How to be responsibly selfish when life gets hard

When Covid turned our world upside down, like many others, I turned my attention to work. I have been coaching since 2014 but had only had my own coaching business a little over a year when everything changed and I suddenly found myself having to move to an online business model, which hadn't been part of my original plan.


This triggered an awful lot of uncomfortable feelings and a very steep learning curve on top of all the other pandemic related challenges we were facing. There really is nothing like starting your own business and a global pandemic to uncover a whole heap of new 'stuff' to work through!

Whilst some things have thankfully become easier, journeying through this tricky period has required more energy than usual (like wading through treacle) and it's felt harder to replenish my diminishing energy tank than it did before too - I don't know if you can relate?

No matter what I did or didn't do, I started to notice that I just felt exhausted. I've experienced burnout enough times over the years to recognise the symptoms and I realised that if I didn't change something then this was the direction I was heading in.

As a life coach, I am not exempt from feeling all the same pressures to perform and be 'OK'. But, thankfully, these days I'm much kinder to myself and, therefore, I'm better at spotting the signs that I'm slipping down that rabbit hole, which makes climbing out a bit easier. 

As a small business owner (it's just me), it can be difficult to take time off. However, I knew that I needed to practice what I preach and fill my cup first so that I could continue to give to others from a place of fullness rather than fear.

Rather than hide these feelings and present a (fake) shiny 'life coach' facade to you, I wanted to share my experience in case you also have similar feelings of tiredness and overwhelm. 

I want you to know that whilst our struggles may not look exactly the same, you are not alone in struggling. It's completely normal to go through periods where life feels difficult and we aren't our best selves.

How we forsake ourselves during difficult times

Here are some of the ways we may forsake ourselves in favour of others when times get hard:

  • Say yes when we want to say no.
  • Say yes when we have no time or capacity.
  • Make ourselves smaller to fit in.
  • Silence our views and opinions.
  • Stuff down our feelings, wants and needs.
  • Numb our difficult emotions.
  • Fail to set limits and boundaries with others.
  • Fail to uphold our limits and boundaries when pushed.
  • Make ourselves uncomfortable to keep others happy.
  • Take responsibility for other people's problems.
  • Take responsibility for other people's feelings/reactions.
  • Take responsibility for other people's happiness.
  • Apologise to keep the peace.
  • Stay quiet to not rock the boat.
  • Refuse to advocate for ourselves or ask for help.
  • Hide or avoid the things we know we need to address.
  • Aren't honest about our experience, feelings, wants and needs.
  • Avoid difficult conversations.

Whilst you could argue that this behaviour is coming from a place of care for others (it's actually coming from a place of fear disguised as care for others), long term these behaviours will have a negative impact on us and our relationships because we aren't being honest and true to ourselves. 

The reality is that if we continually put other people's feelings and needs above our own, we're likely to end up feeling exhausted, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed and pretty resentful and frustrated. Not a good look!

This is why I advocate becoming 'responsibly selfish' - striking a balance between caring for and about others and caring for and about ourselves. And this is even more important when life gets hard.

What this looks like in practice is saying no, setting boundaries, being honest (with yourself and others), expressing yourself and making space to reconnect with your own feelings, wants and needs.

This is the work I do with my clients. I have lots of free resources available to support you with this available on my website, including a 15-page guide on how to start setting boundaries and saying no, lots of blog posts and a weekly newsletter where I share everything I'm learning about becoming responsibly selfish.

Reframing self-care

We all play a number of different roles in our daily life, often having to juggle conflicting priorities, responsibilities and expectations. And when life gets hard, it can become even more difficult to fulfil these roles and expectations. 

Sadly, instead of increasing our self-care and self-compassion to help ourselves navigate these tricky times as gracefully as possible, many of us focus on others, beat ourselves up and push ourselves even harder, and then end up in a heap wondering how we got here!

"An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly."

- Unknown

I've written previously about my thoughts on self-care but, in short, I'm not keen on the way it's portrayed in the media these days with all the cheesy pick and mix checklists and prescriptive morning or evening routines that make me feel tired just looking at them!

Self-care is essentially a reflection of our relationship with ourselves. It is very simply caring for ourselves in the same way that we would care for someone that we love. 

Whilst this may sound simple, it's not necessarily easy and this is why so many of us continue to put other people's feelings, wants and needs in front of our own, to the detriment of our mental, emotional and physical well-being. The reality is that we cannot pour all of ourselves into others - otherwise, we'll end up empty with nothing left to give. And then what?

So I'm curious, if you had to rate your relationship with yourself out of 10 (10 = you have this self-care thing nailed), where do you currently sit on this scale? What would need to change for you to move one or two points higher on the scale and take better care of yourself?

This is something that ebbs and flows for me too - sometimes I find myself nailing this self-care business and feeling great and other times life seems to get in the way and I really notice the difference in terms of my energy and well-being.

What I want you to know is that it's not necessary to do it perfectly. You don't have to do all the things on the latest self-care checklist that pops up on social media. What's important is that you take imperfect action. Do one small thing that is good for you, then rinse and repeat. 

Often, we think we need to make massive changes or try to change everything at once. However, one of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day (make your morning cuppa, clean your teeth, etc) and then stack your new desired behaviour on top. This is called habit stacking. By linking your new habits to what is already built into your brain, you make it more likely that you'll stick to the new behaviour.

When times get tough and I find myself slipping into those unhelpful ways a question I like to ask myself is "What would I tell someone I love to do in this situation?"

Try it. And then give yourself permission to take your own advice...

I'd love to know if this article resonates with you - message me and let me know!

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Braintree, Essex, CM7 9DB
Written by Amy Metson, MAC, ICF ACSTH, ADCT - Life, Career & Wellbeing Coach
Braintree, Essex, CM7 9DB

Amy works with people who have a big heart & care deeply about others, often to their own detriment. She empowers them to become 'responsibly selfish' by understanding where they end & others begin, building inner & outer confidence, the courage to be true to themselves & striking a balance between caring for others & honouring their needs too.

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