Why Do Women Struggle With Self-Care?

 Part 2 in a Series: Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed —We're Not Taking Care Of Ourselves

 Women don't take time for self-care

Recently, two different female clients told me that they couldn’t fit self-care into their schedule. I think everyone struggles with making self-care a priority, but I also believe that many women make caring for others a priority.  Doing so makes them prime targets for burn-out, added stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps it’s because I am a woman, or because I talk to female friends about this more frequently than I do with male friends, but it seems to me that women in particular struggle more than men when making self-care a priority.  For me, when life is crazy, self-care is the first thing that drops from my to-do list.

Is it genetics? Societal factors? Where did we learn that we should care for others before we care for ourselves? In my last post, several colleagues offered their thoughts on the importance of self-care. I asked some of them, and some others, about why women seem to struggle more with self-care.

Experts Offer Perspectives

Julie Blamphin, a registered yoga teacher, and owner of Stretch Your Spirit in Annapolis, MD, says, “We live in a culture that sometimes tells us that if we put Self before all others, it means that we’re narcissistic, egocentric, or downright selfish. So many of us women shy away from shining our light fully bright. We instead focus that light upon caring for others.”

When we put the focus on others instead of ourselves we can lose track of who we are, what our priorities are, and can lead us to feel unfulfilled, or living our life for others. Blamphin says that when we neglect our needs, our energy becomes imbalanced. This imbalance shows up in our life as:

  • Insomnia
  • Anger
  • Illness
  • Addiction
  • Pain
  • Resentment
  • A general sense of grumpiness

Agnes Wainman, Ph.D., C. Psych., of London Psychological Services in London, ON, agrees that our culture’s expectations and perceptions can play a role in women’s priorities. She says, “Women are often expected to take care of others and to put their own needs below others. Self-care is often seen as being selfish or indulgent. We often think of self-care as extravagant — like weekends at the spa. We may feel guilty for taking time for ourselves.”

 Neglect of emotional needs can lead to anxiety

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C , a Severna Park, MD therapist, and creator/host of the Therapy Chat podcast, agrees that our culture plays a big role in our quest to put others’ needs before our own, but believes that other factors also impact how we care for ourselves. “If we grew up receiving praise for being quiet, nice, responsible and helping around the house, we associate those behaviors with being ‘a good girl.’ If no one attended to our emotional needs we learned to ignore them as well,” she says. “The problem is, if our own emotional needs were neglected by our caregivers in childhood and we continue to ignore our own emotional and physical needs in adulthood by neglecting our own self care, we are re-enacting the neglect we experienced in childhood. This eventually catches up with us, either with our bodies shutting down or having an emotional breakdown — what many people call a ‘midlife crisis’. 

We certainly want to avoid the dissatisfaction, the physical symptoms and the behaviors that accompany self-neglect.  

So how can we make self-care a part of our daily life, without adding to our stress, or our to-do list?

My next post will offer five tips for making self-care easier. In the meantime, if you’d like help reducing stress and making self-care a greater priority in your life, call me for a free 15-minute consultation at 410-340-8469!


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis counselor who works to help people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis, MD.

Photos by Benjamin Child and Alex Hockett for Unsplash.com