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Self care is never selfish: how to know if it’s self care or self-sabotage

self care
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Contrary to popular belief, self care is never selfish. The true problem arises when we practice acts of self-sabotage and call them self care.

Self care is not binge-watching Netflix, for example, or drinking a bottle of wine. Self care has to be good for you. A hot bath or time alone to read a book are positive examples.

You feel better after indulging in self care activities. They don’t harm your health or make you feel shame. And they have no negative long-term effects.

More examples of not self care?

1. Eating ice cream out of the tub

Short-term gratification makes you feel better now but worse later. Binge-eating comfort foods harms your health and even takes years off your life. It makes you feel bad mentally, physically, and emotionally.

2. Addictive behaviors are not self care

Drinking wine to take the edge off. Retail therapy. Over exercise. Yes, that’s a thing and I used to do it. My reasons for exercising too much were not self care but self-punishment.

Using addictive behaviors to soothe ourselves is maladaptive. It demonstrates an unwillingness to feel our feelings and try to escape them instead.

Using addictive behaviors to soothe ourselves is maladaptive. It demonstrates an unwillingness to feel our feelings and try to escape them instead. Click To Tweet

This prevents us from seeking positive change in the long-term as we find solace in immediate (and unhelpful) gratification instead.

3. Manicures or spa days (if they put you in financial peril)

Going for expensive treatments that you can ill-afford sabotages your financial security. And this type of self care only goes skin deep. You could likely get the same effect from a warm bath or peaceful walk in nature.

Other ways to comfort yourself physically include giving yourself a hug or drinking a cup of herbal tea. Engage the senses by listening to uplifting music or lighting scented candles.

I’d venture to guess we’re trying to re-connect with ourselves when we escape into lesser forms of self care. What we really need is time alone to reflect and the best way to do that is through a time out.

Breathe.

Journal.

Go for a walk.

Eat a healthy meal.

Do something that brings you joy. Not sure what that is? You’re not alone. If you’ve been raised to surrender your needs, you’ll have trouble understanding how to soothe yourself.

Figuring out what you need to feel cared for can be work in itself. Ask yourself what you need right now. Pay attention to your feelings, both physical and emotional, rather than ignoring or pushing through them.

When you’re carrying trauma in your body, especially the hypervigilance of complex PTSD, you’re exhausted all the time. Far from being lazy or self-indulgent, your body and brain are working incredibly hard to keep you alive.

When you're carrying trauma in your body, you're exhausted all the time. Far from being lazy, your body and brain are working incredibly hard to keep you alive. Click To Tweet

Give yourself credit for all the ways you’ve worked to protect yourself. Now it’s time to discover what you need today and find healthy ways to serve yourself. You are worth caring for.

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