on being selfish.

October 10, 2019
cosmos | reading my tea leaves

Faye has been telling me lately when she’s feeling selfish. By which, I’ve gathered, she means she’s feeling like she wants some quiet time alone. Or, some quiet time together. Time to snuggle up and read a book. (Or snuggle up and stare out the window.) Time to walk by ourselves to school instead of joining friends we meet along the way.

“Oh, you’re feeling like you want some solitude.” I’ve offered. “Some time to be quiet, or alone.”

cosmos | reading my tea leaves

But in trying to help her to find the right word to describe her feelings, it’s struck me that I don’t have another perfect word to substitute for her. When you look up self in the dictionary, there’s a long list of hyphenated words that come after it. With some obvious exceptions, lots of them have an overall negative association: self-righteous, self-important, self-serving, self-centered. They’re not descriptors most people would claim with pride. Unlike selfless, which we use to mean compassionate and considerate and noble and generous.

But where does that leave us? How about the equally noble effort of being compassionate and considerate and generous with ourselves? How about being selffull? And taking the time to honor our own needs and fill ourselves up.

In the end, I’ve taken a liking to Faye’s use of the word selfish. Sometimes I feel selfish, too. Like I need the time to sit quietly and arrange cosmos. Or, walk solo with my kid to school. Or methodically rearrange the spice cabinet. Or decline an invitation and get into pajamas as soon as the clock strikes five o’clock. Earlier this week, between meetings, I finally booked an appointment for the facial that James and the kids gave to me for my birthday. I treated myself to mozzarella sticks for lunch. I ducked into a makeup shop and asked the clerk to help me, a thirty-five year old, learn to apply eyeliner.

cosmos | reading my tea leaves

Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day. I hope we can all find a way to be a little bit selfish, taking into account each of our own particular, quirky, evolving needs.

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  • Reply C October 10, 2019 at 12:14 pm


  • Reply Megan October 10, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    I’d like to thank your child for articulating what I haven’t been able to. Some alone time or quiet time sounds lovely. I’ve been talking about starting to see a postpartum therapist now 9 months after my baby was born. But I’ve been feeling guilty over the cost, feeling selfish over the time it would take me away from my family. Being selfish/self-full sounds really nice. It also feels important not to lose my-self.

    • Reply Kelly Libby October 10, 2019 at 1:51 pm

      please do it. you deserve it. and recognizing you want or need some medical help is brave and insightful.

    • Reply Jen October 10, 2019 at 2:16 pm

      Have been thinking a lot lately about the concept of self-care, and about its overlooked importance not just for ourselves but others around us. And though it’s typically not a focus of your blog, it was in reading your work that I came to understand that simplicity is a form of self-care; that choosing simplicity for our families is a form of caring for others. A revelation I wish I’d had long ago.

      • Reply anne October 12, 2019 at 9:18 am

        The phrase I think of when I need some self-care, or time alone, but I feel guilty that I’m not helping others in that moment is “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” By taking care of myself, asking for what I need either when what I need is time alone, or time with people, I can be a better daughter, a better friend, a better sister, a better dog mom.

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 12, 2019 at 10:13 am

          and just a better you! <3

    • Reply mado October 10, 2019 at 4:08 pm

      Do what you need to do! I started going to therapy when my child was 2 and also had some guilt and stress about taking that time away from my family. But not only was it a great thing for me, it was also really great for my husband and child to have that mandated time together.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 10, 2019 at 9:01 pm

      I started going to therapy when Silas was one and it’s the best health and wellness decision I’ve ever made. The cost is overwhelming—even when partially covered by insurance—but it’s been such a life saver for me. Sending hope and best wishes.

  • Reply Kelly Libby October 10, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    this 42 year old has no idea how to put on eyeliner. I did try this past friday night. the date was a total bust but my eyes looked extra pretty. 😉

    and, this is a lovely post about taking time for our own selves!!! there is absolutely nothing selfish about wanting and needing and hoping for solitude.

  • Reply Susan October 10, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    Last week, in the local paper, there was an obituary for a woman and the headline read, “she never thought of herself.” I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Decided right then and there that that was never going to be my obituary headline. Why are women lauded for disregarding their own needs?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 10, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      Oh, brutal. Here’s to doing our best to shift that narrative.

    • Reply Bryn October 12, 2019 at 9:34 am

      I feel this! Such an important point to call out. I went to a birthday party once for a 50 year old woman whose husband’s grandest statements about her were about how much she sacrificed for her family and her husband. While it was cast as a compliment it stuck with me ever since as the least fulfilling way to be complimented and such a revealing piece of our culture’s measures for valuing women.

