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Is self-care a moral obligation?

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By Jackie Rainford Corcoran
EBS Health Columnist

Do you think that self-care a moral obligation?

We may all have a different idea of what self-care is, but we can simplify the definition by stating the obvious meaning: to take care of yourself, whatever that means for you.

Most of us excel in some areas in life but fall short in others. Consider your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, professional and environmental health. Are you neglecting your own needs in any of these areas? Do you have a moral obligation to improve them?

Burton’s Legal Thesaurus defines moral obligation as: “A duty which one owes, and which he/[she] ought to perform, but which he/[she] is not legally bound to fulfill.”

This is where it gets interesting; to whom do we owe this?

If you’re falling short in some area of self-care, let’s take a moment to take this to an extreme outcome. Imagine you do nothing to improve this—and perhaps continue behaviors that worsen it—and the effects of this eventually compound 10 or 20 years from now. What is the worst-case scenario? What is the cost of this lack of care? Who will have to pick up the pieces, and how will this negatively impact their lives?

This line of questioning can shed new light on why it’s important to use the necessary resources, such as time, to care for ourselves.

But many of us believe that self-care is secondary to managing our busy schedules. In this case, self-care can seem like a selfish act—which makes the question at hand even more provocative. If one believes it’s right, necessary and even noble to put their own health and well-being on the back burner, considering self-care a moral obligation requires an absolute paradigm shift. It’s not possible to feel selfish at the same time we’re doing something so that others don’t suffer due to our lack of self-care.

When it comes to self-care, it’s important to make a distinction between coping and caring. For example, if stress is being managed with a daily drinking habit, the body and spirit aren’t truly being nurtured and the root causes of the problem aren’t being addressed. Instead, the alcohol potentially increases inflammation—which is arguably the root of most, if not all, disease—and creates other negative consequences. This is coping, a method I’ve tried unsuccessfully and do not recommend.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t help each other out in times of need, even if a problem is self-induced. Nobody is perfect and supporting each other is an important part of being a compassionate and empathetic human. But we must also be aware of tendencies to enable others who are repeatedly creating self-induced problems. Again, are we caring for ourselves adequately if we continue to put ourselves at the mercy of someone who refuses to take care of themselves?

If you do think that self-care is a moral obligation, does this inspire you to change any behaviors? If you don’t believe it is, why?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so send an email to the address below if you’d like to share.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach. Her purpose is to support others in becoming their best and healthiest version of themselves. Email her at to schedule a complimentary 30-minute health coaching session. Check out her website to learn more.

The Outlaw Partners is a creative marketing, media and events company based in Big Sky, Montana.

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