’s easy to let these things you need or want to do take a back seat to the needs of others. See if any of these phrases sound familiar:

I just don’t have time to take care of myself!

I can’t take time away from my family.

I have to finish all of my work before I ‘play’.

I don’t want to be selfish.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines selfish as “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself, seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.” Selfish is doing what’s in your best interest without regard for others. Self-care is doing what’s in your best interest with regard for others. Remember “place your mask on first, then assist dependent others”.

Tips To Find Time For You

T    Treat yourself as you would treat others.

Ask yourself, “Would I allow someone else to do this?” If you would allow someone else, then why not allow yourself?

I    Investment in you means rewards for others.

When you care for yourself it creates more energy, more joy, more of you to share with our loved ones.

M    Make and keep appointments with yourself.

Build into your life time to take care of yourself. Put it in your planner and honor your commitment to yourself as you would honor an appointment with a colleague or friend. Schedule in your yoga class or time to write or paint or nap or walk. Also, build in the necessary support you need to follow through with your plan (i.e. schedule a regular babysitter if you have small children)

E     Explore your passions and make them a priority.

Take your answers to the questions, “What brought you joy as a child?” and “What do I want to do before I die?” and give them high priority. Require those around you to support you in your efforts. They may not like it at first, but they will soon see the benefits – a happier you!


Therapist Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, founder and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, specializes in psychotherapy with women and marriage counseling. She is passionate about women’s self-care and emotional health and frequently presents workshops to women’s groups around the country. Visit www.wasatchfamilytherapy.com to learn more about counseling services, workshops, classes. You may also know Julie as an award-winning singer and songwriter www.juliedeazevedo.com.

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