  • Reply Juliette S Rousseau October 10, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    Perfect timing! Just this morning, I told my daughter and husband that I wanted some solitude this afternoon, if they could please take a detour by the park after school and give me a few hours alone at home. She was choked and couldn’t understand it! I tried to explain that everyone needs some time alone from other people sometimes, and reminded her that she gets tired of being with her friends after a while… she said “with friends yes, but not with YOU!”… warmed my heart (but I still requested my time alone!)

    • Reply MissEm October 10, 2019 at 9:17 pm

      there’s a great Frog and Toad story about needing time alone and still loving the other person that she might find really helpful

  • Reply Jenna October 10, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    We say “I need introvert time.” All the humans in our household are introverts, and we have all needed to learn our boundaries in saying so.

  • Reply Jennie October 10, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    This is so lovely! And Faye sounds so mature – so self-aware! I would even argue that the capacity to know when you need to be “selfish” (i.e. take time to be alone or with just your mama) and allowing for that time leads to the better treatment of others. To take yourself out of situations when you’re not feeling your best or when you just want to be alone may actually prevent misdirected frustration, anger, sadness, feelings of guilt, etc. Go Faye!

  • Reply Jackie October 10, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    Lovely idea and writing, Erin. Thank you so much for your insight.

    • Reply Diana October 10, 2019 at 9:03 pm

      Your final words strike me most tonight – “quirky evolving needs”. Our individual versions of self care vary as widely as our bodies and all are beautiful expressions of our souls’ needs. They may be embarrassing, gleeful, sappy, silly or solemn but at least for me, embracing them brings a peace that radiates and hopefully makes me a more vibrant and happy participant in my home and community life.

  • Reply MissEm October 10, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    I remember hearing a sermon once that Jesus’s words to “love your neighbor as yourself” means you must love and value yourself. It’s so often cast in this light that you need to love your neighbor and never think of yourself.

  • Reply E October 10, 2019 at 11:35 pm

    This is a lovely post. I was talking with a therapist about the anxiety and guilt I am having doing self care while between jobs. She pointed out that I kept calling it self indulgent or luxurious but that I had been neglecting self needs for a while now. I’m still grappling with it, but glad I’m not alone with the feelings.

    • Reply steph October 11, 2019 at 1:04 pm

      i definitely understand how it can feel self indulgent and be perceived as selfish – sweet little faye, i too have learned that i need alone time to be my best self. sometimes it involves other people but mostly it’s things i do just for me because i’m a strong believer that in order to be your best self and give the most compassion, kindness, etc to others you need to take care of yourself first. i made a list of 25 free options here: https://tps-steph.blogspot.com/2019/05/0037-25-ways-to-treat-yo-self.html

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 11, 2019 at 2:33 pm

      yes! it’s counter to the cultural narrative, especially for women, to spend time on ourselves, for ourselves without feeling guilt. here’s to eradicating guilt altogether!

  • Reply BRI October 11, 2019 at 12:53 am

    I don’t believe in self, it is an appearance to my mind’s investigating. Solitude comes out the same as Selfish, as used by Fey, neither are ultimately true, but both words can help bring about reembodiment and reconnection. Perhaps new words can be created instead of appropriated. Like Sky Time or Heart Space.

  • Reply Shea October 11, 2019 at 10:30 am

    I love this post. Over the last couple months I have been able to have a little more time to myself because my daughter (with a busy schedule) got her drivers license. This has allowed me to have a few extra hours a week to sit on the couch and catch up on TV shows or sit and read a magazine. Sometimes I feel guilty about it and feel like I should be up getting something accomplished, but then I think, no, I’m tired of always being busy, and deserve some “me” time. <3

  • Reply Joanna Goddard October 11, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    loved this post xoxo

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 11, 2019 at 2:31 pm

      thanks, joanna! xo.

  • Reply Liz October 12, 2019 at 8:05 am

    Erin, you just made my day with your confession (of sorts) that you don’t know how to put on eyeliner. At 43 I really have no clue either and honestly not much about makeup in general. Half the time I don’t know if I am doing it right!! Maybe I need to just be selfish and walk into a makeup store and figure it out too 🙂 Happy weekend!

  • Reply Rebekah Childers October 18, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    I missed this post and only came across it today, and I just think its timing is wonderful as Glennon Doyle just announced her newest book – Untamed – with this line in the descriptor: we don’t need more selfless women, we need more self-full women. Love.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 18, 2019 at 3:09 pm

      Ah! Love that! Can’t wait to read.

  • Reply Mo November 22, 2019 at 11:23 am

    Sweet, wise Faye!
    I have an empty file on my computer desktop named “Protect your core asset” to reming myself to practice some self care or I won’t be able to run my own business and enjoy life. Maybe it’s time to make it my wall paper!

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