When Self Care Turns Into Self Sabotage

Self care has been ‘trending’ for a while, and at this point we hear it so much it’s starting to sound like white corporate noise. Had a hard day? Treat yourself to something! Feeling anxious? Buy this face mask! This new outfit! This dish soap! You deserve it! It’s hard to argue with actions or purchases in the name of taking care of our health. Isn’t that the right thing to do, at the end of the day? 

self care or self sabotage

Self care, as defined by Psych Central, is “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” The message is simple, the corporate world has run with it- and people are responding.  In fact by 2020, the health and wellness industry is projected to be valued at a staggering $179 billion in the United States alone. 

While it’s no argument that self care is good for us, if I had a dollar for every time self care was encouraged by a company or business, let’s just say I’d be picking up my iced oat milk latte with a freshly manicured hand DAILY.  While that sounds ideal, it begs a very big, very hard question. If treating and pampering ourselves works, at what point do we actually achieve the health and wholeness we are all looking for? And where, in all of that pampering and excusing, do we attend to the aspects of our lives that we’re soothing with self care? 

My suspicion is that part of the reason the self care industry grew at such a remarkable pace is because the behaviors around stereotypical self care aren’t new. There were things we were already doing occasionally that we felt guilty about. We spent on that thing when it was out of our budget or let our responsibilities slip in the spirit of deserving a break, and then we felt remorseful about it after. Maybe the next time, we acted differently. But when “self care” language could be used on the same actions, all of the sudden we had permission not only to do these things, but to call them good for us. 

That’s when self care turns into self sabotage. 

That’s when you reach for a face mask, while you’re trying to forget that you swore this was the night you’d start looking for a new job so you could leave the toxic environment that’s depleting you. That’s when you’re ordering Postmates again instead of cooking the food you already have, trying not to think about your looming credit card statement or the fact that you haven’t been feeling like yourself lately. 

We all deserve to give ourselves a break in the midst of stress. A face mask and ordering delivery are not inherently bad. But if we really think about it, in those situations the luxuries and treats we allow ourselves feel a lot like numbing—like escaping from a life that you’re trying very hard not to fully examine. 

How you should approach self care proactively

Self care might often mean giving yourself a break. But self care shouldn’t just be reactive. It also means being proactive about addressing the challenges of your life and doing the hard, boring self care work to make it one that you love and thrive in.  

That means big things like: 

  • Saving to create financial security, even when that means denying yourself pleasures or small luxuries in the short term to create emergency savings. 
  • Setting high reaching goals for yourself and taking the time to develop thoughtful, small and daily action steps to achieve them. It means holding yourself accountable to actually doing them, even when you feel uncomfortable or scared. 
  • Having difficult conversations instead of avoiding them and then numbing yourself to avoid the pain or discomfort of letting things go unsaid. 

Self care also means little things like: 

  • Making time (acknowledging that often means taking time away from more pleasurable activites) to prepare yourself fresh and healthy food and snacks.
  • Going for a walk to get fresh air time and moving your body instead of pressing play on the next episode.
  • Getting up early to exercise instead of pressing snooze.
  • Putting yourself in bed even when you don’t want to, to ensure you get enough sleep for said workout.

This isn’t to say there is no place for treating ourselves. Pleasure and joy are what we all strive for and things we should allow ourselves. But instead of looking at treats and luxuries as deserved simply for enduring the day, use them as rewards to motivate yourself for doing the hard work of creating a life you love. 

Go to the gym x times a week and get that manicure. Create an emergency savings account, and take a PTO day to do whatever you please and soak in the peace of the security you just created for yourself. Self care should be about relishing our life, not escaping from it. 

Let us know how you’ll be changing what self care means to you!

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Mental Health Trends Think & Feel

About Laura Carrillo

Laura is writer covering topics that inspire women to be the happiest, most alive versions of themselves. After unexpectedly finding her love of fitness through strength training, Laura’s always after the satisfaction of one more rep. A native Chicagoan, Laura loves exploring Chicago’s neighborhoods by foot or bike, and she considers the best days to be those that start with a sweaty workout and end curled up with a good book. You can find her work at lauracarrillowriter.com

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