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Wait… Isn’t Self-Care Self-Indulgent?

Are you unsure of the difference between self-indulgence and self-compassion? You’re not alone!

I’m going to give you the short version first, and then I’ll expand on it. This way you can rest assured that when you put yourself first, you’re doing yourself a kindness.


Self-Indulgence vs. Self-Care

Self-indulgence is an immediate-gratification tactic that feels great in the moment but terrible in the long run because it goes against your well-being. It’s an escape and a quick fix that numbs, denies, and masks your inner pain. In the long run, it really just contributes to it.

Self-care is an awareness of your inner pain and the finding of a gentle, compassionate, and ultimately successful path of healing it. It’s any activity that’s focused on the long-term reduction of suffering by getting down to the root of the problem instead of masking the symptoms.

What you do is less important than the desired effect of what you do: You’re either going for the immediate, feel-good, numbing of pain, or you’re going for the long-term elimination of pain.


Knowing the Difference

How do you tell the difference between self-indulgence and self-care?

  1. Ask. Ask yourself the question, “Will I be happy with this choice tomorrow?” If the answer is no and you do it anyway… be kind to yourself. The root of that choice was to feel better. You can distinguish between actions that make you feel good vs. those that enable you to actually feel good about yourself by considering how you’ll feel after the fact.
  1. Feel. Pay attention to your physical feelings, cravings, and energy cycles. Your body knows when you’re choosing a high-nutrient food or a sugar bomb. Your brain’s reward center lights up when you eat sweets and your body goes into hyperdrive but soon your body goes “ugh!” because the energy boost, and the reward, are short-lived.
  1. Listen. If you rationalize impulsive choices, they’re indulgent. Say you’re going through a difficult time and you rationalize that an ice cream binge (an activity you know to be self-defeating) is a way to cope. It’s one thing to know you’re being self-indulgent… and another to mask self-indulgence as self-care.


Self-Criticism Is Not Self-Care

Self-care doesn’t require rigorous discipline. Seriously! You might think, “If I don’t criticize myself I won’t be motivated to change!” Sounds reasonable, but…

How many times have you motivated yourself through harsh self-criticism, felt good about it (i.e. not resentful), and got the results you wanted?

  • If you force/guilt/shame yourself into eating right, joining a fitness class, and beat yourself up every time you comfort yourself with food… you feel resentful, mad at yourself, even hateful toward yourself. Whatever you do feels like punishment.
  • Try approaching these same positive actions with compassion. Accept that this right here… this body, this mindset, this situation… is your new starting point, filled with fabulous potential! Whatever you do then feels like it enhances your well-being.

Same activities + different mindset = different outcomes!!

Self-criticism doesn’t work as a positive motivating force. Shoving yourself toward becoming a better version of yourself rarely works. Self-compassion helps you accept yourself as you are and guides you toward feeling better.

Being compassionate toward yourself doesn’t mean you’re a weakling who needs a drill sergeant. Au contraire! Sure, sometimes you have to pull yourself up, dust yourself off, and soldier on, but a shift in mindset changes everything. How about lifting yourself up, gently wiping the tears away, and encouraging yourself to take another step? Doesn’t that feel nicer?


3 Ways to Be Self-Compassionate

Here are three ways to create compassionate self-care:

  1. Treat yourself as you treat your BFF. You won’t feel comfortable with this at first, but it’s a process. Imagine your BFF is hurting inside. Don’t beat her (yourself) up with “Well you should have…” Offer encouragement: “That’s a hard place to be. How can I help you get through this?”
  2. Focus on others. You’re not the only one who’s suffering or the only one with doubts or imperfections. Sometimes, all it takes to put your pain in perspective is to be there for others. Volunteer. Be the shoulder to cry on, the listening ear, the first one to jump in and help. Volunteering makes you feel compassionate toward others AND toward yourself!
  3. Send loving-kindness to your flaws. I recommend you do this just before you fall asleep, and first thing in the morning. Consider a flaw, something that’s driving you nuts and makes you feel terrible about yourself. Your inner critic loves to chime in with why having thick thighs is bad… or why giving in to temptation makes you an awful person… or why you don’t deserve love…
    • Shift your perspective. Your actions are not who you are. They are meant to move you away from pain and toward pleasure. Meditate on this: There are other ways to feel betterJust acknowledge that self-defeating behaviors are not the “only way” to achieve the goal of feeling better.
    • Shift your perspective. Every physical trait contributes to “you,” just like every facet of a diamond contributes to the diamond’s brilliance. It’s part of who you are and if you dislike it, you can’t love the whole diamond-YOU. Imperfections are beautiful and interesting!
    • Send loving-kindness to yourself… silently repeat the phrase, I love myself. May I be happy, healthy, loved, and peaceful. With repetition you’ll adopt this as your new reality and then, you’ll find new self-loving ways of moving away from pain and toward pleasure.

Ultimately, what we all want is to feel good. Self-care is NOT self-indulgent. It’s a way to feel good today AND tomorrow. It promotes physical and psychological health. It compassionately addresses your inner need for love, acceptance, comfort, safety, and respect.

Join our Facebook group, The Secret Sauce to End Emotional Eating, and be supported every step of the way as you embark on this journey of self-care and self-compassion!