Is Self-Care Selfish? Interview with Counselor Lucille Zimmerman

Oct 2, 2013

[guestpost]This week, I’m hidden away in the Colorado mountains working on the final chapters of my rough draft. Make that a rough, ROUGH draft. While I’m cranking out word count, I asked friend and couselor, Lucille Zimmerman, to join me for a conversation about self-care. If you don’t know what “self-care” is, there’s a good chance you need to read what she has to say. To learn more about Lucille Zimmerman and her book “Renewed,” check out her website:[/guestpost]

Welcome, Lucille! 


You recently released a new book on self-care titled, Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy In An Overwhelmed World. So tell us: Exactly what is self-care? 

Years ago when I was in grad school and unraveling my own trauma history, I became emotionally overwhelmed. I wanted to move through my healing quickly, but my mentors and supervisors kept telling that’s not how it works. They said I needed to slow down and do self-care. I was bewildered. What was self-care?

All my life I had put other’s needs ahead of mine; that was the Christian way. I was a people pleaser rushing around taking care of everyone but me. I had a lot of shame and low self-esteem. I got my sense of self from others. So I began a long quest to understand what self-care was, and what would help me heal.

After years of academic study, research, and personal experience, I came to the conclusion that self-care just means putting yourself on the list. It means valuing yourself enough to know you need to spend time resting, setting boundaries, and engaging in activities that made me happy (or cared for), without feeling guilty.

Your occupation gives you unique insight and expertise into the subject. Tell us what you do for a living, and how your experiences have made you more aware of the need for self-care. 

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a teacher at Colorado Christian University. Many times clients come to me for relationship problems. Here’s a pretend example: A young mom tells me her parents-in-law spend thousands of dollars on her and her family at Christmas. She feels tremendous pressure to buy expensive gifts for her husband’s family, thus putting her own family in debt. I explain that just because others do something doesn’t mean she has to respond in a similar fashion. If they get upset, that is their issue, not hers. Self-care is teaching this woman that she can make a decision that she feels comfortable with and no longer feel guilty.

On a separate topic, I see so many women who have no sense of self. If I ask their favorite color, they don’t know. If I ask them what they would do for themselves if they had a free day, they haven’t got a clue. I have worked with 65-year old clients who never speak their beliefs. They are afraid of their own voice. Self-care means you stop trying to fool people with perfection; you open up your vulnerable and flawed self to safe people. You trust your place in this world rather than hiding, pleasing, and clawing for a place.

Why does it matter so much? What’s at stake?  

As I researched for my book, I learned that 95% of all office visits to doctors are for stress-related ailments (McClellan and Hamilton, So Stressed). We live in a hectic world and if we don’t slow down and attend to our own health and happiness, we are going to live sick and shortened lives. Marcus Buckingham found that over the last 40 years, women in general, are less happy.  He studied what the happiest women do: They didn’t try to juggle everything. Instead they spent time doing what they loved. I don’t mean vacationing and shopping. They did things that were on their list of strengths (e.g. writing, reading, gardening, or whatever they were skilled at).

Recently, a friend of mine smirked at the idea of self-care, because it’s “self-centered.” Is self-care selfish? What do we do with the guilt that seems to accompany any kindness we show ourselves?

That makes me sad. Just because your friend believes self-care is selfish, doesn’t mean it is true. Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves. He assumed we would love and care for ourselves. I am not promoting selfishness and self-centeredness. But, if we are healthy, rested, happy, and living a balanced life, we will bring our very best selves to our family and friends rather than our burned out, exhausted, stressed, frenzied and bloated leftovers.

Okay, let’s get practical. Give us some examples of self-care. 

In Renewed, I cover 14 topics, including solitude, connecting, gratitude and generosity. I talk about the importance of play, setting healthy boundaries, sharing your secrets, appreciating beauty, and being present. I also address emotional issues like grief, trauma, and identifying your identity. It could be as simple as a 15-minute walk or turning on an upbeat song that changes your brain waves.

Does self-care have to be expensive or time-consuming in order to count? In other words, can a half-hour sitting in the sun really make that much of a difference? 

Absolutely! Sitting in the sun for 30 minutes means you know you need a break. You need quiet. You need nature. Self-care does not have to be expensive at all. One time I was really stressed out and my counselor told me to go out and buy myself a latte. There’s something really powerful about doing a simple act of self-care that shouts, “I am valuable.”

What about the woman who doesn’t have time for self-care? She knows it’s important, but can’t find even fifteen minutes to do something for herself. What would you say to her?

There are seasons in our lives. Moms with young children might not have much time for self-care. But I would say it’s critical. Even if she doesn’t have it, find a way to get it. For instance, moms can join a MOPS group. Twice a month they can get out of the house, hang around other women, laugh, cry, make something, and get a break from their children. Even if it seems small, it’s a start.

Is self-care a regular part of your routine? Why or why not? 


  1. Sharon Rose Gibson

    Fabulous insight Lucille! I love your book and benefit every time I read something you write in this area. I’ve had to seriously discipline myself to take self care seriously which is really about taking responsibility for yourself, your needs and desires.
    If you over give and don’t take care of yourself, it’s easy to get resentful.
    Now that I’ve learned more about caring for myself, when I give, I give more freely and in a healthier way.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Michele

      It’s a good one, isn’t it Sharon?

  2. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Hi Lucille,
    This was a great post and I will absolutely get your book! I think I’m pretty good in this area. For instance, when the weather is nice I will go outside with a book or magazine after work and just sit in the sun or shade, paying attention to the sounds of the birds. I love the feeling of freedom this gives me, even if it’s just for a few minutes. But there are times when it needs to be more deliberate. When our lives are filled with the needs of others (I’m also a therapist) we need to pay particular attention to caring for our selves or we run out of “self” and have nothing left to give. Thanks, Lucille!

