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Here’s something I’ve noticed over seven years of working with mostly female clients, and a few men: Men could use a little more instruction in the how-to’s of self-care. Finding a justification for doing so: not usually an epic struggle.

Women aren’t lacking so much in the know-how. There’s never been more information in women’s culture about how to care for the body and even how to take care of the mind and the emotions and the soul.

But know-how isn’t enough. We need permission. A regular infusion of it. An IV drip would be good. And some sisterly egging on.

Trained to Put Others First

Self-care isn’t the main thing I teach (I work with binge eaters and overeaters), but it is the foundation. A self-caring stance is required, especially in its most basic form, kindness to oneself.

But the feminine training most of us received, with its prime directive of Put Others First, means that although I’m pretty mild-mannered as life coaches go (think Anthony Robbins, and then think “opposite”), I get a lot of pushback about this.

This resistance can be very energetic, as if I’m asking a woman to turn her attention away from maintaining gravity in working order, and devote herself instead to tripping through the bourgeois precincts of haute self-indulgence in search of little soaps —maybe slowing down occasionally to steal books from orphans.

That is no one’s working definition of self-care. But it’s kissing cousin to some unconscious ideas, which demonstrate the power of our world’s Others First, Self Last message to women.

And that’s why we need opposing messages on repeat for a while. Which is what I’ve got for you today. A topping up of your permission infusion.

What Would Buddha Say?

I sometimes turn to this story about what the Buddha said regarding self-care, as he is the more recognized authority on lovingkindness, and is never strident about it. You may recognize this quote:

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

Little problem: The Buddha didn’t actually say that, as pointed out by Bodhipaksa, compiler of Fake Buddha Quotes. (Kind of a fun follow, by the way. FBQ’s tagline gives me motto envy: “I can’t believe it’s not Buddha!”)

Bodhipaksa (birth name: Graeme Stephen), shows that what the Buddha actually said was…sorta the same? But with the opposite emphasis. Basically, “Hey, the way you love yourself is the way everyone loves himself. Therefore, don’t be a jerk to other people.” It is the Golden Rule, essentially.

Bodhipaksa traces the origin of this modern reworking to Sharon Salzberg, one of the most established female teachers in the West. Maybe it took a woman to point out another facet to the teaching. (Though I think the Buddha is talking about egocentricity, and Salzberg – if indeed it’s her quote – is talking about a healthy self-love.)

In the end, these sayings are two sides of the same coin. I still refer to the Salzberg version, even if it’s fake, because it points to another, nested truth many of us need to hear:

It’s not one or the other.

Just like you can have pineapple and jalapeños right there on the same pizza, you can take the same kindness you show to others, and give it to yourself as well. There’s no real either/or here.

An actual attested Buddha quote offers a handy proof:

“Just as the great ocean has one taste, the taste of salt, so also this teaching and discipline has one taste, the taste of liberation.” -Buddha

So we can ask ourselves, Does caring for myself have that taste of liberation? When I stay on my own side, when I extend the lovingkindness to myself that I willingly offer to others, is it relaxing? Is it a relief? Does it feel like freedom to me? (I use this test all the time. It is one of the handiest tools in my self-care toolbox.)

As always, I would love to know what you discover, and what you already know about this.


Adam’s Berg (Mulkirigala), Reclining Buddha, Jan Brandes, 1785 (Rijksmuseum).
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”


About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Lovely writing. Excellent advice which I will put to use.

  • TRUTH, sister! I love this!

  • Amen. Except for the part about pineapple and jalapeno on pizza…

    • But … have you TRIED it?

  • Having recently been diagnosed with cancer, and now going through chemotherapy, I have given myself permission to care for myself in simple ways like taking naps, telling people it’s not a good time to visit, and spending hours reading or knitting when I might have done something “more productive.” It’s been very liberating, and people have responded wonderfully. I hope I can carry on these practices when I’m out the other side of this. Too bad it took a serious diagnosis to get me here.

    • Ah, Judy – sending you love and permission and healing vibes. Let me know how you go. xox

  • I like the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask first. If I don’t take care of myself first, I soon won’t have the ability to care for anyone else.

  • I am enjoying reading this series very much, and every article gives me some food for thought. Thank you, Max.

  • For my birthday this year, I decided that my gift to myself would be to use the phrase “let me get back to you” instead of immediately saying yes to every request. I feel like I have an 8-year-old girl living in my brain who just wants everyone to like her, and she pipes up whenever someone wants my time and energy. This has left me overworked and resentful when I’ve agreed to things without pausing for thought.
    Anyway, I tried it for the first time last week, and it was so wonderful to have the time and space to consider what I wanted. And to have Liberation from the insecure little girl in my head. It was in your column that I first received this inspiration, and I thank you!

    Ps that phrase- “can I get back to you?” Is amazing and powerful and beautiful. I have been practicing so I won’t say “yes” out of habit. I believe everyone who habitually says “yes” without thinking should try it.

    • This is so very good, Meredith! That automated Yes is so powerful that we really must replace it with another automated response, rather than hoping for the best. We should have a whole article about this!

    • Can I get back to you? DEFINITELY going to try this out.

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