When Self-Care Kills Your Friendships

Shutting people out in the name of ‘self-care’ ultimately feels like self-destruction

Kristin Wong
Forge
Published in
5 min readMay 24, 2021

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Photo by Walling on Unsplash

Not long ago, I attended a panel that featured a few established writers. An audience member asked one of them a personal question: How do you practice self-care? The answer was brutally honest.

The writer said she didn’t respond to text messages and often flaked on people. Her friends had to accept that she would be hard to reach. If they wanted to spend time with her, they would be the ones to make an effort. Her schedule was too packed for more obligations. If you want to be successful and keep your sanity, she said, you have to accept that you won’t be able to say yes to everything, including your friends. I nodded and clapped along with the audience.

I have been that friend. I never call. I forget to respond to texts. I cancel video chats because I’m “Zoomed out.” I feel guilty, then forgive myself for it — if I spent all my time keeping in touch, when would I get anything done? This is part of taking care of ourselves. It’s good for our mental health. We have to set boundaries, create strict routines, and let go of the obligation to be everything to everyone.

At some point, my boundaries feel more like a way to confine myself from meaningful relationships.

All of this is true. But through the lens of rugged individualism, I wonder if self-care becomes a way to isolate ourselves.

I often tell the harrowing story of how I worked 14-hour days in college to pay for tuition. After class, I drove to my first job dead tired and depressed, knowing I still had a second shift. On the weekends, I worked more. For years, I refused to take a break. I repeat this story as a point of pride. It fits the narrative of the strong, hard-working, self-made individual grasping for the American dream.

It’s also not entirely true. My mom worked hard to pay for my tuition, too. I had scholarships from nonprofit organizations that invested in my future success. I also had a student loan. And then there was the supportive boss who put up with me calling in “tired” more than once and said nothing when he caught me studying on…

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Kristin Wong
Forge
Writer for

Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, Catapult, The Atlantic and ELLE.