  3. Dave Bratcher

    Awesome interview Michele! It is amazing how people can twist a love of Jesus, which I have, to only include the love of others. Great example of how important it is to do the first part only after you have done the second. “Love you neighbor, as you love yourself.” What a shot in the arm this morning! Good luck in completing your rough, rough draft!

    • Michele

      Yes, I’ve done that too. Thanks in part to the mentoring of Lucille, I’m MUCH better at making self-care of part of every day (or MOST days :)).

  4. Risé B.

    Self care. Great post! This is something I used to struggle with so much some years back. I was kind of forced into it as I could feel myself retreating into a ‘place’ I didn’t like – and that felt like a dark hole. Having experienced trauma (abuse) in my life as a kid, which got worse as I got older – I was forced to make decisions for me. I knew that neglecting to do this was not only going to kill me mentally and emotionally, but me being that way would damage my own little family. Abuse is really great at robbing you of self-worth, confidence and identity, and any potential happiness.

    I started with making boundaries with a certain person – it didn’t work, the abuse continued – I had to eventually break ties because the toxic relationship was leaving me as nothing but an empty shell – so empty that if you tapped me with a spoon, I would have shattered. I knew I had to do something and so started making time for myself which was getting myself out of the house and it was also spent in prayer. My kids were young then – it felt weird to ‘put myself first.’ It felt selfish. It felt self-centered. I experienced a lot of anxiety the first few times taking alone time. I felt so guilty for taking time for ‘me.’ It took a long, long time before it felt ‘okay’ to do that. (Thank God I had a husband who encouraged me to do this.) As a kid, I was always accused of being selfish when I didn’t comply. It was a lie I was conditioned to believe. It took a long time to tear down the lie, along with all the other ones that came to light as I sought healing.

    Self care is so important – if you don’t do it for yourself, not only do you suffer, but the rest of your family suffers (husband and kids.) Looking back, I know it was a good call – a good thing to do even though it was insanely uncomfortable for me. And now, many years later, those old feelings still emerge if I don’t get done the things I think should be done. I’ll experience anxiety and get distraught if things aren’t done and perfect. (I was conditioned to believe love was earned as a kid – I was expected to earn it and I really tried being compliant – but it didn’t work, there was nothing I could have ever done that could have earned me love and affection.) I can still feel guilty taking time for myself even though my husband encourages it. It takes a long time to undo damage done, especially when it occurs in childhood and into adulthood. Even after all these years, I still find myself struggling to believe that someone could want to be with me or be around me simply because I’m ‘me.’ Growing up, my value was based on what I could do for others and if I failed or didn’t measure up to expectations, I was ‘rejected’ – made to feel worthless. Failing to comply to anything expected of me translated to mean, ‘No love for you.’ It blows my mind even still, the idea that someone could love me simply because I’m ‘me.’ This lie is a hard one to fix in your head when its all you’ve known growing up.

    Point is, healing does take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. One has to take time to find time to breathe, to be, to get used to enjoying the things you do, to get used to enjoying one’s own company and not feel guilty about it. Journaling helps a lot too. Looking back, I am glad I made attempts to find time for myself – and even though I still struggle with guilt and anxiety on occasion, its far less than it used to be. I have to still keep uprooting the lies and replacing them with truth.

    The ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ always left me confused … I used to so struggle with that, saying to myself, ‘How can I love my neighbour if I don’t know how to love myself.’ I still struggle with loving myself, accepting who I really am (which I have had to rely on the Lord for) because growing up I was conditioned to believe that it was not okay for me to ‘be me.’ I was expected to be someone else. If I have learned anything, it is to strive to be your authentic self, who ever they may be. And that authentic self needs self care and self love to be what you need to be for those around you. Taking care of yourself first means you can better take care of others, so that you can love your neighbour as yourself.

  5. Janice Griswell

    Like others, I grew up people-pleasing (or trying to!) so I’m passionate about true self-care, but I’m as challenged as any in living it out!
    Self’care can sound selfish but it’s really taking responsibility for ourselves. Far from self-indulgence, it’s being disciplined enough to do those things that make a difference in our attitude and wellbeing so that we’re more adequate and less distorted in whatever we do for others.
    Like putting on your own oxygen mask first so you don’t get faint or angry before getting one on your scared and struggling toddler. Like not waiting to be told to go to bed or to stop eating chips or ice cream or to take a moment to breathe when things get frantic. Like being alone in God’s loving and truthful Presence before we engage with the demands and judgments or successes of others.
    Thank you for a timely reminder! May God help each of us to love Him like crazy and to love others as we love ourselves.

  6. Ree Klein

    This is such an important topic. When I was young, in my teens and twenties, I had low self-esteem. I’m not exactly sure why; maybe it was because I always felt compared to my older sister who was very good in school. Later, it was likely because I never pursued a college degree.

    Combine that with spending to fill in whatever shortcomings I felt I had and my self-esteem tanked even lower as my debt climbed. It wasn’t until I began to change my money behaviors, despite my fear of rejection, that I began to find my inner voice. That let me rebuild my self-confidence and discover who I was.

    So for me, not comparing myself to others, ditching negative self-talk and facing my fear of rejection was my path to “self care.” And trust me, it’s much better on this side of the fence!

    • Michele

      Such an interesting perspective, Ree! Thanks for sharing part of your story here. Looking forward to getting to know you better!


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