“You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup”: Why Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

June 21, 2021

Have you ever heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”? Essentially, the saying means that in order for us as humans to effectively take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves. The notion is intuitive in nature, but can be more difficult to put into practice.

In fact, it is not uncommon for clients to share that making the time or space to engage in self-care activities may even feel selfish, when their to-do list (e.g., preparing their kiddos’ lunches, laundry, transporting children to and from sports engagements, work obligations, taking care of a sick loved one) seems a mile long.

However, self-care is not selfish. Self-care allows us humans to maintain balance and continue functioning like a well-oiled machine that increases our ability to help care for others. Just as you would not expect your car to run continuously for 5,000 miles without stopping for gas or having its oil changed, you too cannot expect that of yourself! Running on empty eventually leads to a machine that no longer functions.

With this in mind, I’d like to invite you to take a moment to check-in with yourself:

  • How full is your cup? Or, how full is your gas tank right now?
  • Do you need to stop and fill up?
  • What do you need in this moment? What activity or self-care behavior would help fill up your cup?
  • How can you regularly schedule checking in with yourself – and self-care practices– into your week?

Some clients enjoy scheduling a “cup check” as I like to call it into their daily routine. For some, that may be in the morning over a cup of coffee or a journal. For others, a good place to start is putting a sticky note in your car that says “self check-in” or something that creates a cue for you to check how full your cup is each day (e.g., on your way home from work). If you are running on empty, problem solve (or speak to your therapist or Wellness Mentor) on how to best help yourself so that you can be of service to the important people (including yourself) in your life.

A final thought on checking in with yourself or conducting a “cup check”:  Many people do not check-in with themselves until their cup is empty. Subsequent engagement in “self-care” tends to be in reaction to feeling very overwhelmed rather than proactively scheduling self-care activities to buffer oneself from feeling overwhelmed. The more frequently you check in with yourself, the more likely you are to proactively seek out self-care activities before you feel too overwhelmed or burned out. This is essential to maintaining mental and physical wellness.

What strategy would work best for you? Could you commit to trying a “cup check” at least 1 day this week?


-By Lauren Carter